The Russian Connection
In 1977 I spent the winter/spring semester in Washington, DC. I started at the Carter Inauguration, dancing in the DC Armory with the Charlie Daniels Band at the Staff Ball, then spent half of my time in class, and the other half in the office of Congressman Tom Luken from Cincinnati.
That winter a new movie came out with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, “All the President’s Men,” about the Watergate scandal six years before. A pivotal character in the movie was “Deep Throat,” Hal Holbrook’s shadowy figure in the parking garage, who helped confirm and direct Bob Woodward as he dug deeper and deeper into the scandal that brought down a President. The movie made you look over your shoulder just as Woodward was doing, worried about what was going on under the surface, behind the tourists and the white marble monuments.
We now know that “Deep Throat” was FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt. Felt knew what the FBI investigation was revealing, and he knew that the pressure on those above him to keep it quiet was so great that the only way the truth would be revealed with through the press.
In “All the President’s Men,” Deep Throat whispers to Woodward from behind the garage pillars:
“follow the money.”
Following the Money
The major question about the Trump Administration: is it co-opted by the Russians, and if so how much, and why. It is possible that this whole scandal isn’t about power or secret alliances orchestrated by Steve Bannon, but simply about money.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia had a brief flirtation with a democratic society. But with so much money at stake (remember that the Soviet government owned everything, now all of the means of making capital were on the market) the democracy slowly drowned in a sea of easy money. Vladimir Putin was a Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB and then head of the FSB (successor to the KGB) under Boris Yeltsin. He rose to power after Yeltsin resigned, and made an accommodation with the Russians who were making huge amounts of money, legally and illegally, controlling Russian industry and trade. These oligarchs agreed to support Putin.
In this sea of easy money, a huge issue for the new “kleptocrats” was to find a way to launder the money so they could spend the illegally gained money, legally. Laundering money is done “for a price,” with the illegal funds “cleaned” for a percentage (30-40% or more). This process can be pretty obvious, like buying a property valued at $41 million for $95 million. (Trump sell Palm Beach Mansion) Or it can be much more complex, like the Russian Deutsche Bank scheme where Russian stocks were bought in rubles, then sold for relatives in dollars. (Mirror Trades at Deutsche Bank).
By the way, Deutsche Bank was fined $10 Billion for the rubles for dollars scheme, and the CEO, Anshu Jain, was let go. He immediately became the Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a bank whose current existence is based on Russian money. The fact that current US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was the vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus prior to joining the Trump cabinet only “stirs the pot” even more.
So what do we know? We know that Donald Trump was in difficult financial straits in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. We know that his business was based on his ability to borrow money, and that after the bankruptcies and collapse of the New Jersey casinos, he was struggling to do that. We know he had loans from Deutsche Bank, and we know HE was the one who sold the Palm Beach estate. We also know that his Florida properties are heavily sold to Russians (Investigation of Trump Florida Properties). We also know that Trump World Tower is filled with Russian money (Trump Tower and Russian Oligarchs).
President Trump has said over and over again that he has no investments in Russia. Perhaps that’s true (though we’ll never know for sure unless his taxes are released), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t heavily invested in RUSSIANS.
Sure there’s plenty of other Russian connections. Paul Manafort, who we now know was a paid employee, at $10 million a year, for a close Putin associate; the phone calls, the contacts, and the clear passion Bannon has for a Russian deal. But perhaps this whole scandal comes down to a much simpler motive: Trump needed money, any way he could get it, and the Russians needed to clean their rubles. The problem: what kind of influence and leverage does this give Putin over Trump’s actions?