Follow the Money: Trump’s Dirty Laundry

Here’s a couple of questions. I’m asking you because no journalists I can find in the mainstream media seem concerned enough about these questions to address them publicly.

What happens when the Russiagate investigation is unable to prove collusion between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to rig the 2016 US Presidential Election? That’s the charge this investigation was launched to investigate:

What if, instead of colluding with Vladimir Putin to rig the election, Trump’s trail of Reese’s Pieces leads to money? Trump’s famous for money.

What if once the collusion between Putin and Trump never  happened, so no one can prove any of this narrative about Russia rigging the election, and Trump being “Putin’s puppet” was simply the political slinging of bullshit? It happens.

I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe. That’s not what we are talking about here. Suspend judgement. Ask yourself. Theoretically.

What if? What if there is no collusion?

What if there IS evidence of Trump laundering money with Russians? Sounds realistic.

Donald Trump, Russian Oligarchs, And A Trail Of Money Laundering

And what if there is enough evidence of money laundering to send Trump to prison, yet because Russiagate hinged on this charge of Russia <–> Trump collusion, and there was none, and the investigation took two years of everyone’s life listening to a fraudulent record skipping, nobody wants to hear about the real crimes?

What if there were real financial crimes, yet no one will do anything about it? 

What if there are real money laundering crimes committed by Trump but no one will believe it because the intelligence community cried, “Russian WOLF!!!” over and over?

What if there’s no collusion because the Trump family grifters never expected to win the election?

What if they, and Putin, were as surprised at the results as everyone else?

What if these folks were right and Trump’s real goal was to launch his own TV network once he lost the election?

He sure seems resentful he makes all this money for the “failing NY Times” and CNN rather than for Trump TV, doesn’t he?

What if he really did screw up and win the election accidentally?

Do you know?

These questions sound really plausible… so what if? Did any of these people in charge of the Russiagate narrative think ahead to what if the magic bullet doesn’t work on the werewolf?

Don’t you think Trump will be bulletproof ever after?

How to use Trump Tower and other luxury high-rises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House.

 

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Thom Hartmann applies Hanlon’s razor to the curious case of Donald Trump:

There are three general explanations of Trump’s behavior toward Russia (and other hard-right broadly autocratic regimes). For unknown reasons, the two most likely explanations are almost entirely absent from our electronic media. The three explanations, in ascending order of increasing likelihood, are:

  1. The Manchurian Candidate: He’s being blackmailed or has been a Russian asset for years.
  2. The Wannabe Dictator: He believes countries should be run like companies—essentially as autocracies.
  3. The Deadbeat: He’s not only not rich, but he’s badly in debt, and Russian billionaires are among his main creditors.

The Manchurian Candidate  explanation was largely the one Democrats implied during the election, and most have implicitly embraced since then, along with many commentators on MSNBC and CNN.

It’s the least likely, although if it’s true, Robert Mueller probably will  be letting us all know soon enough. But there’s little in Trump’s past that would suggest this is the case other than his embrace of Russia over the Obama administration’s reactions to the annexation of Crimea and activity in Ukraine.

But it’s far more likely that his support of Russia during the Obama administration had everything to do with hating on anything our nation’s first Black president had done (impose sanctions on Russia and expel diplomats, etc.) as well as wanting to trash the presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Even his dislike of NATO is the sort of standard-variety right-wing stuff promoted within the Republican Party from the days of the John Birch Society to Steve Bannon’s recent reign, and reflects an isolationist fear of alliances rather than an affection for non-NATO actors like Russia.

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The Wannabe Dictator explanation has a lot more credibility, and explains much of why Trump gravitates to strongman types like Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, the Philippines’ Duterte, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, and China’s Xi.

Trump knows very little about the history behind democratic republics (it would be shocking if he could even identify Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, or define the Enlightenment) and virtually nothing (based on public pronouncements) about the fundamental reasons why “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Businesses are basically serfdoms. The CEO is the king, the board and senior executives are the courtiers and landed gentry, and the workers are the serfs. This has been Trump’s experience ever since he inherited his daddy’s business, and he’s never in his life been accountable to any principle (like “democracy”) or to any persons.

So, much like George W. Bush’s “joke,” “If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier… as long as I’m the dictator,” Trump not only may think it would be easier, but, even more ominous, may think it’s desirable for the country.

Republicans have long used false analogies of “government as business or home” (particularly with regard to debt) that completely distort the real reasons for the existence of, and functions of, government. So it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Trump were to believe this nonsense, out of both ignorance and temperament.

The Deadbeat explanation is the most likely, although it doesn’t preclude either or both of the above.

When given a variety of possible explanations for something happening, usually the most simple and direct answer is the correct one. And there’s one huge, simple, straightforward explanation for Donald Trump’s perpetual unwillingness to even hint at a direct criticism of Putin. And it’s not the pee-pee tapes.

Here’s how and why.

We all know that Trump is both a terrible negotiator and a terrible businessman. Dozens of his companies have gone down in flames, thousands of small businesses and workers have been screwed out of money he owed them, and his bankruptcies are legendary.

If the American people didn’t seem to think this was a big deal, the American banks sure did. After Trump’s last bankruptcy, so far as press reports indicate, he could no longer borrow money at reasonable rates here in the U.S., and a real estate developer who can’t borrow money is rapidly out of business.

So Trump, as his son Eric tells it, turned away from U.S. banks and went to a number of Russian billionaires for his money. In 2014, when asked directly how he could have acquired $100 million in cash for new golf course acquisitions, Eric Trump famously said, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

So, if President Putin were to order his own billionaires to get their money back out of Trump’s properties and refuse to give him any more, Trump could well end up broke.

Really broke.

As in, losing all his properties, from Mar-a-Lago to Trump Tower.

It could wipe out all of his remaining businesses.

His kids would have to get real jobs, and no more big-game safaris.

His wife might leave him, and take their son.

He could end up living in a cardboard box on skid row.

Trump isn’t afraid of being exposed as a lout or a racist; he’s afraid of being financially wiped out if Russian oligarchs pull out of Trump properties.

If he’s seeing that collection of pictures in his head when he looks at Vladimir Putin, it would go a long way to explain his prayerful body posture and cringeworthy sycophancy.

This also would explain why Trump has been so unwilling to release his tax returns, even after he won the election.

As David Cay Johnston has pointed out on multiple occasions, Trump is almost certainly nowhere near as rich as he brags that he is, and has a long history of connections with shady/mafia characters to get the money he needs.

But this is not about just being embarrassed by being caught about inflating his net worth—Trump’s a man who has little ability to feel shame, as we have seen over and over again. Similarly, it’s not about the pee-pee tapes.

After bragging that he can grab women by the crotch—and having dozens come forward and accuse him of variations on just that—he must know that if he’d paid a couple of white Russian hookers to urinate on the bed that our nation’s first Black president and his wife had slept in, it may well actually help him with his base. It surely wouldn’t hurt him politically, and he knows that as well as anybody.

Trump isn’t afraid of being exposed as a lout or a racist; he’s afraid of being financially wiped out if Russian oligarchs pull out of Trump properties.

It’s why he’s even willing to take the risks and political hit by defying the Constitution and hanging onto the Trump Hotel in D.C.—he needs the money to keep his businesses afloat.

In 2016, Fortune magazine analyzed his federal public filings, and concluded he’s both less wealthy than he says and appears, and he regularly lies about it.

As with everything else in Trump’s entire life, this is all about money and its relationship to his own fragile self-image. If a few Russian oligarchs said, “Nyet,” he would suffer severe damage, both reputational and business-wise, and it well may be damage from which he couldn’t recover.

It may also explain why Russia (and a few other countries with billionaire oligarchs and/or Trump business interests, from the Middle East countries with Trump properties, to China with Trump’s daughter’s manufacturing) were enthusiastic about Donald Trump becoming president.

A man who depends on you for his financial lifeblood is a man more willing to give in around governmental and policy areas.

Now that Robert Mueller has, according to some reports, acquired access to Trump’s business records, all this may be coming out, which may explain why Trump seems so obsessed with, and frightened by, Mueller’s and the FBI’s “witch hunt.”

If Mueller exposes financial fragility on Trump’s part, it may tip the first domino that then causes the entire Trump empire to collapse.

It’d be interesting to see if the Chinese, for example, would then claw back the billion dollars they just pledged to Trump’s Indonesian property, or his daughter’s hundred-million-dollar Chinese trademarks, which coincidentally preceded by days Trump’s decision to let ZTE resume selling spy-able phones to U.S. citizens.

Equally interesting will be if the Middle Eastern billionaires and state wealth funds that are loaning over a billion to bail out Jared Kushner decide he’s no longer a good bet, either.

This is one of the few scenarios that explain pretty much everybody’s behavior within the Trump Crime Family, as well as the people in their immediate orbit.

As Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) famously said to Bob Woodward: “Follow the money.”

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Seva Gunitsky reached a similar conclusion a year ago:

To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.

In the endless pursuit of the Russia-Trump collusion story, we sometimes forget a key element: this whole mess began with money, not with election interference. The connections between Trump and Russia were forged years ago, well before he developed any serious political inspirations, and were focused on the shady schemes of Russian oligarchs and their dealings with Trump.

Understanding the roots of the collusion means setting aside the usual narrative – Putin wants to destroy American democracy – and following the money first.

In 2015, for example, Trump Taj Mahal settled a federal case that accused it of being involved in Russian money laundering. Trump has been doing business with Russian oligarchs like the Alagarovs for years; it’s possible their money may have even kept him out of bankruptcy.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Jr., said in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump’s Russian business partners despise the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which limits their ability to do business abroad, and would like nothing better than to see it repealed. Trump’s unexpected election gave Russian oligarchs a chance to claw back their losses: end the sanctions, cancel the Magnitsky Act, and settle the Prevezon case.

Let’s get something straight: The Magnitsky Act is not, nor has it ever been, about adoptions.

The Prevezon case may not be familiar territory yet, but it’s likely to be an important part of the Mueller investigation. Essentially, it is a holding company linked to the Russian elite, accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars through New York City real estate. It is also part of the giant tax-fraud scheme that Magnitsky uncovered in 2008, leading to his death.

The New York district attorney’s office had been preparing a massive case against Prevezon. But a week before the trial was to start in May, the case reached a strange and abrupt conclusion – the DA agreed to settle, essentially on Prevezon’s terms.

Their own lawyers were shocked. “It was a surprise,” said a spokesman. “We were getting ready for opening statements and fully expected to try the case.” No trial, no disclosure, and a $6 million fine, out of the $250 million that was originally sought. “Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse,” he added.

Prevezon’s lawyer, by the way, is Natalia Veselnitskaya – the same Russian woman who initiated the now-infamous meeting with Don Jr. last June.

On her Russian-language Facebook page, she celebrated this a victory “on Russian terms”, adding that it was “only the beginning.” (I highlighted a few nuggets from her social media history here.)

Her motives appeared to be mostly economic – something along the lines of “we’ll give you dirt on Clinton if you promise to do something about Prevezon.” Two months ago she suddenly got her wish, which raises the prospect that this was indeed a quid pro quo.

In other words, Don Jr. may be fibbing a bit when he says she brought nothing but vague talk to their meeting. [As I wrote this story, we’ve now learned that Veselnitskaya indeed brought something else to the meeting – a plastic folder showing flows of illicit funds to the DNC].

The strange settlement of the Prevezon case resulted in the recent inquiry to Sessions by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. “We write with some concern that two events may be connected—and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts,” they wrote two days ago.

But the abrupt way in which the district attorney’s office capitulated to Prevezon raised eyebrows even back in May, before the details of Don Jr.’s meeting came out. As Business Insider reported (and this is a great story, you should read the whole thing), one of the US government witnesses set to testify in the case suggested that “political pressure” was applied to the DA’s office.

Contacted later for a follow-up, she said only: “I cannot talk about it.” The question becomes, therefore, whether Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice put pressure on the NY district attorney – Preet Bharara, before his firing in March – to quickly settle the case, as a way of returning the favor to Veselnitskaya. Bharara congratulated his ex-colleagues on completing the case, but he couldn’t have been too happy about it.

If this all seems unbearably convoluted, keep in mind that it’s a much simpler explanation than the complicated theories of Putin’s 20-dimensional chess game of global domination.

It’s money, not politics, that has been driving the collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

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Of course, the collusion has clear – and enormous – political implications, but that was probably not the catalyst.  For Trump, it has always been about the money. “Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends,” Agalarov said recently.

What all this means is that Putin may not even be the protagonist of the story. The “disrupting American democracy” narrative we often hear may have been the cherry on top, not the main goal. It may even be a side effect of a process that Putin did not initiate and was unaware of, and which is now backfiring for Russia.

There is sometimes a tendency to see Putin as a mastermind with his tentacles in every corner of his country (and beyond), but the Russian government is more decentralized (and disorganized) than we think. That is not to say that the hacking and troll campaigns aren’t real or important – only that Trump’s ties to Russia are rooted in something else.

Even Putin has important supporters to keep in mind, people who have begun to itch after seventeen years of his rule and are deeply unhappy about the sanctions.

Wherever the story goes, Trump’s financial linkages to Russian billionaires will be at the center.

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