In the Reagan era, the lobbying firm Black, Manafort and Stone became a powerhouse by innovating smash-mouth techniques that shook up K Street. Two of the firm’s principals have lately been back in the news: Roger Stone, the pro-Trump media provocateur who back-channeled with Julian Assange throughout the 2016 campaign, and Paul Manafort, indicted in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
One recent Friday, we decided to catch up with the third partner, Charlie Black. His plans were less newsworthy than those of his erstwhile colleagues: a massage, church with his wife, maybe some time with the grandkids. “They’re our biggest hobby,” said Black, speaking in a refined North Carolina drawl that only added to his relaxed affect.
Black, Manafort, and Stone parted professionally in the mid-1990s. Yet in 2016, Manafort and Stone found themselves together again, both entwined with Trump. Meanwhile, Black joined the opposition, signing on to advise presidential candidate John Kasich. When it came to the issues Black cares most about, such as reforming Medicare and Social Security, he says, “Trump didn’t have a clue.”
Despite their different political trajectories, Black talks to Manafort sometimes. “He’s okay,” Black says. “He does not believe he’s done anything wrong. But I haven’t been paying attention to his business dealings for the last 20 years, so I don’t know.”
As for Stone, Black seems less sympathetic: “Roger has to insert himself into every story. When all this stuff first broke, a few reporters called and said, ‘Do you think Roger was the connection between the Trump campaign and Russia?’ I said, ‘With all due respect, Roger couldn’t find Russia on a map.’ ” Though Black describes Stone as a “publicity hound” who is often “doing weird things,” he still has affection for his former colleague. “But I don’t hang out with him.”
With one exception: The three did reunite last January, when they met at their old DC haunt the Palm the night before Trump’s inauguration. According to Black, it was their first get-together in 20 years. “It was Roger’s idea,” he says. “We had a good time.”
Nearly a year later, Black isn’t terribly surprised by how the trio’s lives have diverged. For perhaps the first time, the longtime insider is relieved not to be part of the circus. So while Manafort awaits trial and Stone has gotten himself banned from Twitter, Black is heading to his second home in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he plans to play golf and spend time with John and Cindy McCain. After all, winter is coming.
This article appears in the January 2018 issue of Washingtonian.