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Nov 30 2017

The Russian Connection: Too Much Evidence

In her op-ed at the New York Times Michelle Goldberg wrote

Three months ago, The Washington Post reported that even as Donald Trump ran for president, he pursued plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The next day, The New York Times published excerpts from emails between Felix Sater, a felon with ties to Russian organized crime, and Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers and Sater’s childhood friend, about the project. Sater was apparently an intermediary between Trump and Russia, and in a Nov. 3, 2015, email to Cohen, he made the strange argument that a successful deal would lead to Trump’s becoming president. Boasting that he was close enough to Vladimir Putin to let Ivanka Trump sit in the Russian president’s desk chair, Sater wrote, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”

These stories were, at the time, bombshells. At a minimum, they showed that Trump was lying when he said, repeatedly, that he had “nothing to do with Russia.” Further, Sater’s logic — that Putin’s buy-in on a real estate deal would result in Trump’s election — was bizarre, suggesting that some part of the proposed collaboration was left unsaid.

But three months feels like three decades in Trump years, and I mostly forgot about these reports until I read Luke Harding’s new book, “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” One uncanny aspect of the investigations into Trump’s Russia connections is that instead of too little evidence there’s too much. It’s impossible to keep it straight without the kind of chaotic wall charts that Carrie Mathison of “Homeland” assembled during her manic episodes. Incidents that would be major scandals in a normal administration — like the mere fact of Trump’s connection to Sater — become minor subplots in this one.

It is certainly difficult to keep track of the cast of characters as this investigation plays itself out, especially the Russian cast. It even tripped up MSNBC host Rachel Maddow in her attempts to keep track of them all.

As Ms.Goldberg noted, “there is no longer any question of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the extent of the cooperation, and precise nature of it, remain opaque.”

We may need a bigger wall.

H/t to Suzie Madrsack at Crooks and Liars for the transcript below the fold.

“For the record, we have on our list of people connected to Russian government in contact with the Trump Team: Russian ambassador, Russian banker, Russian excon, recollection oligarch, another Russian banker,Russian lawyer, Russian billionaire’s son, Russian prime minister, currently-connected academic, Russian foreign ministry guy, Russian president’s fake niece, the head of a sovereign wealth fund and Ike Kaveladze, the money-laundering poster child, he goes on our chart there next to the Russian lawyer and the Russian lobbyist. He, too, with the little box around him there — he, too, was at that Trump Tower meeting.

“So that’s my correction. it’s not 18, it’s 19. It’s quite a roster. And there could, of course, be more, more than a year after the election, more like a year-and-a-half since the FBI started their counterintelligence investigation into the links between Russia and the Trump campaign, we are still adding to the list of Russian figures who successfully made contact and got themselves involved at one level or another with the Trump campaign and Trump transition.

“Last night, thanks to reporting by The Intercept, we told you about the latest Russian name added to that list, the CEO of the multi-billion dollar investment fund. He flew to the Seychelles Islands to meet Erik Prince, founder of the controversial Blackwater, and brother of Trump secretary Betsy DeVoss. The Washington Post reported they were in the Seychelles to discuss setting up a back-channel communication between the Trump team and the Putin team.. Erik Prince insists the meeting had nothing to do with Donald Trump, but this Russian government investment fund that he admits he might have crossed paths with in the Seychelles, they’re under sanction in the United States.

“That limits the kind of business Americans can do with that firm. If he was not meeting with the CEO about Donald Trump, they are a sanctioned firm, what exactly were they meeting about? We were reporting on that last night. Today we heard from the Russian sovereign wealth fund. It’s a fund called the Russian Direct Investment Fund. They did not like the way we described American sanctions against them. They did not like that I suggested it might be illegal for Erik Prince to do business with them as a sanctioned entity.

“There are particular careful ways in which an American might be able to invest in Russia alongside the sanctioned fund — although doing so while complying with sanctions is admittedly quite tricky. So banks and funds for the most part don’t touch investments with this kind of a sanctioned entity. But you know, maybe Erik Prince would and so, therefore, I’m happy to make that sanctioned entity, maybe you can figure out how to do business alongside without violating sanctions. Maybe.

“But it doesn’t make that meeting with Eric Prince any less weird. Because the CEO is the 19th Russian person to have successfully made contact with the Trump camp during the Trump campaign and the transition. The 19th we know of so far. As of this week, it is still growing.

“I am assuming we will have to get a bigger wall.”

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