By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/14/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
At the core of Trump’s self measure, manipulations, taint and many of the angles of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is – money. The same can’t be said of his 3,000+ documented lies since landing in the White House; his lies are about everything. Money is what will bring Trump to ground. Sadly for Trump, his ego may have led him to overreach, he and his cronies likely could have laid low and led a very nice lifestyle based on what they already had.
Trump’s lawyer and long time friend Michael Cohen puts all of this into sharp focus. Cohen took money to advise on many things he knew nothing about: pharmaceuticals and U.S. health care; Korean accounting; U.S. telecommunications; raising capital for a Russian oligarch’s U.S. investment firm. There is no instance of him delivering any value based on the purported basis of these corporate contracts in spite of the millions that flowed to Cohen.
But Cohen is not unique, consider former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn who pled guilty for lying to the FBI but also took money from Turkey, Russia and other dodgy clients. Unofficial Trump adviser Erik Prince was building private security forces for Middle Eastern countries and China. Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has yet to complete his SF-86 financial reporting requirement while at the same time working on personal loans and business opportunities while still serving in the White House. Or consider the graft and personal enrichment of Trump cabinet members like EPA head Scott Pruitt, Interior secretary Mike Zinke, Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and others.
Trump came to office as a fraudster and has managed to fill a swamp with like-minded grifters, cheats, chislers and mountebanks.
Worst of all, Trump has sold us out to Russia because of his greed and Kompromat.
I offer the rest of this as a sign of hope.
Trump Corruption While in the White House
Let’s start by offering a few examples of high-level summaries of Trump corruption.
Given the anniversary of the appointment of Mueller on May 17, 2017 we can expect steamy Russpublican noise about ‘nothing to show.’ While Watergate lasted for two years from the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation, Kenneth Starr was appointed in 1994 and four years later testified before Congress in connection with Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the Benghazi investigations targeting Hillary Clinton lasted over two years and resulted in no charges.
The point is, even to the public, there is much justification for Mueller’s work. We’ll start with a summary by Axios: The Public Case Against Trump.
“One thing is true of all major political scandals: What we know in the moment is but a tiny, obscured, partial view of the full story later revealed by investigators.
Why it matters: That’s what makes the Trump-Russia drama all the more remarkable. Forget all we don’t know. The known facts that even Trump’s closest friends don’t deny tell a damning tale that would sink most leaders.”
Writers Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei offers a fifteen-point case based on events and indictments through the campaign up to Cohen’s payoff of Stormy Daniels.
Be smart: The undisputed known knowns about Trump, Russia and his associates are damning and possibly actionable. But the known unknowns of how much more Robert Mueller knows that is publicly unknown is what spooks Trump allies most.
Remember: No one in the media saw Mueller’s indictments of Russian oligarchs coming until the second they were announced, and no one knew until this week that Mueller’s team questioned AT&T about its payments to Cohen.
Mueller has every incentive to keep the public and Trump himself in suspense.
They conclude with an encouraging point, by the time we learned about the $600,000 AT&T had paid Cohen, it was already five months after they were questioned by Mueller’s team.
Behind every door…
If you prefer video delivery of a similar story, here’s an MSNBC segment with Joy-Ann Reid, sitting in for Rachel Maddow, interviewing author and commentator Malcolm Nance, author and political journalist for Mother Jones David Corn and author and authoritarian studies scholar Sarah Kendzior: Cohen’s Shell Company Paid By Firm Linked to Russian Oligarch.
The segment starts with Trump speaking at a rally asking, “are there any Russians here tonight?” Reid and the panel go forward talking about Cohen links to sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, Mueller investigations of donations to Trump’s inaugural committee from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and other countries.
Nance makes the point, “Everywhere we turn, every time we open a door there is a Russian oligarch”.
Consider Trump and Donnie Jr.’s ties to Russian oligarch and Moscow Miss Universe pageant partner Aras Agilarov. We have Trump lawyer Cohen linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg who was also linked through Bank of Cyprus ownership to Commerce secretary Ross. Trump campaign chair under investigation for lying to the FBI Paul Manafort is tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin has been linked to Trump, Donnie Jr., former sheriff Michael Clarke, the NRA and now we learn, former VP candidate Sarah Palin.
A second excellent 7-minute video offered by the Moscow Project is here: Trump And Russia: From Corruption To Collusion.
“This is not about collusion, it’s about crime”. The video makes use of a long time line and Trump lies to make their case for Trump criminal behavior with Russians starting with money laundering through New York real estate deals.
If you watched the MSNBC video you heard David Corn talk about a Mother Jones article looking into donations to Trump’s inaugural fund: Mueller Is Asking Questions About Trump’s Inaugural Fund. There’s A Lot To Investigate There.
The Mother Jones subhead sums up the problem: The inaugural committee raised a record-breaking haul with little transparency.
“The committee raised a record $107 million in the months between the 2016 election and Trump’s inauguration, but questions have lingered about where all the money came from and what ended up happening to it. While corporations are not allowed to give to political campaigns, inaugurations are a different story, and the inaugural committee picked up . The source of funds behind at least one donor, a company called BH Group LLC that was set up in Virginia in August 2016, is still unknown. BH Group donated $1 million to the event.
“According to ABC, Mueller’s team has questioned several witnesses about donors with connections to Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.”
To Nance’s point about “every time you open a door there is a Russian oligarch”, there is one Russian relationship with a donation to the inaugural fund of particular interest:
“Andrew Intrater, the chief executive officer of Columbus Nova, the investment firm with Viktor Vekselberg that paid Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen $500,000 after the election. Intrater donated $250,000 to the event, and Vekselberg and Intrater attended.”
With Trump, it’s always a small, connected world with Russian oligarchs. And even while in office, he can’t resist his penchant to personally enrich himself at every opportunity.
As the New York Times editorial page reminds us, none of this should be a surprise. Trump sons Donnie Jr. and Eric bragged about Trump family ties to Russian money long before Trump announced his candidacy: Trump’s Shadowy Money Trail.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Jr. . “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
“The golf writer James Dodson that during a visit to a Trump golf course in 2013, Eric told him of his family company’s financing: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.””
Trump, through Cohen, was still pursuing a Trump Moscow hotel even through the final days of his campaign.
Money, Russian money, is the constant but it’s the strings attached that are the real problem, Kompromat:
“Russians and cash — they’ve been a part of Mr. Trump’s life for years, and now they’re elements of the investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Moscow to corrupt American democracy. Mr. Trump’s affection toward the Russian president has led many to ask, “What does Putin have on Trump?” Maybe the ledgers will tell.”
Trump’s early years looked and sounded like this, Trump was the “King of Debt”, until nine years before he ran for president.
“Donald Trump’s company spent more than $400 million in cash on new properties — including 14 transactions paid for in full, without borrowing from banks — during a buying binge that defied real estate industry practices and Trump’s own history as the self-described “King of Debt.”
“… It shows that Trump had access to far more cash than previously known, despite his string of commercial bankruptcies and the Great Recession’s hammering of the real estate industry.”
Jonathan O’Connell, David Fahrenthold and Jack Gillum offered a detailed history of how Trump went from the “King of Debt” spending other peoples’ money to spending $400 million of his own money in the nine years leading up to his candidacy.
The NRA’s very own oligarch
We open another door, and — SURPRISE! — here’s Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin. As reported by NPR, Torshin has been reported here a number of times, especially for his ties to the NRA. Here is an excellent history starting in 2009 with his efforts to build relationships with the NRA and others on the right: Documents Reveal How Russian Official Courted Conservatives In U.S. Since 2009.
Russian practice, Trump being a good example, was and is to first establish and build relationships without a specific plan for taking advantage at the moment.
“Documents newly obtained by NPR show how he traveled throughout the United States to cultivate ties in ways well beyond his formal role as a member of the Russian legislature and later as a top official at the Russian central bank. These are steps a former top CIA official believes Torshin took in order to advance Moscow’s long-term objectives in the United States, in part by establishing common political interests with American conservatives.
“”[Vladimir] Putin and probably the Russian intelligence services saw [Torshin’s connections] as something that they could leverage in the United States,” said Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations. “They reach out to a guy like Torshin and say, ‘Hey, can you make contact with the NRA and some other conservatives … so that we can have connectivity from Moscow into those conservative parts of American politics should we need them?’ And that’s basically just wiring the United States for sound, if you will, in preparation for whatever they might need down the road.””
Torshin covered a lot of ground:
“Torshin’s trips took him to Alaska, where he requested a visit with former Gov. Sarah Palin; to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.; to Nashville, where he was an election observer for the 2012 presidential race; and to every NRA convention, in various American cities, between 2012 and 2016.”
The news of Torshin’s request to meet with Palin is new news. Maybe we’ll learn more. In the meantime, one door is now closed.
“For years, Torshin built relationships with governors, NRA bigwigs and conservative activists — making a point of traveling to the United States repeatedly to expand those ties. But with Torshin’s designation as a target of U.S. sanctions last month, that door has been closed.”
OMG! Finally, Trump utters some truth!
Trump has run a shady business for years and “every time you open a door there is a Russian oligarch”. Hidden within the stream of constant lies there have been truths offered by Trump, Donnie Jr. and Eric: Trump: “I’m very greedy.”
Here’s Trump himself:
“Now, I’ll tell you, I’m good at that – so, you know, I’ve always taken in money,” he said at a rally in Iowa. “I like money. I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person. I shouldn’t tell you that, I’m a greedy – I’ve always been greedy. I love money, right?”
Many Americans see Trump’s greed as a good thing, they value the idea that by hard work maybe they can become rich, they respect him as a self-declared billionaire, someone who has ‘made it’ … if you can ignore the stiffed contractors and bankruptcies that ultimately are paid for by us.
Being a billionaire is one thing, being indebted to Russians is quite another. Putin is one person Trump does not criticize and his claim that “no one is tougher on Russia” has no merit. He resists holding Putin and Russia accountable for interference in the U.S. election, their annexation of Crimea, their role in support of Assad in Syria or ongoing Russian cyber attacks of U.S. infrastructure and even the upcoming 2018 elections.
Life and love in the ‘No-Tell-Motel”
There are special qualities about Trump – beyond greed, lying and exposure to Kompromat and his selling out of the U.S. Somehow, there are always people who flock to Trump’s side, the Michael Cohen’s of the world or the Russpublicans, that imagine they are better off for the relationship. Time will tell.
One relationship deserves special mention. Trump lawyer, former NYC mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is the latest example of someone who will do Trump’s bidding; his latest ‘fixer’: Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump: This Will End Badly. And Probably Soon.
The Daily Beast story sums up where things will go: Giuliani knows Trump well enough to know that Trump will turn on him fast. Here’s a preview of how this is going to go in the coming weeks.
Author Rick Wilson brings a sharp pen to the task:
“If the White House leaks are any barometer, it sounds more and more as if Donald wants Rudy to get his money off the nightstand and the hell out of his room at the No-Tell-Motel. This is what happens when you work for Trump, and Rudy is old enough, crafty enough, and knows Trump well enough to have known better.”
It’s a colorful view of Rudy and Trump ending with a prediction that Rudy’s latest embrace of Trump ends badly.