The big W
by Tom Sullivan
Still image from It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Months before the email hack of the Democratic National Committee was public, one or more members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign knew Russia had "thousands of emails" from Hillary Clinton and wanted to deal, court documents released yesterday reveal. It took a few weeks, but the campaign was willing to talk, if not more. George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about it.
Papadopoulos, a man Trump listed as one of his foreign policy advisers, had, soon after being hired by the campaign in March 2016, learned of the emails from a man listed in court documents as a London-based "professor." The Washington Post identified him as as Ivan Timofeev, "a program director at a Russian government-funded think tank," the Russian International Affairs Council. Papadopoulos' repeated efforts to set up a meeting between campaign officials and the professor's Russian contacts seem to have failed. On June 9, however, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, and several others met at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney to discuss "dirt" the Russians had to offer on Hillary Clinton.
News broke on June 14 of breaches of the DNC computer system. Thousands of emails were stolen.
It is clear multiple, high-level players in the Trump campaign were eager to partner with Russia on using stolen Clinton emails in the campaign. Today's news is awash with it.
There is a lot of who, what, where, and when this morning. What we know so far is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But amidst the biggest unanswered questions is Why?
"Why so much Russia," Chris Matthews asked last night on "Hardball." We have a sense of what the Russians wanted. Repeal of the Magnitsky Act, for one. Rebuilding the Russian empire is another. But what about Trump and his team? Why were so many on the campaign connected with Russia. Matthews said he's never seen anything like it.
Manafort, we know, has been indicted on money laundering, as David Dayen reports at The Intercept:
The indictment outlines a fairly common money-laundering technique: create an offshore company to accept foreign money and use that company to purchase American property. Then take a loan out against that property. The loan enables the person to have full access to the money without having paid taxes or disclosed the source of the income. Money laundering in the New York City real estate world has become so ubiquitous that it is likely driving up the price of high-end properties. A recent Treasury Department estimate suggested nearly a third of all such properties were obtained suspiciously.Soon after being hired for the campaign, Manafort tried to leverage his connections to settle debts with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The oligarch and Manafort have business connections that run through Cyprus, as the Intercept notes.
Still, so much of this document that is not about Trump is, in many ways, all about Trump. The charges against Manafort and Gates, for instance, mirror what many financial experts have long claimed about the Trump Organization: that they have been at pains to hide money from the IRS, including money from foreign sources; that they have engaged in conspiracies to launder foreign money; that they have made false statements and conspired to hide foreign funds. This is an indictment that should terrify Trump in that it shadows and hints at his own unlawful conduct and nabs two players who might be willing to cooperate to get out of their mess. And Trump can’t claim any of it is a direct attack on him.Associated Press reinforces that assessment:
Trump has become increasingly concerned that the Mueller probe could be moving beyond Russia to an investigation into his personal dealings, two people familiar with the president’s thinking said.The New Yorker's Adam Davidson wrote about the Trump real estate empire in August:
So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.”All of which leads one to conclude the answer to why so many in the Trump campaign are Russophiles may in the end be no more mysterious than "birds of a feather."