The Trump-Russia Web – Part 9: Fusion GPS

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 9: Fusion GPS

Fusion GPS

(Full Transcript of Senate Testimony – 312 pages)
(Full Transcript of House Testimony – 165 pages)


Disclaimer: This is a summary of part of Glenn Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017 and before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017. The information below was presented by Glenn Simpson in his testimony, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Glenn Simpson states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Who is Fusion GPS?

The following are details of how Glenn Simpson described his company, Fusion GPS.

Fusion GPS (the Washington DC trade name of Simpson’s company Bean LLC) is a small research, strategy and consulting firm based in Washington DC, with approximately 12 employees. The company handles a small number of projects each year. Their clients are mainly corporations and law firms, but they occasionally do research for major political campaigns as well, although political work is not their “niche.”

Fusion primarily collects public record information, sifts through it to determine which information is relevant to their client, and analyzes that information. Their law firm clients, who prefer clear, documented evidence that will be useful to them in a court of law, appreciate Fusion’s focus on document-and-data-based research. Fusion also interacts with the press regularly. Fusion typically responds to inquiries from media instead of actively sending out information, although they also sometimes pitch stories and send out press releases when their clients ask them to.

Fusion’s process is generally not directed by the client: rather than being told to find information that will result in the answer that the client wants, Fusion gathers as much information and data on the given topic, determines what that information might mean and/or what questions it might raise, and then goes in the direction that the data points them. Fusion makes clear to their clients up front that this is how they operate. Simpson states, “if you predetermine the result that you’re looking for, you tend to miss things.”

Fusion is hired to do “reliable treatments” of a subject – to produce accurate information, positive or negative, that can help their client understand the person, business or event that they are dealing with. The goal is not to do a “hit piece,” even for political clients. That does not mean that some information gathered will not be unflattering to the subject: it means that Fusion believes the information that they gather – flattering or unflattering – is accurate. It does not serve Fusion’s clients well to be given an inaccurate understanding of the subject being researched.

Fusion gathers facts, which Simpson described as “provable facts,” “established facts,” and occasionally “factual allegations.” Simpson makes a distinction between the first two, which are objectively verifiable, and allegations, which are unconfirmed.

Because Fusion’s clients are often attorneys, and attorneys’ clients are not always honest with the attorneys, one of the first things that Fusion does in analyzing their gathered information and data is to try to assess whether the attorney’s client’s story matches with known facts. Much of Fusion’s work is described as “decision support” – helping Fusion’s client learn what the facts are so that the client can decide how best to proceed.

Fusion has a small staff, and intentionally chooses researchers who do not have strong partisan leanings, because “ideological prisms are not helpful for doing research.” Fusion occasionally hires subcontractors for tasks that do not fall under their areas of expertise. In order to ensure the integrity of the information that Fusion provides, all Fusion subcontractors (as well as Fusion themselves) sign a non-disclosure agreement before being engaged for a project: in general, this means that nobody working for Fusion on a project may discuss the project outside of Fusion, and Fusion does not discuss one client’s project with another client. To further ensure the integrity of the information that Fusion takes in, Fusion does not let subcontractors on a given project know of each other’s existence. Fusion often does not even let subcontractors know who the client is unless Fusion believes that there may be a need to verify that the subcontractor does not have any conflict of interest.

Clients generally hire Fusion for 30 days at a time: at the end of each 30 days, the client gets a report with Fusion’s findings, and if they want more, they sign up for another 30 days. When Fusion completes a project, they are often asked to hand over all copies of the documentation for the case so that the client can ensure that it has been disposed of. Simpson said that he could not answer whether the Steele dossier was handed over to the client.


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 8: The Steele Dossier

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 8: The Steele Dossier

The Steele Dossier

(Full 32-Page Text of Steele Dossier)


Background

Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, was hired by Fusion GPS to gather “human intelligence” on Trump’s business practices and connections in Russia. The ultimate purpose of this research was to help Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign. Steele’s research took the form of 17 memos that came to be known as the “Steele dossier” or the “Trump dossier.”

Steele, who had been the MI6’s top “Russianist” but who had been outed by a former colleague as a British spy, chose to do his research from outside of Russia by hiring subcontractors whom he believed to be able to gather good intelligence for him by talking informally with key Russian government insiders. Steele would filter out what he believed to be disinformation and then pass the information on in his memos to Glenn Simpson at Fusion GPS.

The detailed summary below of the Steele dossier puts the memos in what is likely their proper chronological order based on the Bates numbers (the memos appear to be out of sequence in the Buzzfeed document). The date of memo #2 otherwise makes no sense.

A likely explanation for the gaps in the Bates numbers is that Steele or his company used the other numbers for other projects.


Disclaimer: The information below was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele between June-December, 2016, as part of an investigation into Trump’s business practices and connections in Russia. The research involved Steele paying his trusted contacts in Russia to informally interview people likely to have relevant info. Steele and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Steele states that his sources tell him …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Steele_Christopher-CROP
Christopher Steele (Photo: New York Times)

The Memos

Memo #1
June 20, 2016
2016/080

  • At the direction of Putin, the Russian government has been “cultivating and supporting” Donald Trump for at least five years with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. and in the Transatlantic Alliance in general.
  • The Kremlin has also provided Trump with intelligence on Hillary Clinton for several years.
  • The Kremlin has a dossier of decades of kompromat on Hillary Clinton, primarily in the form of private (bugged/intercepted) conversations in which she contradicts her public positions on issues.
  • The dossier on Clinton is managed by chief Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on instructions from Putin.
  • None of the Clinton dossier has been made available outside of Russia or to the Trump Campaign.
  • The Kremlin has tried to develop kompromat on Trump over the years by tempting him with highly profitable real estate and business deals in Russia, but Trump has never gone through with a deal there.
  • The Kremlin has nonetheless successfully developed kompromat on Trump in the form of a videotape of him engaged in an embarrassing sex act with multiple prostitutes in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013.
  • The Kremlin believes that over the years, it has developed sufficient kompromat to successfully blackmail Trump.

Memo #2
July 26, 2015
[based on Bates numbers, I believe that the date is supposed to be June 26, 2016]
2016/086

  • Russia has a well-developed cyber-offensive program run by the FSB, whose four main targets are, in order of priority:
    • Foreign governments, especially western
    • Foreign businesses, especially banks
    • Russia’s elite
    • Political opponents inside and outside of Russia
  • Russia has had limited success breaching foreign governments, but has found great success targeting western businesses and banks.
  • The FSB recruits individuals – particularly those with connections to Russia – using financial and business incentives.
  • The FSB often uses coercion and blackmail to recruit qualified IT (information technology) cyber operatives, including targeting Russian-born U.S. citizens on business trips to Russia.
  • Due to the large number of recruits, the Central Bank of Russia has had difficulty covering over the large amount of money that must be laundered to pay them.
  • FSB operatives have successfully penetrated the “Telegram” encrypted communications system used by some businesses.
  • There has also been a large amount of cyber crime by individuals in Russia operating outside of government control, including by 15 Russian organized crime groups.

Memo #3
July 19, 2016
2016/094

  • Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page had a secret meeting with Putin associate Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian oil company Rosneft.
  • Sechin offered Page future Russian cooperation on energy production in exchange for lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Page was positive but noncommittal toward the offer.
  • Igor Divyekin, a spy with the Internal Political Department of the Putin Administration, also met with Page during his Russia visit to make him aware of Russia’s dossier of kompromat on Hillary Clinton. Divyekin offered to make the information available to Trump’s team.
  • In order to encourage Page’s cooperation, Divyekin may also have suggested that Russia had kompromat on Trump.

Memo #4
Undated
2016/095

  • A source within the Trump Campaign admits that the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin are cooperating in a relationship managed by Paul Manafort, using Carter Page and others to transmit information.
  • Putin hates Hillary Clinton and wants to see her defeated.
  • Russia had leaked the DNC e-mails via WikiLeaks, rather than directly, to ensure “plausible deniability.” The leak was done with full knowledge of Trump and his top associates, and Trump reciprocated by aligning campaign priorities with Putin’s agenda for Ukraine.
  • Russian interference in the Clinton Campaign was being done using
    • Russian agents within the Democratic Party
    • Russian hackers in the U.S.
    • Russian hackers in Russia
  • Russian agents and hackers in the U.S. received money and communications through the Russian pension distribution system.
  • In exchange for intelligence on Clinton, Trump’s team provided information to the Kremlin on U.S.-based Russian oligarchs and their U.S. assets.
  • The Trump Campaign source said that Trump and his team didn’t mind negative media coverage related to Russia, which helped distract from more damaging issues like his dealings in China that have involved large bribes and kickbacks.
  • Trump had tried numerous times to get business in Russia but was unable to, and instead ended up using Russia’s prostitutes.

Memo #5
July 30, 2016
2016/097

  • A source within the Trump Campaign said that there was increasing concern within the campaign about the DNC hacking and the media exposure of it.
  • The Kremlin was similarly concerned and planned to pull back on their activities in order to maintain “plausible deniability.”
  • Intelligence had been exchanged between the Kremlin and the Trump team for at least eight years. In return, Trump and his associates supplied information about oligarchs in the U.S. and their families.
  • There is more kompromat yet to be released on Clinton.
  • The Kremlin will not use their ample kompromat against Trump because he and his team have been “helpful and co-operative.”

Memo #6
August 5, 2016
2016/100

  • Hacking of DNC e-mails was largely coordinated by Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and his “black PR team.”
  • Peskov is worried that he will be blamed for blowback against Russia over the hacking.
  • Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov believes that the hack went too far, wants the operation to stop, and recommends that the Kremllin “sit tight and deny everything.”
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev is concerned about damage that the hack may do to U.S.-Russia relations, and is openly refusing to cover up for Peskov.
  • People in the Kremlin opposed to Peskov’s efforts have discussed forcing Trump to withdraw from the Presidential race “on grounds of his psychological state and unsuitability for high office.”

Memo #7
August 10, 2016
2016/101

  • Sergei Ivanov wishes the Kremlin to keep a low profile and not engage in further leaks for now.
  • Instead, the Kremlin will spread rumors and disinformation in the U.S. that exploit current DNC leaks.
  • Disinformation will target educated youth in the U.S., whom the Kremlin believes can be convinced to vote for Trump as a protest against the establishment, which Clinton embodies.
  • Even if Clinton wins, turning educated youth against her will weaken her ability to lead and her ability to hinder Russia.
  • Putin is pleased with the Kremlin’s U.S. Presidential operation, which he feels has successfully divided hawks and elites in the U.S.
  • The operation has three areas of focus:
    • Offer assistance to Americans sympathetic to Russia
    • Gather intelligence
    • Disseminate kompromat
  • The operation has included support and indirect funding of trips to Moscow for U.S. political figures, including Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn.

Memo #8
August 10, 2016
2016/102

  • A Trump Campaign insider reports that the aim of the DNC hacks was to sway Sanders supporters (seen as anti-establishment and having a “visceral dislike of Hillary Clinton”) toward Trump and away from Clinton.
  • This targeting strategy was Carter Page’s idea.
  • The Trump Campaign underestimated the hacking’s potential backlash from U.S. media, political left, and right-wing elites, and a change in tactics is being considered.
  • The Trump Campaign will make more use of media to get alternate messaging out.
  • The operation’s current short-term goal is to neutralize Clinton’s efforts to make Putin a “bogeyman” – efforts which make her appear more patriotic than Trump.
  • There is anger within the Trump Campaign that Putin’s efforts seemed to go beyond merely helping Trump to actually undercutting the U.S. democratic system of government.

Memo #9
August 22, 2016
2016/105

  • Putin met with pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (now in exile in Russia) on August 15, 2016 in Volgograd, Russia.
  • At that meeting, Yanukovych told Putin that he had authorized large kickback payments to Manafort, but assured Putin that there was no paper trail.
  • Putin and others in the Kremlin were skeptical due to Yanukovych’s past clumsy efforts at covering his tracks. The Kremlin is concerned about potential exposure and embarrassment.
  • Manafort had been doing business in Ukraine until he joined the Trump Campaign in March 2016.
  • Manafort was ousted from the Trump Campaign in part because of the revelations in the press about his ties to Ukraine, but also because of internal campaign hostility toward him and his strategy and policy ideas.

Memo #10
September 14, 2016
2016/111

  • Putin has ordered that Kremlin and government officials not publicly or privately discuss Russia’s intervention efforts in the U.S. Presidential campaign.
  • A Kremlin insider confirmed that “the gist” of allegations of Russian meddling is true.
  • Putin has gotten conflicting advice on the operation from different factions:
    • Those who urged caution to prevent blowback: Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak; the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.
    • Those who believed that the operation would be “effective and plausibly deniable with little blowback:” Sergei Ivanov and the SVR.
  • Ivanov’s advice had proven wrong, so Putin fired him on August [12th] 2016 [Wikipedia].
  • The Kremlin intends to release further kompromat on Clinton (still managed and controlled by Peskov under direction of Putin) after mid-September.
  • Some Putin advisers recommend not releasing further Clinton kompromat, but instead provoking Clinton to rail against Putin, which they think would make her look “weak and stupid.”
  • One goal of Russia’s election operation is believed by some in Moscow to be to shift the policies of both Clinton and Trump toward positions more beneficial to Russia, including:
    • Opposing TPP and TPIP which are not in Russia’s interests
    • Changes in positions on Syria and Ukraine
  • A Russian diplomat to the U.S., Mikhail Kulagin, was removed from the U.S. by Russia because of Kremlin concerns that his extensive involvement in the “veterans’ pensions ruse” would be exposed by the press.

Memo #11
September 14, 2016
2016/112

  • Relations are relatively good between Putin and the Alpha [Alfa] Group, which does political favors for Putin in exchange for business/legal favors for Alfa. [Alfa Bank’s server was detected by U.S. intelligence to be mysteriously “pinging” a Trump campaign server during the 2016 Presidential campaign.] [Fortune Magazine]
  • Putin is listening to advice from Alfa leaders Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven regarding how to deal with the U.S., because he does not trust the counsel of his own advisers.
  • Putin and Fridman recently conversed in person, but communication between them is generally handled by Oleg Govorun for “plausible deniability” due to Govorun’s low profile.
  • Govorun currently heads the Russian organization responsible for interactions with CIS, the other nations of the former Soviet Union.
  • In the 1990s, Govorun had worked for Alfa Bank delivering large amounts of illicit money to Putin, then Mayor of St. Petersburg.
  • Alfa had kompromat on Putin from his corrupt practices in the 1990s, but Putin nonetheless has leverage over them in the form of Kremlin officials’ disapproval of Alfa’s financial activities.

Memo #12
September 14, 2016
2016/113

  • Trump has a history of paying bribes in St. Petersburg, Russia to try to get real estate deals there.
  • The bribes were paid “discreetly and only through affiliated companies, making it very hard to prove.”
  • Trump also participated in sex parties in St. Petersburg, but all witnesses have recently been bribed or coerced to be silent.
  • Araz [Aras] Agalarov would likely have knowledge of Trump’s activities in St. Petersburg.

Memo #13
October 12, 2016
2016/130

  • Kremlin officials are having “buyer’s remorse” over their U.S. Presidential election operation.
  • Kremlin officials are surprised that leaks about Hillary Clinton have not been more damaging to her campaign.
  • More hacked Clinton material has been released through sources like WikiLeaks, and will continue to be released until the November election, but the most damaging material is already public.
  • Putin is angry at Kremlin officials who “overpromised” about Trump’s chances and reliability, and who minimized the risk of blowback.
  • The Trump operation was intended to destabilize the U.S. and the Western-oriented international community in general.
  • Putin sees Western destabilization as advantageous to Russia.
  • The Trump operation was initially run by the Russian Foreign Ministry, then was run by the FSB, and is now being managed by Putin’s administration.
  • Win or lose, Trump will be valuable to Russia because he will remain divisive.

Memo #14
October 18, 2016
2016/134

  • More details on July 2016 meeting in Moscow between Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Trump adviser Carter Page (Memo #3)
  • The meeting took place on July 7 or 8, 2016, while Page was in Moscow to speak at the Higher Economic School.
  • Sechin offered Page and Trump associates up to 19% privatized stake of Rosneft in exchange for getting economic sanctions lifted. Page said that the sanctions would be lifted if Trump won.
  • Until October 17, 2016, Sechin believed that Trump could win, but is now looking for other avenues to work with the U.S.
  • Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has been key in the Trump-Russia relationship.

Memo #15
October 19, 2016
2016/135

  • Paul Manafort had managed the Trump-Russia relationship until he was fired as Trump Campaign Manager in August: then Cohen began handling that relationship.
  • Cohen is now working to limit exposure of the Trump-Russia operation, and met secretly in August 2016 with Kremlin lawyers in an EU country.
  • Areas of concern to Cohen include how to deal with U.S. media revelations of Manafort’s relationship with pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and of Carter Page’s secret July meeting with Kremlin officials.
  • The goal is to ensure that nothing can be proven.
  • To further avoid detection, the Kremlin used trusted agents as intermediaries such as [the Institute of] Law and Comparative Jurisprudence [IZISP] to communicate. Cohen remained the main point of contact for Trump.
  • There is further confirmation of shakeups within the Kremlin related to the Trump operation and the desire to cover it up.

Memo #16
October 20, 2016
2016/136

  • Michael Cohen’s secret meeting with Kremlin representatives in August happened in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • The meeting was arranged by the NGO Russotrudnichestvo, possibly in their office, to create “plausible deniability.”
  • Russotrudnichestvo’s Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian Foreign Relations Committee, is an important figure in communications between the Trump Campaign and Kremlin. He arranged and possibly attended the meeting.
  • The meeting was originally scheduled for Moscow, but was moved to Prague to be less obvious.

Memo #17
December 13, 2016
2016/166

  • Cohen’s meeting in Prague happened in either in the last week of August or first week of September, and he had three other people with him.
  • One Russian involved was Oleg Solodukhin (via Russotrudnichestvo).
  • The agenda/discussion included:
    • Need to make sure that payments to hackers are deniable.
    • General need to cover tracks from interactions between Russia and the Trump Campaign.
    • Contingency plans if Hillary wins the election, including making payments to hackers quickly and discreetly and ensuring that they keep a low profile.
    • Limiting damage from revelations in U.S. press regarding Manafort and Page.
    • Romanian hackers should “stand down.”
    • Other operatives should go to Plovdiv, Bulgaria and “lay low.”
  • From March-September, 2016, [name redacted] company “and its affiliates used botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data, and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.
  • Operatives were paid by both the Kremlin and the Trump Campaign, but their loyalties are to Sergei Ivanov and the Russian government in general.

Analysis

Steele’s memos describe a covert Kremlin operation, consistent with known and documented events, to damage the Clinton Campaign and help Trump win the Presidency. If Steele’s findings are accurate, there was active cooperation between people in the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin. Worse, the memos depict the man who has become our President as potentially subject to blackmail by Vladimir Putin – a cunning leader whose interests are hostile to the U.S.

Some potentially relevant background:

During the Cold War, Putin was a high level officer in the KGB and later the FSB – somewhat equivalent to the CIA. He rightly blames the United States for the Soviet Union’s collapse, and would like to see Russia restored to the global power and glory that it enjoyed during the Cold War Era. Putin particularly despises Hillary Clinton, whom he sees as having actively worked to undermine his and Russia’s power.

Part of Putin’s rise to power is believed to have involved an incident similar to the videotaping of Trump in the Moscow Ritz Carlton. The KGB and FSB were known to have hidden cameras and other recording devices in many of the rooms of Russia’s top hotels. In 1997, six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, then-FSB head Putin publicly released video footage of Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yury Skuratov, having sex in a hotel bed with two women, resulting in Skuratov resigning in disgrace. The event was widely believed to have been an FSB operation. [New York Times]

Two years later, Russian President Yeltsin appointed Putin Prime Minister of Russia as a reward for exposing government corruption. Putin moved on to replace Yeltsin.

If Steele’s dossier is accurate, Putin may be using a method against the United States that has yielded positive results for him in the past.

– rob rünt


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation:
Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia


News outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Trump’s legal advisors are looking for ways to disqualify Robert Mueller, the Special Prosecutor investigating possible Trump Campaign collusion with Russia. One way in which Team Trump hopes to do this is by claiming that Mueller is overstepping the scope of his investigation by looking into things like Trump’s personal finances. While such areas of inquiry might on the surface seem unrelated to electoral meddling by Russia, Trump’s taxes, financial dealings and other areas are in fact very legitimate and essential aspects to explore.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Prosecutor, he defined the scope of Mueller’s investigation as “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with Trump’s campaign, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and “any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)” such as obstruction of justice, destroying evidence, and intimidating witnesses.

In looking at whether or not the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia – or if Trump or his Administration are currently colluding with Russia – Mueller needs to look at why Trump and Putin would possibly want to cooperate.

There are a number of possible explanations for such cooperation. One is “kompromat” – potentially compromising evidence of something embarrassing or illegal – that Putin might be using to blackmail Trump, as alleged in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17). Another explanation is major financial debts which Putin may in some way be helping Trump get rid of, or which Trump owes to Russia. And another explanation is the possibility of a financial crime yet to be committed against the United States, in which Putin or other Russians and Trump are currently coordinating.

Here is how some of Mueller’s possible avenues of investigation can help show whether there is anything of substance to any of those explanations.

Tax Returns

Donald Trump has been evasive about his tax returns ever since he was first asked about them. During his campaign, unlike previous Presidential candidates, he said that he would only disclose his tax returns if elected, citing the feeble and long debunked excuse that he was under a “routine audit” by the IRS. Once elected, Trump continued to refuse to make his tax returns public, claiming falsely that only the media care about them (The Hill – 1/11/17), when in fact even a majority of Republicans want him to release them (The Hill – 4/13/17).

Trump’s tax returns are relevant to the Russia investigation because they can show debts that he owes and business relationships that he has. Knowing to whom Trump owes money, and how much, can help Mueller connect the dots, if there are any, between those debts and Russia. Understanding Trump’s business relationships can also be a starting point toward uncovering closer connections with Putin than the President has admitted.

Bank Loans

As a real estate mogul, Donald Trump has taken out loans from financial institutions around the world in order to purchase real estate, build on or improve properties, and other legal real estate activities. If Trump has had difficulty repaying some of those loans, someone offering to help take care of them could be appealing to the President. If that person is Vladimir Putin or an associate of Putin’s, that is highly relevant information for Mueller’s investigation. The first step toward exploring this angle is to look at Trump’s bank debts.

The relevance of bank loans in the Russia scandal becomes even more acute if some of the banks are actually Russian banks, especially Russian state banks. As Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (British intelligence agency) said in April, “What lingers for Trump may be what deals — on what terms — he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him.” (The Sun UK – 4/13/17)

Real Estate Deals

Exploring Trump’s real estate deals can provide not only a starting point to learning more about Trump’s debts, but also about illegal activity that he may have been involved in during his civilian life or which he may currently be involved in – knowledge of which, if known by Putin or associates of Putin, could be used to blackmail the President.

In particular, learning more about Trump’s real estate deals can yield clues about money laundering. Money laundering is the act of putting illegally obtained money through a process that can give that money the appearance of legitimacy. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort is currently under investigation for money laundering for some New York condos that he purchased with all cash (The Atlantic – 3/29/17).

Trump himself has had numerous questionable real estate transactions, including the 2006 purchase of a Palm Beach mansion, which stayed vacant until he sold it a year later to a wealthy Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev – for nearly twice the amount that he had purchased it for (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Rybolovlev reportedly never even visited the home.

Wilbur Ross

Rybolovlev was introduced to the President by an old friend named Wilbur Ross (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Ross was appointed by Trump and confirmed as the US Secretary of Commerce in February. Prior to that, Ross was one of two Vice Chairmen of the Bank of Cyprus. Cyprus is an island off the coast of Turkey whose banks are often used by wealthy Russian oligarchs to launder money. The other Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is Viktor Vekselberg, the second wealthiest man in Russia and a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, Ross and Vekselberg appointed Josef Ackerman to be President of the Bank of Cyprus (The Irish Times – 11/1/14). From 2002-2012, Ackerman had been CEO of Deutsche Bank, one of the largest banks in the world. Deutsche Bank had also been engaged in laundering approximately $10 billion for wealthy Russians in a stock fraud scheme (Vanity Fair – 7/20/17) – a crime discovered in 2013, and for which the United States fined the bank $630 million. Trump owed Deutsche Bank millions of dollars at the time that Wilbur Ross connected him with Dmitry Rybolovlev for the seemingly overpriced purchase of the Palm Beach mansion.

Untangling this mess, figuring out who knows what about it, looking at how Russia and Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus factor in, as well as understanding the role of Wilbur Ross, may help Mueller better decipher how Donald Trump may be compromised by Russia and why he may be unduly interested in cooperating with them.

Beauty Pageants

In 2013, Donald Trump brought his Miss Universe beauty pageant to Russia (New York Times – 7/11/17). The recently disclosed June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a marketing executive who has worked for the Miss Universe pageants. Aras Agalarov, the person whom Goldstone cited as the connection to the Russian lawyer, had paid almost $20 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia.

While these connections are important for Mueller to investigate, the Miss Universe pageant is also relevant because the Christopher Steele dossier (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17) alleges that Trump participated in a potentially embarrassing private event in 2013 in a room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow – an event which Vladimir Putin may possess video footage of. Such footage could be used to blackmail President Trump. In order to determine whether Trump is compromised as the Steele dossier alleges, Mueller needs to develop a timeline of Trump’s activities during any 2013 visits to Russia.

Donald Trump has proven to be a brilliant artist when it comes to smearing those he dislikes and branding them in a negative way. We should be conscious that news outlets are currently reporting possible plans by Trump’s associates to discredit and remove Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Mueller’s reputation as an ethical and dedicated law enforcement professional is impeccable. And the areas now believed to be coming under the scrutiny of his investigation are all absolutely relevant and necessary to get a full picture of any potential collusion between Donald Trump/his campaign/his Administration and Russia. We should also remain acutely aware that Vladimir Putin does not have the best interests of the United States at heart.

– rob rünt