By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (11/20/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
How long have we lived with Trump and the Trump-Russia story? We have lived with Trump for one year since the election. We have lived with Trump for two years if we consider when he announced his candidacy for the presidency. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, what we’re seeing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s broader investigation to consider Trump’s business dealings with Russians takes us back ten years. Let’s open with that question, how long, and end with one attempt at an answer.
Trump Has Us Deeply Divided
We know that our collective opinions of Trump are deeply emotional and deeply divided. Some of us struggle to understand the person while we reel from what feels like a daily assault. Some find no fault with Trump, only with people that constantly resist and obstruct. Some see Trump as a problem, some see Trump as the leader that speaks for them and any faults are irrelevant. As we saw in the recent detailed Washington Post/ABC News poll, there is an expanding middle ground with our views of Trump: between the love him/hate him, there is a area of agreement – we don’t trust him.
Trump-Russia Highlights Shared Concerns – Trump’s Trustworthiness and Temperament
The poll results highlight two areas of concern that are the subject of this column: 1) Trump’s trustworthiness (33% Yes, 65% No); and 2) Trump’s effectiveness based on personality and temperament (31% Yes, 66% No).
We agree Trump is not trustworthy and he lacks the proper temperament to instill confidence, even while we are horribly split over whether we support Trump. Is this a maddening contradiction or is it the world we live in now – one where the Republican governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, puts party before other concerns with GOP Senate candidate Ray Moore. It’s part of our current political divide.
Trump-Russia Culture of Lies and Corruption: Trump, Family, and Associates
Trump-Russia is more than Trump, it’s a major part of our political cultural phenomenon. In this edition, this lack of trust is highlighted by news regarding Trump, Jared Kushner (senior adviser, son-in-law), Donnie Trump Jr. (son, executive director of the Trump Organizaiton), Ivanka Trump (daughter, Kushner spouse, exec VP Trump Organization), and even David Clarke.
David Clarke? That David Clarke?
Yes, we even have a Wisconsin connection (again) with flamboyantly right wing former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Trump, family and associates are a culture of lies and corruption and even as some support him, they don’t trust him.
Lies first, then we’ll look at the latest news and analysis of corruption. We’ll start with Kushner.
On Thursday Politico carried the news that Kushner Got Emails About WikiLeaks, Russia In 2016, Lawmakers Say.
Despite the headline there are more omissions than Kushner’s WikiLeaks communications highlighted by the article. There is Kushner’s failure to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee email communications concerning WikiLeaks. This omission was made clear because other witnesses – but not Kushner – had produced the documents as requested.
Kushner also failed to deliver documents connected to his security clearance application and requests for all contacts between Kushner and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The request from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) included this, highlighting Kushner’s consistent pattern of omission:
““If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.”
But, as with all things in Trumpland, there’s a new, bigger story that Kushner failed to disclose.
On Friday The New York Times reported Top Russian Official Tried to Broker ‘Backdoor’ Meeting Between Trump and Putin.
Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, is linked to Russia’s security services and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The subject line of an email that Kushner failed to disclose read, “Russian backdoor overture and invite”.
Overture? Invite? Backdoor? WTH?
This was an attempt to arrange a direct meeting between Russia President Vladimir Putin and Trump. Kushner advised against such a meeting. But this previously undisclosed Russian communication is another Trump-Russia overture just like the Russian meetings of former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. And just like the overture used to set up the June 2016 Donnie Jr. Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, Kushner and indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. In fact, the undisclosed Kushner communication from Torshin happened just before the Donnie Jr. meeting.
Kushner also failed to disclose his communications with Sergie Millian, a Belarusian American businessman with ties to Trump who was the source of the salacious disclosures in the Steele dossier (as in the pee pee tape).
But staying with Torshin: Will The Moscow Mafia ‘Godfather’ Attend The NRA’s Annual Meeting — Again?
The Trump-Russia coincidences are ever-present. In May 2017 Torshin attended his fourth National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting, in Louisville, KY. While there he was at a dinner, shared a table, with Donnie Jr. Donnie Jr. remembers “meeting a Russian” but doesn’t remember if it was Torshin.
Torshin also attended a December 2015 meeting in Moscow between an NRA delegation and Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge Russia’s defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin. Alexander Torshin joined Rogozin for the meeting. Rogozin is also the former head of the ultra-right political party (Rodina, or Motherland).
David Clarke, former Milwaukee County Sheriff, speaker at the GOP national convention to nominate Trump – also attended the Russian meeting as part of the NRA delegation.
The NRA-Clarke-Rogozin–Torshin meeting took place the same week Michael Flynn was in Moscow to speak at the Russia Today’s 10th anniversary dinner and was seated at dinner next to Putin.
This is a story that goes much deeper but is also easily missed. Kushner fails to provide email communications from Alexander Torshin but so what, Kushner was apparently against a Trump-Putin Backdoor meeting. The whole ‘thing’ is just a part of a list of omitted communications.
Trump loyalists will say, “So what?” To quote Reince Priebus, it’s a “nothing burger”. Yet so many communications, so many Trump-Russia contacts. So many coincidences…
So many lies. As Michael Gerson wrote Thursday in The Washington Post: The Russia Investigation’s Spectacular Accumulation Of Lies.
“…there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.”
‘As usual, No contact’ becomes ‘no collusion’ becomes ‘it wasn’t me’.
Here’s why all the Trump-Russia contacts, communications and collusion are important: We are all put at risk by a president that we neither trust nor trust his temperament to represent us capably.
Why Putin Keeps Outsmarting Trump: The Kremlin leader is trained to lie. Trust me, I ran the CIA: Believing anything he says is folly.
While on his recent trip to Asia Trump confidently announced he believed Putin’s assurances there was no Russian interference in our election. After calling the various heads of the intelligence services that warned us of the Russian interference “political hacks”, he then switched sides and claimed to stand by those findings and now claims to accept their assessment of Russian interference in our election.
Trump history suggests that he truly believes Putin’s denials of Russian involvement and sees the news as a “hoax”. We watched him do this exact same flip-flop-flip with his “I think there is blame on both sides” following the violence in Charlottesville, VA.
To quote former rapper Mark Wahlberg: “I never lie. I believe everything I say, so it’s not a lie.”
Trump fails us, and wevfail ourselves as we are not taking the needed steps to protect our nation from future election interference:
“…the more the president continues to muddy the issue of Russian meddling, the less likely it is that we will take the steps urgently needed to defend ourselves from further attack on our election system and other aspects of our political life. Lord knows we are not doing enough nitty-gritty cyber defense work—as Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged during this week’s testimony—while most political energy is going into the question of what Americans might have done to help the Russians.”
And Trump is right – we are not able to partner with Russia when or where it makes sense and that is because we can’t trust Trump to do this responsibly:
“…the sad fact in all of this is that the president is right to think we are going to need to work with the Russians on some issues of mutual interest. … The problem is that so long as the president persists in his current approach to Putin, few will trust him to exercise his vaunted Art of the Deal—which at this point is looking like just a clever book title.”
Americans do not trust Trump. For good reason.
Trump, family and associates lie. They got where they are today through corruption. Fortunately special counsel Robert Mueller has broadened the focus of his investigation to include Russian purchases of, and investments in Trump properties. Here’s a perfect example Wednesday Business Insider that fits within that timeframe: ‘Dossier’ Author Christopher Steele: Trump’s Hotel And Land Deals With Russians Need To Be Examined.
“The longtime British intelligence officer who last year wrote the collection of memos alleging deep ties between President Donald Trump and the Kremlin told a reporter in December that investigators examining such connections needed “to look at the contracts for the hotel deals and land deals” that Trump had pursued with Russian nationals.
“”Check their values against the money Trump secured via loans,” the former intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, told The Guardian’s Luke Harding. “The difference is what’s important.””
Steele highlights the story of a 2008 Trump home sale to Dmitry Ryblovlev, a Russian oligarch. Trump had bought a foreclosed property in Palm Beach for $41 million in 2004. Ryblovlev bought the property in 2008 for $95 million in a down real estate market. A ‘joke’ from the time was that Trump asked $50 million but the Russian demanded he would not pay a penny less than $100 million. While the dollar amounts don’t neatly align with the ‘joke’ the example bears out Steele’s advice.
There is also this important part of the story:
“Rybolovlev’s cash infusion into Trump’s bank account is believed to be the most expensive home sale in US history. 2008 was the year Trump Entertainment Resorts missed a $53.1 million bond interest payment and later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to reorganize.
“Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, told in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis.
“”What lingers for Trump may be what deals — on what terms — he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money” when other banks would not loan to him, Dearlove said.”
Here’s an example Global Witness of what Trump did after 2008: NARCO-A-LAGO: MONEY LAUNDERING AT THE TRUMP OCEAN CLUB PANAMA.
This is very well done article about the Trump Organization and the first business venture outside the U.S. – the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama (TOC). This is a story about Trump corruption.
Global Witness lays out the story…
“Global Witness has been exposing money laundering for almost a decade and has played a leading role in developing strategies to tackle it, such as the creation of public registries listing the true owners of companies. Our investigations show just how damaging the laundering of dirty funds can be. Far from being a victimless crime, money laundering keeps poor countries poor, props up dictatorships and fuels corruption and criminality.”
Trump’s business practices are part of Mueller’s investigation and likely Trump’s greatest legal risk.
TOC is the first, but not only, sordid Trump venture outside the U.S. A long list of similar business dealings have been the subject of articles from previous columns: Trump Soho New York; Trump Tower Sunny Isles Florida; Trump International Hotel and Tower Baku; Azerbaijan with possible investment from the (U.S. sanctioned) Iranian Republican Guard; and a Trump project in Kazakhstan.
At one point in time Eric Trump told a Russian publication that, “in the New York hotel-condominium Trump SoHo the bulk of buyers are foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians.”
Trump has not been a fan of laws that restrict bribery and corruption as a means of conducting business outside the U.S.:
“Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do… It’s a horrible law and [the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] should be changed.”
But specific to TOC, Trump’s Panama venture, Global Witness reports:
“…What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.”
It is worth highlighting one Trump investor and a convicted money launderer and his associate:
“One key player in the laundering of drug money at the Trump Ocean Club was notorious fraudster David Eduardo Helmut Murcia Guzmán, whom a U.S. court subsequently sentenced to nine years for laundering millions of dollars’ worth of illicit funds, including narcotics proceeds, through companies and real estate.
“Another was Murcia Guzmán’s business associate, Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, who brokered nearly a third of the 666 pre-construction unit sales at the Trump Ocean Club and claims to have sold 350-400 units overall. Ventura Nogueira’s sales brokerage was critical to ensuring the project’s lift-off and Trump’s ability to earn tens of millions of dollars.”
The article tells us, “…investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely.”
The heart of the matter – it is Trump’s children, especially Ivanka, that were personally involved:
“Eager for the project’s success, Trump and his children have participated directly in marketing, management, and even project design. According to broker Ventura Nogueira, Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended at least 10 meetings with him and project developer Roger Khafif.”
And like all the examples covered previously:
“A large number of those involved with the Trump Ocean Club in its early phase were Russian and Eastern European citizens or diaspora members. In an interview with NBC and Reuters, Ventura Nogueira said that 50 percent of his buyers were Russian, and that some had “questionable backgrounds.” He added that he found out later that some were part of the Russian Mafia.”
Trump’s clients and source of funds include narco traffickers, money launderers and Russian mafia.
Global Witness offers this cautionary statement:
“The dubious dealings of Trump the businessman also raise questions about the commitment of Trump the President to tackling crime and corruption. Trump got elected by repeatedly pledging to “drain the swamp”, but in the nine months since his inauguration he has actually taken steps that could worsen corruption in the U.S. and internationally. Indeed, one of his administration’s few legislative successes to date has been to overturn the implementing regulation of a ground-breaking anti-corruption law.”
There is always too much to cover so we’ll end with this interesting bit of history, as reported Sunday by Politico: The Hidden History of Trump’s First Trip to Moscow.
The author offers that Trump was an “official contact” of the KGB for his first visit to Moscow in 1987. This was an intentional effort to recruit Trump by the KGB:
In The Art of the Deal, Trump writes:
“In January 1987, I got a letter from Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, that began: ‘It is a pleasure for me to relay some good news from Moscow.’ It went on to say that the leading Soviet state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow.”
The goal of the KGB and GRU was Kompromat….
“Soviet spy agencies were always interested in cultivating “young ambitious people,” he said—an upwardly mobile businessman, a scientist, a “guy with a future.”
“Once in Moscow, they would receive lavish hospitality. “Everything is free. There are good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else.” The hotel rooms or villa were under “24-hour control,” with “security cameras and so on,” Suvorov said. “The interest is only one. To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future.””
The goal in working with an “official contact” is to have them “…not only “supply valuable information” but also “actively influence” a country’s foreign policy “in a direction of advantage to the USSR.””
Is this where it all started? Does it sound too fantastical? No sooner did I find this article, I found this Buzzfeed article: That Time Trump Spent Nearly $100,000 On An Ad Criticizing U.S. Foreign Policy In 1987.
Upon Trump’s return from his 1987 visit to Moscow he spent roughly $100,000 on full page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe decrying U.S. foreign policy and offering a case for why we should stop paying for the defense of other countries.
If you read his remarks you’d assume you were reading his campaign statements for the 2016 election. So is the answer to the timeline of Trump-Russia collusion two years, ten years or thirty years?
For now we are left wondering just how far the tale of Trump-Russia Lies and Corruption stretch.