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May 12 2017

The Russian Connection: Following The Money

More and more the Russian investigation is becoming about the money. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), member of the Senate Finance and Intelligence Committees, spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about why he thinks the Trump-Russia investigation should focus on Donald Trump’s business ties.

 

From Steve Benen at Maddow Blog:

 

In his interview yesterday with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Donald Trump was asked about whether he or his family “have any accepted investments, any loans” from Russia. The president said, “I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don’t have property in Russia…. I built a great company, but I’m not involved with Russia.”

Note the disconnect between the question and the answer. The anchor asked about money he may have received from Russia, not investments he’s made in Russia.

The Associated Press had a related report this morning, noting fresh pushback from the president’s private legal team.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump’s said Friday that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns do not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” with some exceptions. It’s the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign’s associates.

The attorneys did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns, so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. Their review also notably takes into account only Trump’s returns from the past 10 years, leaving open questions about whether there were financial dealings with Russia in earlier years.

In a letter released to the AP, the attorneys said there is no equity investment by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders.

The “exceptions” apparently includes money he received from selling a home to a Russian billionaire in 2008 and from hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, both of which he mentioned in yesterday’s NBC interview.

And while this is certainly interesting, the assurances from Trump’s lawyers are difficult to accept at face value. They are, after all, pointing to tax returns the president could release, but instead chooses to keep secret for reasons he hasn’t fully explained.

There’s also the suggestion this week from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that reviews of Trump’s business dealings in Russia are part of an ongoing investigation.

Charlie Pierce at Esquire Poltics weighs in, too.

The more I think about it—and I’ve been thinking about it a lot—the more I think that the hard criminal core of this whole episode may have something to do with money laundering or something like it. On May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a request to the Treasury Department’s criminal division for documents relating to the president*, his campaign aides, and various hangers-on. [..]

Moreover, somehow, immediately before he took his golden escalator ride down into the presidency, the news that the president* paid a $10 million fine because his busted Atlantic City casino was found to have failed to follow anti-laundering standards. This story got lost amid all those spiffy shots of an empty podium and noisy rallies, but it certainly is worth a second look now. USA Today had more:

• A member of the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.

Here’s what I think. The president* needed money. The Russians oligarchs needed a laundromat. There is an obvious common interest here. That the Russians could gain more leverage over him than he had over them in this arrangement should be obvious. I think that he will always value his dreams of financial empire more than the national interest, and that he would do anything to keep those dreams alive, even demolish the institutions of free government along the way.

His alleged subordination of the national interest by means of helping undermine the presidential election simply was a means to keep his businesses afloat and his own inflated self-image intact. That’s what he’s fighting so hard, and so clumsily now. I think Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is in it to fasten his outraged-saltine sense of law and order onto the nation. It is my opinion that Donald Trump is in it to hang on to every buck. Democracy is fluffed and folded along the way.

To add to Charlie’s point, Steven Benen has a postscript to his article:

The Wall Street Journal’s piece on this included a salient detail I’d neglected to mention. “A Russian would not lend directly to Trump or his businesses,” said Steve Rosenthal, a tax lawyer and senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. “A Russian would, for example, fund a Cyprus corporation, which would lend to Trump or his businesses, possibly through other intermediary entities.”

By all means necessary, follow the money.