Column: If you’re trying to nail Trump, follow the receipts
“She must not know the internet keeps all the receipts,” the comedian Nick Jack Pappas tweeted the other day, referring to another comedian, Roseanne Barr.
The receipts were evidence of Barr’s history of hawking daft notions on Twitter, including Pizzagate. Pappas posted screenshots of Barr’s earlier tweets: ”#Sessions...will prosecute #HRC and make arrests over #PedoGate.” These “receipts” couldn’t be answered by denials, so Barr blocked Pappas.
Receipts are not just the output of cash registers anymore. They’re a vital piece of what might be called pop epistemology. About two years ago — in complex circumstances involving Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift — “receipts” took on an almost cosmic significance. The takeaway was clear: If someone has been keeping receipts on you, watch out. The word has become a catch-all term for hard evidence.
Receipts include everything from diaries and contemporaneous notes to video, contracts and DNA. They are those incriminating records that checkmate. Lately it seems we’re craving receipts — anything to put an end to head-spinning relativism, alternative facts and the president’s unrelenting cacophony.
As Trump’s presidency drags on — having blown past tarnished and into deep, dark ignominy — receipts have become vitally important. They’re the key to blowing open the Trump syndicate, which seems committed to making history and truth “go away,” in the words of a Trumpworld lawyer.
“Access Hollywood” kept receipts. Long ago, Trump’s desperate crowing about crotch-grabbing surfaced in audio and video. His weak denials since then mean nothing. The recording is a receipt.
If someone has been keeping receipts on you, watch out. The word has become a catch-all term for hard evidence.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) kept receipts. When Trump’s waning Chief of Staff John F. Kelly conjured some lies a year ago about Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 dedication of a new FBI building, her allies presented a video of her remarks that made Kelly look like a fabulist.
Colbie Holderness kept receipts. Her cache includes a memento related to her allegation that Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary, punched her in the face in 2005 while they were married. Trump had kept Porter on staff in spite of FBI warnings about his violent history, then Holderness submitted into evidence a photo of herself with a black eye. Porter’s effort to extenuate the receipt — “outrageous allegations … I took the photos given to the media …” etc. etc. — didn’t help. He was fired.
Karen McDougal kept receipts. The former Playboy model’s handwritten notes chronicle an alleged affair in 2006. These non-coy notes —“we got naked + had sex” — were published in the New Yorker. A White House rebuttal —“more fake news”— crashed on the shoals of receipts.
Stormy Daniels kept receipts. The adult-film actress has a copy of the nondisclosure agreement that she signed, and Trump didn’t, requiring her to keep silent about her alleged Trump tryst, on pain of larcenous fines. This week the president’s lawyer’s lawyer finally denied that Trump even knew about the contract. Legal experts, including former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, suggest the denial might void the contract and liberate Daniels to reveal more “material” she has hinted she has. Photos? Videos? In any case, receipts.
In the broader Trump circle — the Russia wing — a Nastya Rybka, a Belarussian escort, also kept receipts, including video footage apparently made while she was on a yacht with Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, and Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. (Deripaska is former employer and current creditor to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman; the video was posted by Russian dissident Aleksei Navalny.) Now Rybka claims to have audio receipts that show Russian meddling in the U.S. election. She’s seeking asylum in the U.S. in return for telling all. Who knows if she has the goods, but Rybka’s receipts are worth watching for.
Even Tiffany Trump, the president’s younger daughter, has submitted a receipt. It’s a small one, to be sure, but last week, she “liked” an Instagram image that showed a demonstrator with a sign that read, “Next Massacre Will Be the GOP in the Midterm Elections.” It may be a record in the public square of her dissent from her father’s party. And maybe from her father.
Notice anything consistent about these receipts? For the most part, they were kept by women. When despots come to power, it’s often the marginalized — the escorts, the porn actresses, the ex-wives, the less-loved daughters — who maintain careful records, lest anyone try to silence them, deceive them or call them crazy.
Luke Harding, the author of “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and how Russia Helped Donald Trump Win,” recently spoke to me about the role of women in exposing corruption and abuses of power in Russia. As Harding said, “One of the Putin regime’s weak points is its women, especially the 20-something mistresses and call girls who post their lives to Instagram and to social media.”
As the Trump investigation rolls on, it appears that prosecutors and journalists alike are heeding the Watergate-era injunction to “follow the money.” But we might also do well to follow the pulp-fiction maxim: Cherchez la femme. Find the woman.
She has the receipts.
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