By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (11/9/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Trump-Russia: The gang that couldn’t collude straight! There are two goals for the column today: 1) examples of the breadth and depth of history of Trump-Russia, and; 2) a closer look at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. Imagine, we’ve come so far – we can now consider breadth and depth of Trump-Russia collusion, well past the “what about this meeting between…?”.
As The Washington Post notes the whole issue of “did they or didn’t” they collude with Russia is pretty obvious: The Trump Administration Is Up To Its Neck In Russians.
“The number of Russian connections to President Trump’s campaign and to his administration should stun and worry even the most credulous Republicans. We have never seen such a multiplicity of connections to a hostile foreign power and lack of transparency in a presidential campaign or administration — nor have we ever had a campaign in which Russians interfered in such a widespread and deliberate manner.”
This article goes into new revealtions about Wilbur Ross, but before we drill down let’s stay at a higher level with a few minutes from Keith Olbermann’s The Resistance and take a look at a Trump-Russia resource pulled together by Bill Moyers (Moyers and Company; and thanks to a Commoner Call reader).
Olbermann offers that “Trump is lying, Trump appears to be guilty”. His review points out that last week it was Paul Manafort (former Trump campaign manager), Rick Gates (long-time Manafort business partner and Trump adviser) and George Papadopoulos (former Trump foreign policy adviser) while this week it is former Trump natinal security adviser Michael Flynn, his son, Michael Flynn Jr. and Wilbur Ross. Olbermann declares the days of euphemism are long past and things need to be called out for what they are: Trump is Lying About Russia.
The Trump-Russia story and the many intricate intersecting relationships and dingy back alley pathways extend way before the 2016 election. Moyers and Company has taken the time to develop an amazing Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, his campaign and their dealings with Russia past and present, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the players without a scorecard. We have one of sorts — a deeply comprehensive timeline detailing what actually happened and what’s still happening in the ever-changing story of the president, his inner circle and a web of Russian oligarchs, hackers and government officials.
“Since first launched in February 2017, the Trump-Russia Timeline has grown to more than 600 entries — and we will continue to add updates regularly.”
This is the best resource like this so far. Active citizens concerned about the future of the nation will enjoy a few minutes with this and bookmarking it for reference as the media focuses on particular persons and events.
Let’s take a look at one example – Roger Stone, long-time Trump associate and adviser. The timeline here goes all the way back to Stone’s days as a former Nixon operative before being introduced to Trump in the late 70’s. (And yes, for you political junkies, Roger Stone really does have a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back.)
Stone went into business with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, a “childhood friend” in 1980 – Trump is one of their first clients dealing with “gambling and real-estate issues”.
But this is Trump-Russia so let’s pick a Russian name, like the Agalarov family. Aras Agalarov was Trump’s partner for the Moscow-based 2013 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. A day after announcing the event, on June 18, 2013, Trump tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?”
As the last year has proven, the answer to that was a definite yes, Donny.
The Agalarov’s are a persistent part of the story, resurfacing in 2016 with Emin Agalarov’s (son of Aras and Russian pop-star) agent Rob Goldstone as the person introducing Donald Trump Jr. to Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer. This is the memorable Donnie Jr. exchange that includes, “If it’s what you say (‘dirt’ on Hillary) I love it especially later in the summer.”
Let’s go back to Wilbur Ross who not only did not make the Moyers list, it turns out he’s now also fallen off the Forbes 400 list. Not only was he dropped, Forbes called him out for lying about his finances – cue a Keith Olbermann voice over – while turning to Forbes: Forbes: Wilbur Ross ‘Lied’ About Being A Billionaire.
“Newly leaked international documents reveal even more of the , according to NBC News: “Through offshore investments, [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross held a stake in Navigator Holdings, which had a close relationship with the Russian firm. Ross did not disclose that connection during his confirmation process on Capitol Hill.”
The most damning aspect of this, the firm Ross invested in has a client, Sibur, a Russian energy company that is partly owned by none other than Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and the company has regularly violated U.S.-Russia sanctions. The Washington Post cites this from leaked Paradise Papers documents:
“Among Navigator’s largest customers, contributing more than $68 million in revenue since 2014, is the Moscow-based gas and petrochemicals company Sibur. Two of its key owners are Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin’s youngest daughter, and Gennady Timchenko, the sanctioned oligarch whose activities in the energy sector, the Treasury Department said, were “directly linked to Putin.
“Another powerful owner is Sibur’s largest shareholder, Leonid Mikhelson, who controls an energy company that was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department for propping up Putin’s rule.”
Ross lied about his personal wealth, so what, vanity of an old and insecure man? So Ross invests in a company partly owned by Putin’s son-in-law that is in violation of U.S.-Russia sanctions – maybe he didn’t know? Ross invests in a Cypriot bank that has laundered Russian money, a bank used by Paul Manafort at times, and another investor is a Putin-crony oligarch. Out to lunch? So many Russia coincidences? As we note in logo for the Russia Monitor: “If you believe in coincidences you are not paying attention.”
I mean come on, folks.
What does any of that have to do with Trump or Trump-Russia? Remember, Trump has a relationship with Roger Stone going back to the 70’s and with Paul Manafort going back to the 80’s – turns out Trump has a relationship with Ross going back to the 80’s as well, when Ross helped bail Trump out of financial trouble with his Atlantic City casinos:
In the 1980s, was in deep, spiraling financial trouble with his trio of casinos. The businesses were under threat from lenders. Ross, who was then the Senior Managing Director of Rothschild Inc., represented investors in the casino. Along with , Ross convinced bondholders to strike a bailout deal with Trump that allowed Trump to keep control of the casinos.
It’s like we’re watching a movie about an organized crime family – except we’re not. Sadly, we’re living the movie – the Trump-Russia Family Crime Movie … with a motley cast of hundreds, and counting.
Goofy side kicks
If we were writing the script we’d want a few goofy sidekick characters to lighten things up – sure they’ve sold out their country and lied about it – but still, you have to laugh, right? One such character is Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. When asked during the campaign, Trump offered a list of names of advisers and first on that list was Carter Page PhD.
Esquire ran a great profile of Carter: We’re Again Testing How Much Bullsh*t American Politics Can Withstand.
Page recently testified before the House Intelligence Committee and the committee subsequently released a transcript of his testimony. Esquire’s Charles Pierce had a few observations:
“…First up was Adam Schiff——Democrat of California, who asked Page about the latter’s curious view of his Fifth Amendment rights. Page then led Schiff into a discussion that must have made Schiff wonder why he spent so much money at Harvard Law School.
“Schiff: Just so that we’re clear, though, Dr. Page, you are refusing to provide the committee certain documents relevant to our investigation, such as documents that may pertain to your trip to Russia, on the basis that they may tend to incriminate you?
“Page: Nothing would directly incriminate me. The only thing that could put me in some risk is for a very aggressive prosecutor is the lack of overlap with those two. The fact that some of the document – you know, my documents will not be – by definition, they cannot be as comprehensive as the documents which are already collected. The National Security Agency, the CIA, the FBI have infinitely greater data-processing capabilities than I do.
“Schiff: Dr. Page, I’m really just trying to understand if you are invoking the privilege or not. Are you refusing to turn over certain documents to the committee that are relevant to its investigation because you are invoking the Fifth Amendment?
“Page: Yes. Yes, sir. And each of those elements in it, both judicial and extra-judicial.”
There are more fine examples. Page has been interviewed by the FBI (for ten hours) and has testified on the Hill more than once; he’s regularly on various news programs – all without the benefit, or wisdom, of legal counsel.
People analyzing his statements are so confused there’s now an opinion kicking around that Page must be a smart guy so his approach is an act to make him seem somehow less guilty and even make any of his comments so conflicting they can’t be used against him.
Speaking of evolving stories, here’s the latest from Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer that met with Donnie Jr., Manafort and Kushner at the Trump Tower in June 2016 (the ‘dirt’ on Hillary meeting): Trump Jr. Hinted At Review Of Anti-Russia Law, Moscow Lawyer Says.
A Russian lawyer who met with President ’s oldest son last year says he indicated that a law targeting Russia could be re-examined if his father won the election and asked her for written evidence that illegal proceeds went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump-Russia collusion – if true. I say ‘if true’ because Veselnitskaya’s story story has moved around a bit over time. But keep in mind, her ‘talking points’ had already been shared with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) weeks prior to the Donnie Jr. meeting; the same offer, the same language. And there is already a swirl of lack of disclosure, misleading statements about why, what and who – we’ll see.
With Trump there is always more… and more…. and…
New revelations in the leaked “Paradise Papers” about Kushner’s failures to disclose, this time with Russians moving money through Kushner for investment in Facebook. But before we end, let’s revisit Vox’s Ezra Klein as he tries to make us feel a bit better about the issue of a Trump autocracy, as raised in the last Russia Monitor column: America’s Pathetic Autocrat.
“Is this, then, the case for optimism? That we have installed a would-be autocrat in the White House, but luckily he is too limited to achieve his goals, too distractible to pursue his ends? If so, it is a damning kind of comfort, both in what it says about Trump and in what it says about us. The president of the United States is openly musing about his desire to use the power of the state to punish his enemies and we react with a shrug; we comfort ourselves with his incompetence.”
Trump’s autocratic rule is tempered by incompetence and his inability to focus beyond half a tweet. I don’t find any joy with that.
Trump-Russia collusion has broad and deep ties – business relations going back as far back as the 1970’s. We have an increasingly well filled-in picture of the events, the actors, the lies and the deflections. Charges have been brought and more are expected any day.
We’ve had some encouraging election results Tuesday. Perhaps there is some effective push-back against Trump nationalism?
Is this enough? Are we satisfied? Are the risks to our democracy now averted?
Not even close. Stay alert.