I want to strike the same tone in this piece as I did on my deep dive in to Trump’s Russian connections back in March. I’m not saying I know that this happened. I clearly think this happened, but this is an effort to connect some dots in the Trump-Russia saga, and consider this an acknowledgement that not all dots need to be connected, and I could be pulling on some strings that aren’t meant to be pulled.
I worked my ass off on these 22,000 words from March, so at the very least, just tell me that you read one of them so I can feel like I didn’t waste my time.
Part 1: How Trump’s Own Words Connect him to Russia
Part 2: How Trump’s Businesses are Financed by Russian Cash
Part 3: The Mysterious Deaths and Arrests of High-Level Russian Officials
Part 4: Trump’s FISA Paranoia
Part 5: A Unified Theory on Trump’s Russian Connections
I basically just Googled stuff, read stuff linked to by various experts, followed links embedded in the stuff I was reading, etc…etc…etc…all day/night for a few months trying to find as much legitimate reporting on this byzantine drama as I could. Thing is, there is a wealth of, well, stuff. Louise Mensch and her wild conspiracy theories have wrongly been made the face of Trump’s Russian connections, and outlets like The New York Times, the Financial Times, The Washington Post, and many others have done tons of reporting going back decades on our president’s ties to a foreign adversary.
I think one of the problems that affects this issue is that there is too much information (plus, a lot of Trump’s really damning financial ties are behind the Financial Times’ paywall). Not every connection to Russia is shady, but when an entire group of people keep forgetting meetings with members of the Kremlin or people connected to it, some of this information must contain explanations as to why that keeps happening (that or they all smoked a ton of weed in high school and completely obliterated the short-term memory centers in their brains).
Trump Jr. received an e-mail explicitly stating that he would receive aid from the Russian government and his response was “I love it.” There is absolutely no denying that he wanted to collude with a foreign adversary. He went on Hannity and basically said that the reason he is in the clear was because the lawyer connected to the Russian government didn’t bring the goods to the meeting. In essence, Trump Jr. practically confessed to attempted murder. Like father like son, as the elder Donald later told Reuters that “many people would have held that meeting.” If you’ve learned anything from Trump’s verbiage (ie: “Most people don’t know [Lincoln] was a Republican”), you’ll know that when he says “many/most people,” he subconsciously means himself. That line to Reuters is nearly a confession.
Collusion happened. But not exactly as the dictionary defines the term.
One man and an entire government/economy/intelligence services/criminal syndicate are nowhere near equal partners (Russia is a complicated space), so the line between collusion and coercion has been blurred.
If you read my deep dive into his businesses, you’ll see a multitude of verifiable partnerships connecting famed Trump projects (like his SoHo apartments in Manhattan) to people that are a couple degrees of separation away from Kremlin cash. His tower in Toronto was financed by Alex Shnaider—the son-in-law to Boris J. Birshtein. According to the FBI, Birshtein is a close associate of Sergei Mikhaylov, the head of Solntsevskaya Bratva—the largest branch of the Russian mob. Shnaider began working for Birshtein at Seabeco in 1991, and according to former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, Seabeco “was created in order to apply the KGB money.”
After leaving his father-in-law’s KGB shop, Shnaider later started his own venture before spreading his wings, and he eventually received massive loans from an Icelandic firm called FL Group that deals in Kremlin cash. The Financial Times pored over records of Trump’s Florida property and said that they could confirm it was teeming with wealthy Russian money. And that’s just at one location.
So that’s how collusion begins. Through legal business, the Kremlin makes Trump’s finances more dependent upon them. Because capitalism, Trump is then incentivized to solicit more of their business. This cycle continues until you have Don Jr. saying in 2008 that “in terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
So not only did the Kremlin infiltrate Trump’s finances, but there is a reasonable chance that they helped him get back up on his feet after multiple bankruptcies, since we know that at least “several lenders vowed to never work with Trump again.” There is little to no information on whether Trump was able to secure any line of (legitimate) credit in this country, but someone clearly funded Trump steaks, jets, vodka or whatever other noun he wanted to slap his name on—we just don’t know who. If he released his tax returns, that would give us a lot of insight, but, well, there’s another variable tossed into this confusing Trump-Russia mess.
At minimum, Russian oligarchs (who are inherently connected to the Kremlin) support a significant amount of Trump’s revenue stream. Enough for Trump Jr. to boast about it, and enough for Trump to want to hold a pageant in Moscow—ostensibly to try to grow his business in Russia. Now, before we move on, I just want to be clear that Donald Trump has no fault in this (so far). This is the economy we inhabit, and Trump is simply acting within a system that incentivizes people of his financial, social, and political stature to pursue their interests to the end of the universe.
is not some alien anathema to America. At its core, this Russian saga isn’t about Russia. It’s about America. Both Trump and our modern version of Watergate-squared are a direct byproduct of our depravity.
Russian Meddling and Disinformation
Look across Europe and you see a pattern of Russia supporting subversive outlets. One such example is Marine Le Pen’s campaign for the French presidency, as it was financed in part by the Kremlin. The disintegration of the post-WWII order is Putin’s primary goal, and there are many useful idiots in the northern hemisphere who are more than happy to help. I’m of the opinion that the Kendzior-like mantra that Trump is a Manchurian candidate groomed for 30+ years by the Kremlin gives Trump far too much credit. The Russian government invests in many people across a range of industries, classes, and countries in order to expand their influence as wide as possible. It’s an incredibly savvy and effective strategy, and it’s been working for almost a century. Sometimes those people even run for president.
Before Trump even hit the campaign trail, Russia had their claws dug into him—exponentially more so if they are the source of his post-sextuple bankruptcy financing—and he ran as an anti-establishment candidate versus someone who embodies Washington D.C. Of course Russia would want Trump to win; right up until he became president, then they wanted him to lose. “Collusion” doesn’t mean that Trump and Russia are allies—it just means that Trump needs the Kremlin more than the Kremlin needs Trump (at least pre-presidency). Putin already has an incredible amount of leverage over Trump, and we haven’t even gotten to the money laundering part yet.
The Money Laundering Part
One of the biggest failures of the media in the 2016 election was not highlighting the fact that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the Department of the Treasury (think of them like the Navy Seals of Excel spreadsheets) fined Trump $10 million for “significant and long standing anti-money laundering violations.” This is one of the largest fines ever doled out to a casino (casinos are perhaps the most effective vehicle to launder money). Trump admitted to it, but we barely heard a peep from major media about this, even though all of cable news practically became Trump News for the entirety of 2016. Here’s the text of the FINCEN release from 2015:
Trump Taj Mahal, a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to several willful BSA violations, including violations of AML program requirements, reporting obligations, and recordkeeping requirements. Trump Taj Mahal has a long history of prior, repeated BSA violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003. Additionally, in 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.
Trump Taj Mahal admitted that it failed to implement and maintain an effective AML program; failed to report suspicious transactions; failed to properly file required currency transaction reports; and failed to keep appropriate records as required by the BSA. Notably, Trump Taj Mahal had ample notice of these deficiencies as many of the violations from 2012 and 2010 were discovered in previous examinations.
This really shows you how juvenile mainstream media has become. Everything is about the horse race—especially in a presidential year—and policies and laws and annoying things like civil rights take a backseat to the Chris Cillizza’s of the world who must tell you who won and who lost every exchange. If they can grade health care by emojis, even better.
So yeah, the President of the United States is an admitted money launderer. The question becomes, whose money was he laundering?
Trump’s Atlantic City casinos were filled with mobsters of every type, so he was very likely laundering money for all sorts of crime families—which means that he’d inevitably stumble upon some Kremlin cash. One of the Russians that I reached out to for help understanding some of the Russian media that I was researching told me that Trump Taj Mahal was known as a notorious vacation spot for wealthy Russians—the site of the admitted FINCEN violations.
If Trump was laundering money for the Kremlin, then you can make fun of the pervasive overuse of the Russian term kompromat all you want, but that’s exactly what it would be. The Russian government having proof that the President of the United States laundered money for Russian crime families (and thus, the Kremlin) isn’t blackmail? Are you serious? If you were looking for an explanation as to why Trump refuses to go after Putin, I think this is the most likely option given the available facts.
How Did It All Go Down?
A good starting point for this saga would be the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Yes. Really.
Aras Agalarov is an Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire property developer who helped Trump bring Miss Universe to Moscow. Agalarov is a close Putin associate who was given the Order of the Honor of the Russian Federation. In 2014, he was awarded the contract to build two stadiums for Russia's 2018 World Cup. Trump and Agalarov are so close that Trump even mock-fired his son, Emin at the end of one of his music videos.
The leap we all have to make in this connection is Rob Goldstone—the breakout star of this season of America—and the man last seen informing Trump Jr. of a “Russian government attorney” who wanted to meet with him. Yes. This schlub.
Now, before you tell me that a man who checks in on Facebook right before a secret meeting being a pawn of the Russian government is a ridiculous notion (and it is, but also remember that Donald freaking Trump is president), know that the Kremlin can only go so far in their aims to destabilize America. They need help on the inside to really do some damage, and even though Putin's halls are filled with experts, the Trump side is not exactly teeming with our best and brightest. Aras Agalarov is the stone-cold legitimate Kremlin connection here, and he has a firm connection to Rob Goldstone, who helped organize the 2013 Miss Universe pageant and is also Emin's publicist—which demonstrates some level of reach within the Russian elite. Here's Goldstone with Agalarov's wife.
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Trump entered that Miss Universe pageant with newly impassioned gusto for the Putin regime. He blasted Obama and praised Putin’s NYT op-ed to CNBC a couple months prior to it. He has advocated for blatantly pro-Russian and anti-American policies like saying; “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” Trump simply thought he had just tapped in to a wider portion of a market he was already serving in 2013, and at a certain point, his business interests collided with his political ambitions.
Based on the various reports out of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Intercept, McClatchy, Yahoo and Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter account, a pretty simple picture emerges:
Team Trump Offers
1. Sanctions relief (like the Magnitsky Act at the center of Don Jr.’s e-mail drama).
2. A pro-Russian foreign policy.
3. Campaign voter data.
1. DNC e-mails.
2. Deleted Hillary Clinton e-mails.
3. Voter roll data.
We can pair the sanctions relief to multiple reports that Trump has tried multiple times to either lift or water down the Russian sanctions placed in retaliation to the election, and a pro-Russia foreign policy has been emanating from his mouth for quite some time. Campaign voter data is where we have to make a leap of faith, but we know they had it, and they were willing to walk in to a meeting with a “Russian government lawyer” and try to make a trade for some dirt on Hillary. The main reason that connection comes to mind is because that RNC data, combined with the voter roll information of at least 39 states penetrated by Russian hackers would be a goldmine for political micro-targeting. Political micro-targeting by say, an army of bots and trolls on Facebook and Twitter pushing fake news.
A leaked NSA slide explicitly states that one such foray was executed by Russian military intelligence. The DNC e-mails came from Wikileaks—which began as a broke whistleblowing outlet and now exists as a laundromat for Russian intelligence. We can tie Trump to them because Roger Stone (one of his oldest advisors) is a moron who pretty much told everyone on Twitter that he was plotting Clinton’s downfall with Wikileaks. Lastly, the Don Jr. e-mail, combined with the WSJ story of Peter W. Smith looking for 33,000 deleted e-mails demonstrates intent on the part of Republicans to work with Russians to recover Clinton’s dirt.
If you could boil what has become known as “collusion” down into a simple conversation, it would go something like this.
VLADIMIR: Hey Donald! I hear you’re running for president, need any contributions? (laughing)
DONALD: (laughing) No-no Vlad, I think the Florida property alone will do. Hey, did you get my last loan payment?
VLADIMIR: Yes, but we have not cashed that check yet, we have something different in mind.
VLADIMIR: Picture this: you have less debt, and we’ll even throw in a bid to bail your idiot son-in-law out of that billion-dollar financial albatross in Manhattan. Not only that, but you are president, leading America in to a new age with Russia. For almost a century, we stood locked at the brink of nuclear annihilation, then Donald Trump emerged to make America great again—all while defusing the feud with a government who the last Republican nominee called “America’s greatest geopolitical threat.” You’ll be 21st century Reagan, but better. How does that sound?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.