The Russia Story: Everything Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You to Know

Since the inauguration, I have written extensively on these pages about Donald Trump’s shady ties to Russia. “Dah, Donald: Russian Blood Money and the FBI’s Case Against Trump” is an in-depth look at James Comey and Moscow’s cyber warfare to influence the election. “The Trump/Russia Graft Timeline: How Do You Say Quid Pro Quo in Russian?” examines the Faustian bargain Trump struck with Putin before the election; a more complete timeline can be found here. I address more recent developments in “Moscow on the Potomac.” Finally, I recorded a podcast last week on the Trump/Russia connection.

Today’s installment is a summation of what we know so far about The Russia Story, an attempt to take all of the various articles, news reports, tweets, and so forth, and give them shape and structure.

Mike Flynn, Vlad Putin, Jill Stein, at a dinner in Moscow.

DONALD TRUMP has a Russia problem.

As the national security reporter and former NSA agent John Schindler wrote on Wednesday, “Behind closed doors, plenty of American intelligence experts believe that President Trump is the pawn of the Kremlin, wittingly or not, and assess that it’s only a matter of time before unseemly Moscow ties are exposed and the White House enters unsurvivable political crisis.”

Long cozy with Russian organized crime figures, who are themselves an organ of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), Trump almost certainly negotiated some sort of deal this summer with Vladimir Putin, who wanted 1) the US sanctions against Russia lifted, and 2) discord sowed among NATO allies. Both outcomes are well on their way to being realized. What Trump got out of the Faustian bargain is not yet known, but given what we learned of his execrable personality before the election, and the disgusting way he’s used the office to enrich himself since January 20, we can safely assume it involved vast sums of money.

Trump denies all of this. Thus, we can believe the Intelligence Community (IC)…or we can believe Trump and his cronies. Given the choice, I hold with the former—especially when the circumstantial evidence against Trump is so damning.

Consider:

 

 

1. Donald Trump is mobbed up, and has been for decades.

Introduced to various crime figures by his good pal Roy Cohn—one of few Americans more odious than the President himself—Trump has benefited mightily from the Mafia in his various real estate ventures. The most egregious incidents involve his use of ready-pour concrete in the construction of Trump Tower and the exploitation of illegal and underpaid Polish immigrants to demolish the Bonwit Teller building, but there is much, much more (which you can read about here or here).

The media generally ignored this rather obvious link during the campaign, preferring to focus on the horse-race and the DNC emails illegally released by Wikileaks (itself a de facto publication of Russian intelligence). This lack of wide reportage does not make the mob ties any less real.

 

2. The Trump Organization has extensive ties with Russian organized crime (OC), and has for decades.

Semion “The Brainy Don” Mogilevich, now 70, is the capo di tutt’i capi of the worldwide Russian mob, whom the FBI describes as the world’s most dangerous mobster. The enormous amounts of cash generated by his criminal enterprises necessitates a vast system of money laundering, unprecedented in scope and volume. Trump Org is (allegedly) one of the many organs through which Mogilevich makes legit his filthy lucre.

Back in 1992, Mogilevich dispatched Vyacheslav “Little Japanese” Ivankov, who had just completed a prison sentence in Russia, to New York, to oversee his US operation. For the next three years, Little Japanese ran amok in the United States; the FBI arrested Ivankov on June 8, 1995, and charged him with the extortion of $2.7 million from an investment advisory firm known as Summit; the following June he was convicted.

For the three years he lived in the US prior to his arrest, Ivankov resided in either Trump Tower or the Taj Mahal Casino. Both properties were owned by, mirabile dictu, Donald Trump.

Little Japanese was hardly the only Russian crime figure with a Trump address. As Schindler reports, “There are literally dozens of Russian OC scams, some gargantuan, that we know were based at Trump properties — quite a coincidence.”

This begs the question: Why do so many Russian OC figures maintain addresses at various Trump properties?

 

3. The Trump Organization is (allegedly) a vehicle through which Mogilevich and his Russian OC cronies launder money.

A series of reports in the Financial Times delve into the Trump Org/Russian OC relationship dating after his sixth (!) bankruptcy, when Trump’s credit at US banks was too bad to borrow more capital. Somehow Trump managed to fund several major real estate deals. How?

The human rights activist and law professor Scott Horton explains: “The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash [dollars] from dark Russian sources. He was their man.”

This was part of Russia OC’s extensive money laundering operation. Real estate is well suited for this purpose, as there is a lot of capital, a lot of money changing hands, and, as what we’ve seen of Trump’s taxes indicate, a lot of wiggle room with the IRS.

“His real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs,” Horton says. “All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar…. real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account.”

This clears up the oft-quoted remark by Donald Trump Jr., made at a real estate conference in New York in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And: “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” All Junior meant was that Russian mobsters were snapping up apartments in Trump Tower—and not for a song, either.

In short, Donald Trump’s real estate concerns, which had already gone belly-up six times, were now being underwritten by the Russian OC. What are the chances that a recidivist failure would not screw up a seventh time, and be even more in hock to Mogilevich & Co.? The Brainy Don holding it over the Not-so-brainy Don.

And just this week, Mother Jones, which has been months ahead of the Russia Story thanks to the crack work by David Corn, has reported that Trump has a “mystery creditor.” Perhaps it’s not that big of a mystery.

 

4. Russian OC and the Russian intelligence services are pretty much the same thing.

Vladimir Putin and Semion Mogilevich work hand in glove, with the latter’s minions performing functions too unseemly for the former’s to participate in. They are two foci of a more or less small circle of so-called oligarchs who own almost everything of value in Russia.1

As a report on Global Security explains: “Belarus, Chechnya and Russia are virtual ‘mafia states’ [in which] one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and organized crime groups….The vory v zakone”—“thieves-in-law,” in English“do not engage in racketeering and murder, preferring to distance themselves from this activity and focus on crimes that are further up in the hierarchy, such as corruption of high-level ministers. The level of power that vory v zakone operate at is indicated by their level of interaction with these public servants, because cabinet-level officials do not spend time with unimportant people and cannot be tempted by those who do not have something important to offer.” Activities in which the vory v zakone are known to have engaged: large-scale money laundering, systematic computer hacking to rig elections, and bribery on a mammoth scale.

As for Putin, he wants to appear above board in all of these shady dealings. Which may explain the slew of recently-deceased Russians with some apparent connection to the Russia Story. Six—count ’em, six!—Russian diplomats have died mysteriously since election day, including Oleg Erovinkin, an ex-KGB general and top Rosneft executive, as well as the permanent representative to the United Nations. That number doesn’t include Mikhail Lesin, the former Russian press minister and one-time head of the Gazprom-Media Holding group, who sustained blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, in his room at Washington’s Dupont Circle Hotel, or the high-placed FSB cyber experts arrested for treason in Moscow.

It’s almost like Putin’s covering his tracks, no?

 

5. One of Trump’s business cronies is Felix Sater, a Russian-born American real estate developer with extensive ties to Russian OC. 

Sater served time for a bar fight in which he attacked someone with the broken stem of a martini glass. His father is allegedly a capo in the Russian mob. So too is the Kazakh real estate developer Tevfik Arif, founder of the Blackrock Group, at which Sater served as managing director. Blackrock helped with the Trump SoHo project. You can read more about him here.

Trump has tried to walk back his relationship with Sater, once storming out of a BBC interview when the subject was pressed. He testified under oath that he would not recognize him if he was sitting next to him, and yet Trump Org issued business cards to Sater, naming him a “senior adviser to Donald Trump”:

Last month, Sater met with Ukrainian opposition politician Andrey Artemenko and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, at the Loews Regency in Manhattan to discuss a plan to lift sanctions against Russia. Sater gave Cohen a written proposal in a sealed envelope that was delivered to then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn in early February. This was a meeting between a close associate of Trump’s, one with shall-we-say a chequered past and deep ties to Russian OC, to discuss lifting sanctions on Russia. And this was widely reported in the mainstream press.

Also of note: Cohen, the Trump attorney and campaign surrogate, has changed his story of what happened that day four times. Cohen is free to lie to the press as much as he likes, as he’s not under oath—everyone else in Trump’s circle does—but unless there is fire where there’s smoke, why bother?

 

6. The Russian OC and FSB had been cultivating Donald Trump long before the 2016 campaign…and well before his much-ballyhooed trip to Moscow in 2013.

Trump hoped that the Miss Universe event in Moscow in 2013 would enhance his ability to do real estate deals in Russia. It did not. But it did offer the object of his bromantic affections, Vladimir Putin, a chance to score some serious kompromat on Trump.

The lurid detail in the Steele dossier—you know, the tale of Donald Trump, Russian prostitutes, and golden showers—may be disinformation planted by the FSB. The dirt the Russians have on Trump from his trip to Moscow may be something completely different (Sex with minors, perhaps? Trump was alleged to have been a party to this before). But there’s little question that Putin has something on Trump from his Russian adventure.

Why else would the President continue to defend a ruthless killer like Putin, even from the White House, unless he was forced to do so…or unless that was a condition of his deal?

A Miss Universe contestant pretends not to be disgusted by Donald Trump in Moscow, 2013.

6. Putin wants the sanctions lifted, and he did, and will continue to do, everything in his considerable power to affect that result.

The sanctions imposed by President Obama after the Russian annexation of the Crimea hurt Putin and his cronies deeply. Hillary Clinton had no intention of lifting them. In Trump, Putin saw his best chance at the desired outcome.

The Steele dossier, which legitimacy gains steam every week, cites a July meeting in Moscow between Igor Sechin, a Putin crony who heads the oil giant Rosneft, and then-Trump foreign adviser Carter Page: “[T]he Rosneft company president was so keen to lift personal and corporate [W]estern sanctions imposed on the company that he offered PAGE/TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft in return. PAGE had expressed interest and confirmed that were TRUMP elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.” (Steele dossier, p. 30) This was just after a pow-wow between Felix Sater and Trump at Trump Tower for “undisclosed business” and just before the DNC leaks began.

And lo, the sale of that exact percentage of Rosneft came to pass, to a buyer the identity of which remains murky.

And lo, Trump began to lift the sanctions.

Trump’s denial was this: “I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.” That doesn’t mean he already got something from Russia.

As for Carter Page, he may well not be involved in this, as he’s repeatedly claimed, but he neither looks nor sounds like an innocent man.

 

7. For the last two weeks, Trump has desperately tried to divert attention away from the Russia Story, using every means at his disposal to do so.

The consensus opinion of the IC is that Russia did attempt to use cyber warfare to swing the election to Trump and away from Hillary Clinton. Perhaps because this charge was levied by Clinton herself at one of the debates, it did not stick.

Only on February 9, when the Washington Post reported that nine (nine!) current and former US officials claimed that then-natsec adviser Michael Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador in a series of conversations in November and December, before the inauguration, did the press begin digging into the Russia Story in earnest.

That’s when Trump went into panic mode.

First, the vicious tweets against the “fake” news organizations that dared to report on the Russia Story:

The obligatory dig at Hillary Clinton:

A dual strike on the media and the IC:

He’s so vehement in his contempt that Trump inadvertently admits that the classified information being leaked is legit:

He demands that the Gray Lady kiss his ring (and also shows a poor understanding of the word “failing”):

He invents an excuse for the press coverage of the Russia Story—the Democrats’ collective need to blame someone for their loss:

And then, in his bizarre press conference, he goes full Ibsen, with a comment designed to divert attention from the Russia Story:

Then things got really bad for Trump. First, FBI director Jim Comey convened a three-hour, super-top-secret meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, at which it is believed Trump’s Russia ties were discussed at length. Soon after, GOP senators began to come around on having Flynn testify before Congress:

A few days later, Senator Susan Collins, who is on the aforementioned committee, announced she was open to subpoenaing Trump’s infamous tax returns.

This led Trump to attack the FBI, whom he idiotically thought was on his side because of the Comey letter (wrong!):

When the oh-so-vicious tweets did not have the desired effect, he dispatched his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to engage with the FBI and ask them to help refute the Russia story; FBI Director Jim Comey, predictably, refused. The thing is, what Priebus did is patently not legal. Furthermore, if Trump wanted the FBI to refute the story by releasing the evidence, he could simply declassify that evidence himself. He also could release his taxes to back up his claims of having no debt to the Russians. So, um, why won’t he?

The same day the Priebus/FBI story broke, Trump banned several media companies from the White House briefing room—which is, as I’m not the first to point out, a Fascist move. Notably, the outfits he banned were…wait for it…the very ones that were most doggedly pursuing the Russia Story!

~

The full Russia Story has not yet been revealed. Certain key chapters have been redacted. More information needs to come to light.

But the most rational explanation for Trump’s refusal to release his taxes or speak a discouraging word about Putin, his ability to bounce back in real estate after all those bankruptcies, his out-of-nowhere victory in the election, and, for that matter, his fascination with cheap Eastern European labor, whether it be Polish demolition workers, Romanian Mar-a-Lago waiters, or Slovenian wives, is that he’s in deep with the Russians.

The President of the United States has either made an illegal deal with Putin, or he’s being blackmailed, or he’s a “useful idiot” whom Moscow is manipulating, or he’s all three in some combination. There is simply no other explanation for what has transpired.

This is not “fake news.”

This is not “conspiracy theory.”

This is the greatest scandal in the history of the American presidency.

  1. For more on the Putin/Russian OC relationship, read Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia, which discusses Putin’s involvement with the diversion of municipal funds, illegal arms shipments, the food shortage scandal of 1991, gambling, and money laundering for the Cali drug cartel.
Greg Olear

About Greg Olear

Greg Olear (@gregolear) is a founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker, an L.A. Times bestseller.
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One Response to The Russia Story: Everything Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You to Know

  1. Tom Songs says:

    We grab him by the Emoluments – enjoy my really tremendous fabulous song
    https://realtomsongs.blog/2017/02/23/impeach-trump/

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