Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Russia Card in Trump's Deck (or is it the Trump card in Putin's deck?)

Was the hacking of the DNC's private emails done by Russian hackers? It's more than a rumor.

The DC political newspaper The Hill reported on this story the other day.

As did the Daily Beast.

Trump admires Nixon, but when it came to dirty tricks Nixon hired domestic thugs.

Donald Trump invites Russian mobsters and friends of Russian dictator Putin to do his ratf***ing for him. He offshores everything.

That’s what the FBI is saying happened to the private emails of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump’s “friendship” with Putin is a real thing. Josh Marshall lays out the disturbing aspects of it here. Trump has relied on the Russians the way the beleaguered business owner relies on the loan sharks and their mobster pals.

1. All the other discussions of Trump's finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here's a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration ...
Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump's largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that's not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,

"Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt."

Another suit alleged the project "occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia."

Sounds completely legit.

Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you're keeping score at home: no, that's not reassuring.

4. Then there's Paul Manafort, Trump's nominal 'campaign chair' who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump's campaign.

5. Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you're not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom's role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.

7. Here's where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump's larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM's Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there's a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump's backing but because he simply didn't care. With one big exception: Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.

So is Trump in bed with America’s most dangerous superpower enemy? There’s hard evidence and circumstantial evidence that Trump has either asked for the help of Russian spies and mobsters or they have decided that backing him is the best way to destroy us.

Nixon at least employed domestic burglars. Trump offshores everything. If he promises to create jobs why not criminal hacking jobs? There are a lot of smart cynical jobless young Americans who will do anything to pay down their college debt. Why not hire American? The Russians must have made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They do that when you owe them lots of money.

The word Treason should be in some of the headlines about him, but that’s a hard word for front page editors to spell. They’ve backed off on similar treasons in the past.

Really? Have we seen treasonous behavior like this in a presidential campaign?

Actually yes. When Nixon sabotaged the tentative Vietnam peace agreement in 1968. (The war lasted another five years and killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.)

Politico reported on the Nixon treason here. Even George Will says it happened and it was treason.

Nixon's more famous dirty tricks occurred in 1972, when Nixon hired his own burglars to break into the Democratic committee headquarters in the Watergate. They made a movie about it. It's quite good.

And then there was the time in 1980 when the Reagan campaign persuaded the Ayatollah to hold the 44 American hostages until after he was sworn into office. (Members of the foreign service have been in far greater danger from Republicans than Democrats. They see diplomats in danger as a political opportunity.) Ayatollah? Iran? Enemies? The Reagan team was very chummy with them.

Reported in TruthOut.

And by WRMEA here.

And then there was the period when Reagan’s people traded weapons with terrorists in the Middle East and used the proceeds to finance terrorists in Central America. Iran Contra broke federal laws and resulted in many top level indictments and guilty pleas in the Reagan administration. (There have been no similar indictments much less prison terms during Obama’s presidency…much to Republicans’ chagrin.)

Going back further, to 1933 (not during a presidential campaign but after they lost) a group of Wall Streeters and industrialists tried to hire a retired general to overthrow FDR.

The BBC, perhaps the greatest and most reliable source of global news, reported on it in a documentary.

Here's another BBC link to that story.

Treason. It’s an old Republican tradition.

Trump has been very open about what world leaders he admires. Saddam Hussein. Putin. Kim Jong Un of North Korea. All ruthless dictators with no scruples and no respect for human life or democratic principles. Gangsters in charge of nations. Criminals with armies and security police under their command. That is the direction Trump would like to take us.

So if you kind of don’t like Hillary and “want to send a message”... consider the message you’re sending.

If you’re frustrated with how dysfunctional our political system is… consider how it got that way. It got that way because on the day Barack Obama was sworn into office all of the Republican leaders and their strategists got together and vowed to derail and block and oppose every single thing the new president proposed. They ended up opposing quite a few things they’d supported previously. With the ObamaCare system they opposed key elements that originated at their own think tank, the Heritage Foundation. (As Trump would say, compromise is for losers.)

For the past eight years Republicans have done their best to make democracy fail. Of course you’re angry.

So why hand over government to the party that made democracy fail?

It’s like the Chris Rock bit from a couple of years ago. “I’m angry at Obama because he didn’t cure Cancer. So you know what? I’m gonna vote for Cancer!”

How dumb are we?

This could explain why the Russians see us as a ripe pigeon ready for them to pull apart.

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