“Finish It The Hell Up!”

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

Those words were spoken by U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), expressing frustration over what he sees as the slow pace of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Gowdy’s words reflect a perception among many on the right, fed and amplified by the likes of Fox News, that Mueller’s team is dawdling, and that a lack of charges against the President by now means unquestionably that there is nothing there. Because of the constant repetition of this misconception in some circles, some clarification is needed.

First, Gowdy’s statement is ironic, since the House Judiciary Committee, led by Trey Gowdy, spent 30 months investigating Hillary Clinton’s possible role in the Benghazi attack between May 8, 2014 and December 12, 2016. While Benghazi was a serious incident, it was far less consequential than a U.S. President being assisted by a hostile foreign adversary to get elected. We are currently in the 14th month of the Mueller investigation, which began on May 17, 2017. And as Special Counsel investigations go, this one has taken a relatively short length of time thus far. The chart below was published by the Washington Post.

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It is also important to look at the types of crimes that Mueller is likely investigating. Steve Bannon reportedly said “this is all about money laundering.” I believe that Trump knowingly or unknowingly laundered money for Russian oligarchs and Russian organized crime figures for decades. There is an abundance of evidence of Trump real estate deals with Russians in which Trump properties were purchased at an inflated price and quickly resold for a significantly lower price, and in which properties were paid for with all cash – telltale signs of money laundering. An example would be the sight-unseen sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev (whose yacht and plane coincidentally appeared numerous times near Trump campaign events).

Money laundering is an intentionally complex and opaque crime. That’s the point of money laundering: the goal is to disguise the original illegitimate source of the money by processing it – often through multiple opaque transactions, shell companies, etc. – in a way that ultimately makes the money appear legitimate (even if at a loss – at least now it can be used). Money laundering is therefore an extremely time-consuming crime to investigate, and this case likely involves many multiple incidents of it.

In Russia, Putin demands a cut of all illicit money that the Russian mafia and oligarchs take in. If Trump were laundering money (a felony) for them, Putin would absolutely have a long and thorough awareness of that. Such knowledge – far more than any alleged salacious video from the Moscow Ritz Carlton – is likely the “kompromat” (compromising material) that Putin has on Trump, and with which Putin may in fact be blackmailing the President of the United States.

In addition to a lengthy history of money laundering – a clear motive for Trump to cooperate with Russia – Mueller’s team must also look into evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign / Trump Transition Team / White House and a foreign government run by a former KGB officer who knows how to cover his tracks. Potential witnesses and participants from Russia cannot be subpoenaed, and also know that they could potentially be murdered or jailed if they choose to offer evidence or testimony to Mueller. Those witnesses must therefore be presumed inaccessible.

Even so, you might say, if Trump has been involved in any criminal activity and/or collusion with Russia, Mueller must certainly have evidence of it by now – over a year into the investigation – so Mueller’s silence clearly indicates that he has found no such evidence. I believe that Mueller currently has a ton of evidence against a number of people from Trump’s campaign and possibly against the President himself. But consider what you do when playing poker. Do you pick up your hand and announce excitedly “Hey, I just got two pair! If I get another ace or king. I’ll have a full house!” Or do you keep your mouth shut, betray no emotion, and move calmly forward?

Mueller disclosing the evidence that he has collected at this point could compromise the rest of the investigation in multiple ways. It could tip off wrongdoers about who is providing information and what that information is. It could enable the President to know which facts not to lie about if he is ever interviewed by Mueller, and it could give him time to develop a plausible explanation for those particular facts. It could result in some witnesses being paid off, or if the participants involved are dangerous enough, it could result in witnesses being killed.

Some Republicans have stated the Mueller should let Congress know what evidence has been gathered so far, to prove to them, as part of their oversight responsibility, that the investigation is pursuing real issues and not simply wasting taxpayer money on, as the President calls it, a “witch hunt.” This is a legitimate argument.

Yet many of the same Republicans leading this charge, like U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – a former member of the Trump Transition Team and currently Chair of the House Intelligence Committee (who should theoretically know better than anyone about the proper handling of sensitive information) – have proven repeatedly that they cannot treat the information with the care that it deserves. Upon getting key information, Nunes has instead chosen to run to tell the President what he has learned, or has called a press conference to be the first to put a spin on the information. Both of these activities jeopardize the investigation by informing potential suspects about an ongoing investigation.

I want to see the Meuller investigation completed as soon as possible – likely for a different reason than Trey Gowdy does. But I also know that what Mueller is likely investigating is extremely complex, involves years of activity long pre-dating the 2016 campaign, involves witnesses who can never be questioned, and involves a Congress whose members cannot all be relied upon to put justice above partisan or selfish interests. So I force myself to be patient and believe that justice will prevail.

Of all the people in this situation, I trust Robert Mueller the most. Until the President and Fox News began their slanderous drumbeat to tarnish his name and reputation, Mueller was known to Republicans and Democrats alike as a brilliant and solid law enforcement official of unwavering integrity. That was why he was approved for his current responsibilities by both parties in an otherwise deeply divided House and Senate. Mueller is still the same man that he was before the smear campaign began, and I will trust whatever outcome he and his team arrive at, even if that outcome is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by the President.

– rob rünt

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 6: William Browder

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 6: William Browder

William Browder’s Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee – July 26, 2017

(Full Text of Browder’s Opening Statement)


Disclaimer: This is a summary of William Browder’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 26, 2017. The information below was presented by William Browder 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 “William Browder states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Browder_William-CROP
William Browder (Photo: Wikipedia)

Detailed Summary 

Browder was born in Chicago, and is now a British citizen. He has lived in London and Moscow for the past 28 years. He founded Hermitage Capital Management, a major investment advisory firm in Russia, which in 1996-2005 had over $4 billion in Russian stocks.

As owner of a major finance firm, he began learning that Russian oligarchs steal from shareholders, including from Browder’s fund, the Hermitage Fund. To fight this corruption, he began researching how these oligarchs were stealing the money. He would then pass the information on to the Russian news media.

Although Browder never met Putin personally, Browder’s efforts were supported and even assisted by Putin, because the oligarchs had “misappropriated much of the president’s power as well,” and Putin was just beginning to consolidate his own power.

In 2003, Putin arrested and jailed Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and staged a dramatic and humiliating televised show trial to make a public example of him. After that, the other Russian oligarchs came to fear Putin. Putin began demanding a 50% cut of the money that they were stealing, and Putin was no longer supportive of Browder’s anti-corruption efforts, which would now negatively impact Putin’s intake.

On November 13, 2005, Browder was detained and deported from Russia as a “threat to national security.” Eighteen months later, the Russian Interior Ministry raided the Moscow office of Hermitage Capital Management and Browder’s attorney and seized “all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that I advised.”

Browder hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate what the officials were doing with these documents. Magnitsky determined that the documents were being used to re-register Browder’s holding companies to a convicted murderer named Viktor Markelov, and $230 million in taxes paid to the Russian government by Browder’s companies had been diverted elsewhere. [Note: Prevezon Holdings was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt.]

Browder and Magnitsky notified the Russian authorities of what was going on, but instead of arresting those responsible, the authorities arrested and jailed Magnitsky. He was in prison for nearly a year under unusually horrible conditions, during which time, he was pressured to withdraw his testimony and sign a statement that he had stolen the money on instruction from Browder. Magnitsky refused.

Magnitsky’s health deteriorated dramatically in prison. He developed pancreatitis and gallstones which required surgery, but was instead transferred to an extremely harsh prison called Butyrka where no such treatment was available. His condition became critical. Magnitsky was transferred to another prison, was chained in an isolation cell, and was beaten to death by eight guards on November 16, 2009.

Browder, feeling responsible because Magnitsky had died defending him, vowed to avenge Magnitsky’s death. Magnitsky had documented all of the abuse during his time in prison in handwritten notes secretly passed to his attorneys. When this evidence was brought to Russian authorities, nobody was prosecuted. Instead, many responsible were given promotions.

Browder believed that the $230 million was likely in the west, where other Russians could not steal it. He decided to seek justice by getting the western assets of Magnitsky’s tormenters frozen and their visas to enter the United States denied.

In 2010, Browder began lobbying Senators Benjamin Cardin (D -MD) and John McCain (R-AZ) to create the Magnitsky Act, to freeze the western assets of specific Russian individuals and ban their visas. In late 2012, the act passed both houses of Congress and was singed into law by President Obama.

Putin responded with various retaliatory measures, including imposing a ban on American adoption of Russian orphans. Browder believes that Putin’s outrage was in part because Putin had ultimately been the personal recipient of Browder’s missing $230 million. Putin’s closest childhood friend, Sergei Roldugin, who Browder believes was acting as an agent for Putin, was shown in the Panama Papers to have received $2 billion from various Russian oligarchs. Part of this money was Browder’s $230 million. Because this particular money ultimately led to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Putin is subject to the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act. Putin’s wealth is estimated at $200 billion, and much of it is in western countries, so Putin has a personal reason to want the Magnitsky Act repealed. The act also weakens Putin’s control over wealthy Russian oligarchs.

A Russian named Boris Nemtsov helped Browder advocate for the Magnitsky Act. In 2015, Nemtsov was murdered on a bridge in front of the Kremlin. Another Magnitsky Act advocate, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was poisoned in December 2016 and barely survived. Another Magnitsky Act advocate, the lawyer for Magnitsky’s mother, Nikolai Gorokhov, was thrown from the fourth floor of his apartment building in early 2017 but survived. Browder himself has also received multiple death threats from Russia, and the Russian government has also tried to arrest him multiple times using Interpol and other law enforcement.

Browder believes that wealthy Russians Pyotr Katsyv and Denis Katsyv, Natalia Veselnitskaya (the lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner at Trump Tower) and a group of “American lobbyists” began a campaign in the U.S. to repeal the Magnitsky Act or to have Magnitsky’s name removed from the Act.

Pyotr Katsyv is a high level Russian government official. His son Denis was caught using what Browder believes was part of his $230 million to purchase Manhattan real estate to launder the money. Veselnitskaya is the Katsyv’s attorney.

Veselnitskaya also created a “fake NGO” called Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI) to advocate repeal the Magnitsky Act by focusing on Russian adoption. Veselnitskaya brought on Rinat Akhmetshin – a U.S. citizen and former Soviet intelligence officer – to help with HRAGI’s efforts.

Veselnitskaya hired New York law firm Baker Hostetler to lobby Congress to remove Magnitsky’s name from the Magnitsky Act. Through that law firm, she also hired Fusion GPS to “conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act.”

Fusion GPS told U.S. media that Magnitsky “was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal.” Veselnitskaya hired marketing firm Potomac Group to create a fake documentary to discredit Browder and Sergei Magnitsky, a huge screening of which was held at the Newseum in Washington DC. Howard Schweitzer of Cozzen O’Connor Public Strategies and former Congressman Ronald Dellums – both of whom had been hired by Veselnitskaya to lobby Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act – funded the screening and invited members of Congress to attend.

Browder believes that all of these activities were violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, requiring entities engaged in political or quasi-political activities in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments to register and disclose their activities, finances, and their relationship with the foreign government. Browder has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice stating that many of the groups and individuals above violated FARA.


Analysis

Browder’s testimony paints an overall image of rampant corruption in Russia, where oligarchs scam investors and Putin takes a cut of the oligarchs’ illicit gains. The testimony also makes clear that Browder is at the center of the creation of the Magnitsky Act, which currently prevents Putin and a number of other wealthy Russians from accessing their assets in the west. Putin had retaliated for the Magnitsky Act by, among other things, banning adoption of Russian orphans by Americans.

Given that the obscure subject of Russian adoption seems to come up repeatedly in interactions between Trump’s people and Russians, it is reasonable to assume that there are efforts to persuade Mr. Trump to repeal the Magnitsky Act so that Putin can once again access his frozen U.S. assets.

  • When Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. later claimed that the discussion was merely about Russian adoption
  • Similarly, when Trump spoke with Putin at the G20 meeting [Vox] , Trump claims that they primarily talked about Russian adoptions.

Browder’s testimony also brings Prevezon Holdings into the forefront of the issues surrounding the Magnitsky Act, accusing them of helping launder $230 million in taxes that he claimed he paid to Russia, but which the Russian government later claimed was not paid by Browder. Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky died in prison trying to help Browder prove his case. Part of Browder’s efforts to allegedly avenge Magnitsky involved informing the U.S. Department of Justice that Prevezon was engaged in money laundering in New York.

Browder claims that law firm Baker Hostetler (hired to defend Prevezon), Fusion GPS (hired by Baker Hostetler to gather research supporting Prevezon’s court case), and a number of other organizations were involved in a campaign to repeal the Magnitsky Act. He also claims that those organizations, as well as Natalia Veselnitskaya, were operating on behalf of the Russian government. If so, their anti-Magnitsky campaign work would be a violation of FARA, because they had not registered to disclose that they were working on behalf of the Russian government.

Fusion’s production of the Trump dossier, if done as unregistered agents of the Russian government, could have been part of Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Creation of the Trump dossier would of course not be intended to sway the election toward Trump. The intent would instead be to sow discord, chaos and distrust in the election among the American people – goals that would be consistent with Putin’s. Yet Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson, whose testimonies are covered later in this series, comes across as an extremely straightforward, credible and forthcoming witness, which would tend to negate the idea of Fusion as being in league with the Kremlin.

Because of the possibility that Fusion was acting on behalf of the Russian government, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee interviewing Simpson focused on Fusion GPS’s work on the Prevezon case.

– rob rünt


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


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 2: What’s What

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 2: What’s What

What’s What


NOTE: Names in red are most important to the narratives in this series.


Disclaimer: The information below was compiled from Simpson’s testimonies, the Steele dossier, and William Browder’s opening statement, and may or may not be accurate. Content that includes information that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and/or will include a link or reference to the source.


Access Hollywood
An entertainment news show that occasionally delves into celebrity gossip. Shortly before the 2016 election, the show uncovered videotape of Donald Trump boasting about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.

Alfa Bank
The largest private commercial bank in Russia. Alfa’s server was detected by U.S. intelligence to be mysteriously “pinging” a Trump campaign server during the 2016 Presidential campaign. [Alfa Bank’s Kazakhstan office is in Almaty, a city that filed a New York lawsuit against Kazakh money launderers, some of which money, Simpson alleges, may have ended up with Trump Soho or Felix Sater. (Alfa Bank) (Fortune Magazine)

Baker Hostetler
A major law firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. Baker Hostetler represented Prevezon Holdings in a money laundering case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Baker Hostetler retained Fusion GPS to do research for the case. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt. Baker Hostetler lawyers David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey later wrote an October 2017 op-ed to the Wall Street Journal encouraging Trump to pardon anyone believed to be involved in Russian interference with the U.S. election (Wall Street Journal)

Bates Numbers
A numbering system used for filing that usually includes some indication of the date of the document.

Bayrock
Felix Sater’s real estate development company. Bayrock developed the Trump Soho Hotel, and Simpson believed Sater and Bayrock to have connections to Russian organized crime.

Cambridge Analytica
A political data mining, analysis and communications company with offices in New York City, Washington DC and London. It is partially owned by the Mercer family, who are fervent and wealthy supporters of Donald Trump and who, until recently, were a major funding source for Steve Bannon. They worked on Ted Cruz’s Presidential primary campaign, Trump’s general election campaign, and also on the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Center for the National Interest
A think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon in 1994 to encourage “strategic realism” in U.S. foreign policy. Simpson encouraged the House Intelligence Committee to look into them. (Center for the National Interest)

CIS
Commonwealth of Independent States. An alliance of countries that used to make up the Soviet Union including: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The group was formed in 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Georgia was a member until 2008, and Turkmenistan is currently an associate member.

Cyprus
A small country off the coast of Turkey whose banking community has a reputation for laundering money for wealthy Russians. Prevezon Holdings is based in Cyprus. As a side note, Wilbur Ross was Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus just prior to being appointed by Trump to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, overseeing the flow of commerce between the U.S. and other countries.

DNC (Democratic National Committee)
The governing organization for the Democratic Party in the United States. The DNC provides strategy, helps candidates, and organizes the Democratic National Convention.

Foreign Agent Registration Act
A 1938 U.S. law requiring agents of foreign governments who engage in political or semi-political activities in the U.S. to register with the U.S. government and disclose their activities, finances, and their relationship with the foreign government.

FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act)
A U.S. law making it illegal for a U.S. citizen to bribe foreign government officials in order to get business. (U.S. Department of Justice)

FISA Warrant (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act)
A warrant authorizing U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies to perform surveillance on suspected foreign spies inside the United States. The request for the warrant must be approved by the Deputy Director of the FBI, then approved by the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General, and then brought before a federal judge from the U.S. FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) – a court that is closed to the public and specifically deals with such requests. Secrecy is essential due to the nature of the requests. As with all warrants, the judge must be shown sufficient evidence to show “probable cause” to perform surveillance.

FSB (Federal Security Service)
Formerly known as the KGB, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency.

Fusion GPS
A Washington-DC-based research firm founded by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Glenn Simpson. Fusion specializes in research of public records, often to help a client understand an event (e.g., fraud, theft) or relationship (e.g., repeatedly losing a government contract to a clearly inferior competitor) so that the client can have a better understanding of how best to move forward. Fusion also occasionally does opposition research for high-paying political clients. There work on two projects – a legal case against Prevezon Holdings and a project compiling information on Donald Trump – make them a key part of understanding the Trump-Russia connection.

 Gazprom
Russia’s largest company, involved in extracting, transporting and selling natural gas. Gazprom is supposedly a private company, but its majority owner is the Russian government.

Global Magnitsky Act
A generalization and expansion of the Magnitsky Act, allowing the U.S. President to deny visas and impose economic sanctions on specific foreign individuals associated with human rights violations.

GRU
Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Hermitage Capital Management
A wealth management firm run by William Browder. According to Browder, Hermitage was one of the largest financial advisers in Russia from 1996-2005, investing over $4 billion in Russian stocks. They are headquartered on an island in the English Channel, with additional offices in London, Moscow, and the Cayman Islands.

Hermitage Fund
A hedge fund created by William Browder’s company Hermitage Capital Management. The Hermitage Fund is HCM’s main investment fund. They claim that part of their success is achieved by exposing corporate corruption in the companies that they hold, with the goal of weeding out issues that negatively impact the value of those companies. One of those companies was Gazprom between 1998-2000. Russia filed fraud charges against Browder in 2013 related to Gazprom. (Reuters) Fusion GPD found that the Hermitage Fund was registered in Delaware, but Browder paid no U.S. taxes on the profits that he made with that fund.

HRAGI
Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (http://hragi.org ), a Washington DC-based nonprofit formed by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner at Trump Tower. The stated purpose of the organization is to restore adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. It may or may not be of any importance that the headquarters address listed on HRAGI’s web site is less than seven blocks from the offices of Fusion GPS. It may also be noteworthy that, as of this writing, every page on the web site other than the home page is “under construction.”

KGB
The primary intelligence and security agency in the former Soviet Union.

Kleptocracy
A corrupt government in which officials use their power and authority to take from the people or the country for their own personal gain.

Kompromat
A Russian term to describe compromising material that can be used as leverage over someone. This can encompass a wide range of things, including personal relationships, business entanglements, tainted political donations, and evidence of embarrassing or illegal activity. Kompromat is a common tactic used in Russian politics and business to gain advantage.

Kremlin
The Russian government headquarters, located in Moscow. The Russian equivalent of the White House.

Magnitsky Act
The Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012 after lobbying efforts by William Browder, imposes strict sanctions on Russians believed to be responsible for the death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky. The Act impacts a number of wealthy Russian oligarchs. To retaliate, Putin stopped all adoptions of Russian children by Americans. When people in Trump’s circle are found to be “just talking about adoption” with Russians (Manafort, Kushner and Trump Jr. in the Trump Tower meeting, President Trump with Putin at the G20), they are likely discussing the Magnitsky Act and Putin’s desire to have those sanctions lifted.

Money Laundering
Putting illegally obtained money through a process that makes the money appear legitimate. Money laundering efforts may involve shell companies, real estate purchases, businesses with unusually high expenses, etc.

Mossack Fonseca
A Panamanian law firm that was revealed in the Panama Papers to have a decades-long history of creating offshore companies to help corrupt individuals – including many wealthy people – further enrich themselves illegally through money laundering and tax evasion. The Panama Papers had been leaked from this law firm. (Wikipedia)

 Newseum
A Washington DC museum dedicated to journalism and the First Amendment. (Newseum)

Oligarch
A wealthy businessperson with a lot of political influence.

 Orbis and Associates/Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.
A research and consulting firm where Christopher Steele works.

P.A.
The Russian Presidential Administration.

Panama Papers
A massive set of millions of private financial and legal documents leaked to the public in 2015, revealing illegal and embarrassing information about a number of wealthy individuals around the globe. The documents had been created by and taken from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. (Wikipedia)

Party of Regions
The pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych was elected President of Ukraine in 2010 running under this party. Paul Manafort did work for the Party of Regions and for Yanukovych.

Perkins Coie
The law firm that hired Fusion GPS to do Trump research after the Republican Primary ended.

Potomac Group/Potomac Square Group
A Virginia-based marketing consulting firm that was hired by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to create what Browder calls a “fake documentary” about Browder and Sergei Magnitsky.

Prevezon Holdings Limited
An investment holdings company based in Cyprus (see info on Cyprus). Prevezon was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt.

Raiffeisen Bank
A Romania-based bank that Simpson says helped launder a lot of the money that Putin and the Russian mafia were skimming from the gas trade between Ukraine and Russia.

Red Notice
A book written by William Browder.

Russian State Investigative Committee
The Russian equivalent of the FBI.

Russotrudnichestvo
An NGO that the FBI considers to be a front for the SVR.

Shell Company
An inactive company whose purpose is often to hide business ownership from law enforcement or the public. (Investopedia)

Solntsevo Brotherhood
Russia’s largest organized crime family and the major dominant mafia clan in Moscow. They have a “robust U.S. presence,” according to Simpson.

Subpoena
A document issued by the government to require a person to testify in court.

 SVR
Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

Tax Haven
A country with low taxes. Businesses and wealthy individuals sometimes claim their base of operations in a tax haven in order to avoid higher taxes in their actual country of operations.

Trump Administration
President Trump, his Cabinet and advisors, and other staff of the executive branch of government.

Trump Campaign
The group of volunteers and paid staff who worked between June 2015 and November 2016 to help elect Donald Trump President.

Trump Organization
Donald Trump’s real estate business – a privately held company.

Trump Transition
The group of people who worked to prepare the Trump Administration and select key people to put in place for it during the period between the election (November 8, 2016) and the inauguration (January 20, 2017).

UKIP
The UK Independence Party – a pro-Brexit, nationalist political party in the United Kingdom.

Washington Free Beacon
A conservative web site that initially hired Fusion to research Donald Trump. (Washington Examiner)

Weber Shandwick
A large public relations firm that Simpson recommended to Prevezon. Weber Shandwick has worked on campaigns to change public opinion for corporate clients and foreign governments.

WikiLeaks
An organization that started with the mission of promoting government transparency. WikiLeaks made public incriminating e-mails from the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. The organization has also been responsible for publicly releasing highly sensitive U.S. government material. (Wikipedia)

YBM Magnex
An elaborate stock fraud scheme in Philadelphia that was run by the Solntsevo Brotherhood. 


 

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