Trump & Russia: ‘Full Picture Is One Of Collusion’

Posted by DanielS on Thursday, 23 November 2017 15:37.

Expendable money: Dmitry Rybolovlev, bought and sold Da Vinci for record price. Bought Florida mansion from Trump for $95 million only to tear it down after seeing it for the first time because it was moldy.

NPR, “Journalist Investigating Trump And Russia Says ‘Full Picture Is One Of Collusion”, 21 Nov 2017:

“The constellation of Russian connections circling around Planet Trump is quite extraordinary,” says Guardian reporter Luke Harding. His new book is Collusion.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The new book “Collusion” is about what the author, my guest Luke Harding, says appears to be an emerging pattern of collusion between Russia, Trump and his campaign. Harding also writes about how Russia appears to have started cultivating Trump back in 1987. The book is based on original reporting as well as on the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. Harding met with Steele twice, once before and once after the dossier became public. Harding had a lot of good contacts to draw on for this book because he spent four years as Moscow bureau chief for the The Guardian. During that time, the Kremlin didn’t like some of the stories Harding was investigating, and in 2011, he was expelled. In Moscow, he learned a lot about Russian espionage partly through his own experience of being spied on and harassed.

Harding is now a foreign correspondent for The Guardian. He’s also the author of books about WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who fled to England, passed information to British intelligence about links between the Kremlin and the Russian mafia and then was assassinated with polonium-spiked tea.

Luke Harding, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So the dossier said that the Russian regime had been cultivating, supporting and assisting Donald Trump for at least five years with the goal of encouraging splits and divisions in the Western alliance. You write that the Russians had their eyes on Donald Trump as early as the 1970s when he married Ivana Trump, who is from Czechoslovakia. Why were they keeping an eye on him in the ‘70s? What were they looking for?

LUKE HARDING: Well, the KGB really forever has been interested in cultivating people, actually, who might be useful contacts for them, identifying targets for possible recruitments possibly to be agents. That’s not saying that Donald Trump is an agent, but the point is that he would have been on their radar certainly by 1977 when he married Ivana, who came from Czechoslovakia, a kind of communist Eastern bloc country. And we know from Czechoslovak spy records de-classified last year that the spy agencies were in contact with Ivana’s father, that they kept an eye on the Trumps in Manhattan throughout the 1980s. And we also know, from defectors and other sources, that whatever Prague learned, communist Prague, would have been funneled to the big guys in Moscow, to the KGB. So there would have been a file on Donald Trump.

But I think what’s kind of interesting about this story, if you understand the kind of Russian espionage background, is Trump’s first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987. He went with Ivana. He writes about it in “The Art Of The Deal,” his best-selling memoir. He talks about getting an invitation from the Soviet government to go over there. And he makes it seem kind of rather casual. But what I discovered from my research is that there was actually a concerted effort by the Soviet government via the ambassador at the time, who was newly arrived, a guy called Yuri Dubinin, to kind of charm Trump, to flatter him, to woo him almost. And Dubinin’s daughter, sort of who was part of this process, said that the ambassador rushed up to the top of Trump Tower, basically kind of breezed into Trump’s office and he melted. That’s the verb she used. He melted.

GROSS: That Trump melted when he was flattered.

HARDING: Yeah. That Trump melted with this kind of flattery. And several months later, he gets an invitation to go on an all-expenses-paid trip behind the Iron Curtain to Soviet Moscow. Now, a couple of things which were important here. One of them is that his trip was arranged by Intourist, which is the Soviet travel agency. Now, I’ve talked to defectors and others who say - this is actually fairly well-known - that Intourist is basically the KGB. It was the organization which monitored foreigners going into the Soviet Union and kept an eye on them when they were there. So kind of he went with KGB travel. Now, according to “The Art Of The Deal,” he met various Soviet officials there. Who they were, we don’t know. But what we can say with certainty is that his hotel, just off Red Square, the National Hotel, would have been bugged, that there was already a kind of dossier on Trump. And this would have been supplemented with whatever was picked up from encounters with him, from intercept, from his hotel room.

You know, we can’t say that Trump was recruited in 1987. But what we can say with absolute certainty is there was a very determined effort by the Soviets to bring him over, and that moreover, his personality was the kind of thing they were looking for. They were looking for narcissists. They were looking for people who were kind of - dare I say it - corruptible, interested in money, people who were not necessarily faithful in their marriages and also sort of opportunists who were not very strong analysts or principle people. And if you work your way down the list through these sort of - the KGB’s personality questionnaire, Donald Trump ticks every single box.

If that’s not collusion, what is collusion?

GROSS: So during this period when Trump is talking with Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the U.S., Dubinin suggested joint venture to do a Trump Hotel in Moscow. So that hotel never happens, but why of all the developers in the U.S. would they ask Trump?

HARDING: There was no randomness about this. I mean, we know from Dubinin’s daughters that they picked on Trump. And there’s a kind of curious coda to this, which is, two months after his trip - actually, less than two months, he comes back from Moscow and, having previously shown very little interest in foreign policy, he takes out these full-page advertisements in The Washington Post and a couple of other U.S. newspapers basically criticizing Ronald Reagan and criticizing Reagan’s foreign policy. Now, Trump is many things, but he is not an expert on international affairs, and this is curious. I mean, it may not be conspiratorial, but nonetheless there he is criticizing Reagan, who was very much an enemy of the Soviet Union. They regarded him as a hawk and a hardliner and a bitter adversary. And guess what? He also says that he’s thinking about politics, not as a senator or as a mayor, but he actually goes to New Hampshire and he actively floats the idea of running for president. It doesn’t happen then. But it’s in his head. This is a strategic thought he has after his Moscow trip.

GROSS: So the Russian cultivation of Donald Trump, you say, resumes in 2008 when Trump is a birther. What is this resumption of cultivation? What did that look like?

HARDING: If you believe the dossier by Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer, which I do broadly with some caveats, then at this point someone inside the Kremlin decided that Trump could be of use. And what began was a sort of transactional relationship where Trump was feeding to Moscow, according to Steele, details of Russian oligarchs living in the U.S. who have property or assets or business ventures in the United States, and in return he was getting kind of politically useful stuff. Now, just to explain, the thing is about Putin is that he is deeply paranoid. He’s conspiratorial. He doesn’t really trust anybody - maybe his family, his dog, a few people. But basically he’s intensely suspicious. And so any Russian who travels regularly to the United States or builds property there or invests in Silicon Valley, he wants to know what’s going on and so do his spy services. So this, at least according to Steele, is what Trump’s people may have been supplying.

Now, of course they deny all this, but it’s interesting when sort of Donald Trump says, when he tweeted out famously, I’ve got no loans with Russia, no deals, nothing. Well, that’s kind of formally true. Actually, Trump’s multiple attempts to do business in Russia failed. I mean, they kind of blew away with the wind. But what one can say with certainty is that over a long period of time, there’s been plenty of Russian money going from Moscow into Trump properties, some of them in Trump Tower. There were Mafia guys staying there in the 1980s, for example, who were subsequently convicted and went to federal jail. And also into sort of Trump-branded resorts later on in Florida and elsewhere. And there’s a pattern.

GROSS: In 2013, Trump holds the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, where it’s sponsored by the oligarch Agalarov. By this time you say the Kremlin was actively cultivating Trump. Is the Miss Universe pageant being held in Moscow part of the cultivation, do you think?

HARDING: That’s a really interesting question. As always in Russia, quite often it’s about politics and it’s about money. And the money is often even more important than the politics. But clearly Aras Agalarov was keen to promote himself. But I’ve met him. He’s rather a charming guy. I interviewed him. But also he has a sort of pop star son called Emin. And by bringing the Miss Universe contest to Moscow, several happy things happened. First of all, Trump came over, which I think, if you believe the Christopher Steele dossier, which I broadly do, was good for the Kremlin that there was Trump in Moscow, plenty of opportunities to interact with him. Also good for Emin’s pop career because he was singing before a global audience. He’s a nice guy, but, I think, a somewhat kind of mediocre singer, but there was massive TV exposure. And most of all, of course, this trip was of interest to the FSB, the Russian spy agency.

Now, the dossier says that Trump was recorded in the suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, a suite that Obama had stayed in and he watched this kind of famous, exotic show, if you can quote it like that. Now, I don’t know if that’s correct. Trump denies it. But what I can say with absolute certainty is that the Trump suite would have been bugged. It wouldn’t have been bugged for everybody, but obviously they were interested in him, and there will be a tape. It may just show Trump going to bed early reading a novel. I don’t know. Or it may show something else. But that there will have been technical surveillance of Trump is absolutely guaranteed.

I mean, the other interesting thing is that Aras Agalarov, who hosted him, is - he’s the sort of perfect companion. He’s smart, he speaks English brilliantly, he’s quite charming. He drove me around, one day, this estate that he built on the outskirts of Moscow for the super rich where houses cost $25 million. And we were trundling along in his kind of blue, English Jeep with the bodyguards respectfully rolling behind us in a Mercedes about 200 meters away. And he sort of told me his vision. He told me that he was inspired by America, by some of the developments he’s seen there, but that ultimately he was a Russian patriot and he couldn’t live in America even though his daughter was there studying and his wife was there quite a lot. He felt his home was in Russia. And I think that’s all kind of quite revealing. So he has all these billions. He’s a developer like Trump, but he also knows, as an oligarch, that if the state calls on him to do something then he has to do it, and he has to do it well.

Rob Goldstone

GROSS: Well, there’s people connected to Agalarov who figure into the campaign story, and here’s an example. Agalarov’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, who’s British, enters into a key part of the campaign story involving the Trump campaign links to Russia. He sends a now-famous email to Don Junior explaining that there’s an offer to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary, and Don Junior responds that he’s on the road, he can’t meet right away but, quote, “if what you say is true, I love it. Could we do a call first thing next week?” So connect the dots for us between Goldstone being Agalarov’s publicist and Goldstone being the person who conveys this information about Russia having incriminating information about Hillary.

Rob Goldstone relaxing, chatting with Trump

HARDING: Yeah. I mean, I think the whole Goldstone story is fascinating. It’s also faintly embarrassing. Now, I speak as a sort of fellow Brit (laughter). This kind of joking British press, and he clowns around all the time, seems to be in the middle of this story. But what you have to understand, again, is that Putin is not going to do things in a kind of linear way. There are going to be kind of intermediaries, and Goldstone’s the perfect intermediary. He and Emin know Trump. They’ve been to Trump Tower. There are lots of Instagram photos of them all together having dinner, relaxed, chatting and so on. And at some point, he gets a message from the Agalarovs that the prosecutor general of Russia - and this is how the email goes - has got some incriminating material on the Hillary which they would like to share as part of the Russian government’s support for Donald Trump and his campaign. It’s absolutely explicit.

And so Goldstone gets in touch with Trump Junior, sends these emails which we’ve now seen, and the meeting happens. Now, the fact is that actually, the lawyer who flies from Moscow to Trump Tower in the summer of 2016, now-famous Natalia Veselnitskaya, she doesn’t bring the emails that perhaps the Trump campaign might have hoped for. She brings something else. But nonetheless, this is a story about intent. Trump Junior took the meeting. He could have rung the FBI and said, look, I’m being approached by these kind of dodgy Russians. What do you advise? But he took the meeting, and then he concealed it afterwards for almost a year. If that’s not collusion, what is collusion?

GROSS: And another connection between the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, in which Trump partners with the Russian oligarch Agas Agalarov, Agalarov’s lawyer is Natalia Veselnitskaya, who ends up meeting with Don Junior and Jared Kushner, and she was working to end U.S. sanctions against Russia. So you have the Rob Goldstone link to the Miss Universe pageant, you have the Veselnitskaya link to the oligarch who partnered with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant. So we don’t know anything for sure, but it’s just interesting to look at these connections.

HARDING: Yeah. And, Terry, what you also have to understand is that Putin has a kind of very clear goal here. He’s got a clear political goal, which is to get the United States to lift sanctions which were imposed by the Obama administration on Russia in 2014, after the war in Ukraine and after Putin basically stole Crimea using kind of military force. And the thing is, sort of sanctions play into the Russian domestic political conversation because despite what state TV says there they have had an overwhelmingly negative effect on the economy. People have felt them, they’re fantastically irritated. Putin’s kind of oligarchic inner circle, many of whom are now sanctioned. They can’t travel to the U.S., they can’t travel to the European Union. They can no longer access their yachts in the Mediterranean or their wine cellars in Switzerland. They see this as an affront and an indignity. And so Putin really wants to get rid of sanctions. And really, he viewed Trump as the best vehicle for doing that because Trump kept on saying let’s be friends with Russia. Meanwhile, we know that secretly his aides were emailing the Kremlin, asking for assistance with building a hotel in Trump Tower. And then of course, Trump wins, to Putin’s surprise. But the problem is that the Russia story becomes such a kind of billowing scandal that Trump is no longer kind of politically able to deliver an end to sanctions.

And I think what’s interesting about this that sort of speaks to a bigger truth, if you like, is that actually, I think - without exaggeration - I think on one level what happened in 2016 in America was what you might consider to be the greatest espionage operation ever by the Russian side. Which is not to say that the tens of millions of people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t do so sincerely because of course they did, but that actually, Russia possibly successfully pushed Trump across the line. So that was a sort of tactical triumph for Putin. But in other respects, it was a strategic failure because actually sanctions are still in place. It’s now impossible for Donald Trump to lift them. And I think what it shows is that the problem with the way the Kremlin thinks about the world is that it imagines other countries to be rather like Russia. It doesn’t understand American institutional politics. It doesn’t understand Congress. It doesn’t understand there’s a sort of free and vigorous media despite everything. And on this occasion, it kind of got everything, but the big prize has therefore eluded it.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Luke Harding. He’s a reporter for The Guardian and author of the new book, “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, And How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” We’ll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you’re just joining us, my guest is Luke Harding, reporter for The Guardian. He was the paper’s Moscow bureau chief from 2007 to 2011. His new book is called “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, And How Russia Helped Trump Win” (ph). It’s based on the Russian dossier, his own research into the Panama and Paradise papers and other original reporting, including two meetings with Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier.

OK. So another story about Donald Trump’s connection to Russia - in this case, a Russian oligarch - so this is the story of a Trump mansion that Trump bought in Florida for $41 million, and a few years later, sold it for about twice that amount to Dmitry Rybolovlev. You’re going to have to say it. I can’t get it right.

HARDING: Rybolovlev - Dmitry Rybolovlev.

GROSS: Rybolovlev, OK.

HARDING: Rybolovlev.

GROSS: And Rybolovlev never used the mansion and later sold it. Is the implication that this purchase by the Russian oligarch might’ve been for money laundering purposes?

HARDING: You’re right. It was a kind of seaside mansion bought by Trump in 2004 and then sold by him for $95 million at the height of the financial crash and giving him a profit of about $50 million. And I’ve tried to interview Rybolovlev. He won’t meet with me, but I’ve talked to his press guy and - who says that Rybolovlev basically donned a pair of swimming trunks and never set foot in the mansion but kind of paddled along the territory and saw it from afar, decided to buy it.

When he did buy it, he realized it had a mold problem. He never, ever lived there. He demolished it, and it seems a kind of pretty disastrous piece of real estate acquisition, but one that massively enriched Trump. Now, his press guy says, nothing to see here, this was a reasonable investment, you guys are all conspiracy theorists. But it’s very strange.

GROSS: So Rybolovlev, the oligarch we are talking about, is connected to President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. And they’re connected through the Bank of Cyprus. So Bank of Cyprus is apparently a bank known for enabling money laundering. Is that accurate?

HARDING: Yeah, yeah, that’s accurate.

GROSS: And so Wilbur Ross in 2014 became this bank’s chief shareholder, and Rybolovlev owns - what? - 10 percent of that bank.

HARDING: Less now, but he did.

GROSS: OK. So what’s - tell us about that connection between Rybolovlev and Wilbur Ross.

HARDING: So Cyprus is a kind of Mediterranean island that is a kind of major offshore node both in this story and in other Russia stories. Essentially, any self-respecting oligarch doesn’t keep his money inside Russia but offshores it. And Cyprus is the most kind of logical destination. One of the people who did this was Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s mansion. He got Cyprus citizenship along the way.

But where the story gets interesting is, one of his sort of investment partners in the Bank of Cyprus was Wilbur Ross, the future commerce secretary. And again, Rybolovlev says he doesn’t know Ross, that there’s nothing really special going on here apart from the fact that one of the other shareholders is a former KGB guy. And this is the thing with the kind of Trump-Russia story - that wherever you look, all of the people in Trump’s government, especially in its early stages, have a kind of Russia connection.

I mean, it’s - obviously, Trump did the picking, but it’s almost as if Putin had the kind of last word because we’ve got Wilbur Ross, who as well as the Bank of Cyprus, we now know was doing business of our shipping company with Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. We have Michael Flynn, whose woes are well-known, but clearly, was taking money from Russia Today, the Kremlin propaganda channel, and other Russian interests and not declaring it. Then we have Rex Tillerson. I mean, he was a famous oil guy. I used to write about him in Moscow, and he got this Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin - sort of a sky blue ribbon pinned to his chest. And he pops up as U.S. secretary of state almost from nowhere.

And so we go down the list, whether it’s from policy aids like Carter Page or George Papadopoulos, who’s pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, or Trump associates like Felix Sater, longtime business pal, or Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer, who’s married to a Ukrainian. I mean, the sort of constellation of Russian connections circling around planet Trump is just quite extraordinary. And I think this, more than anything else, is what Mueller is now looking at.

GROSS: So another thing about Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch we’re talking about - he’s the one who sold the da Vinci a few days ago for $450 million.

HARDING: He is. He’s a kind of major art investor. He had da Vincis. He had Modiglianis. He had Rothkos. He kind of had everything - Picassos - but then he went through a very bitter divorce with his Russian wife, and a lot of the stuff got carved up. The da Vinci got sold. But to whom it got sold, we don’t know.

GROSS: I’m Terry Gross back with Luke Harding, author of the new book “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money And How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” It’s based on original reporting as well as on the Russia-Trump dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. Harding is a foreign correspondent for the Guardian and its former Moscow bureau chief.

So let’s talk a little bit about Paul Manafort, who before he became Donald Trump’s campaign chair, worked for Viktor Yanukovych, who was the Russian-connected head of Ukraine who was not democratic, was forced out of the country. And it was after that Ukraine - that Russia sent troops into Ukraine. So Manafort had signed a $10 million annual contract with Oleg Deripaska. Who is Deripaska? And why is that contract significant?

HARDING: Well, Deripaska - I met him in Moscow. He’s a terrifically rich, terrifically powerful oligarch, one of the sort of top five, 10 oligarchs in the country who, of course, is close to Vladimir Putin. You don’t get to be a multibillionaire in charge of kind of the aluminum industry without being politically impeccably connected. And we didn’t know this until relatively recently, but Manafort was brought in to basically advise the - Russia on how to kind of improve its image.

So he started kind of working in this world, and quickly, some news spread that he was actually a very talented operator and political technologist. And around about sort of 2004, ‘05, he starts working for Yanukovych, who - made Yanukovych. I mean, he’s a former sort of Soviet hooligan who did time in jail for petty theft, who Manafort basically reinvested - reinvented as a kind of reformer and a statesman and a Democrat.

Manafort instrumental in Yanukovych election

This, at least, is what Manafort told me in 2008 when I met him in Kiev, in Ukraine’s capital. And he was responsible for this astonishing makeover. And the thing is, it sort of worked. It was like kind of what happened to sort of Trump. I mean, Yanukovych was the guy before Trump, if you like, because Manafort told me that, OK, so he came from the Soviet Union, OK, so some of his sort of - some things he did in the past were pretty unsavory; but actually, now this was a good guy looking to the West, looking to America and so on.


And Manafort actually was instrumental in getting Yanukovych elected president in 2010, an election I covered. And within months, he had locked up the opposition leader, a woman called Yulia Tymoshenko. He kind of basically suborned parliament, squashed the press, which was kind of more plural than Russia’s, and had kind of pushed the country towards a sort of authoritarian direction. And in fact, everything that Manafort told me turned out to be lies he must surely have known. But he was supremely well-rewarded for these efforts.

We think he - from the indictment by Robert Mueller, he must have made at least $75 million from his work in Ukraine. And he spent a decade in that part of the world. He doesn’t speak Russian. He had an interpreter. But he was mingling with people at the top of Russian and Ukrainian power. And from this job - there’s a interval of a matter of weeks - he goes straight to the Trump campaign, offers his services, allegedly free, and is advising Donald Trump on how to be president.

GROSS: Right. But you say allegedly free. Apparently, Manafort said, I will do this without pay, which is a very unusual offer.

HARDING: Well, I mean, if you’re getting $75 million from Russian and Ukrainian interests, then perhaps you can afford to work for free (laughter).

GROSS: That - right. Right.

HARDING: I mean, so - but, I mean, it’s a very kind of curious leap from one to the other.

GROSS: So let’s get back to Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire oligarch who helped pay Manafort for services in Ukraine. Manafort sent a message during the campaign to Deripaska saying that he was willing to give Deripaska the inside track on Trump’s election campaign and that he could set up briefings with Deripaska. The briefings never happened, but again, like, what’s your understanding of that communication?

HARDING: Well, I mean, I think this is a kind of remarkable email because if you have a conversation with Oleg Deripaska, essentially, you’re having a conversation with Vladimir Putin because Deripaska and Putin, they are - they’re close. I mean, they are - I mean, you could say they’re comrades, but they’re part of the same network, the same octopus, if you like. It’s just, Deripaska is one tentacle.

And so essentially, what Manafort was offering was - offering to brief the Kremlin on how the campaign was going - presumably, how they felt, what was going well, what was going badly. But bear in mind, this is in the context of an election where Russia has hacked tens of thousands of Democratic Party emails and we think - U.S. intelligence agencies believe - Republican emails, as well. But it was only leaking the Democratic Party emails that damaged Hillary Clinton. Additionally, the Trump team had known this, certainly, since April 2016.

And so this was a highly charged atmosphere where a foreign state is meddling in U.S. politics to help one candidate. Meanwhile, there’s a kind of backdoor offer to an oligarch who is someone who can sit and have dinner or a cup of tea with Putin anytime he wishes. And it’s curious. There’s traffic in both directions. There’s - it’s more or less as the Steele dossier says, that there’s hacked material helpful to Trump coming from Moscow, and in return, there’s intelligence being supplied or at least offered by Trump’s campaign manager directly into the heart of the Moscow regime.

Yulia Tymoshenko arrested

GROSS: Now, you mentioned that after Viktor Yanukovych won the presidency in Ukraine, and his campaign was managed by Paul Manafort, Yanukovych imprisoned his opponent, Tymoshenko. And that seems to be almost like an echo of the Trump campaign - people saying, lock her up, lock her up, about Hillary.

HARDING: Yeah. I mean, there are some astonishing parallels between what happened in Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych between 2010, let’s say, and 2014, when the country kind of fell into war and what’s been happening into sort of 2016 and - first of all, this - the lock her up - Yanukovych actually really did lock up Yulia Tymoshenko.

She spent several years in jail. She was persecuted, harassed. And I think Yanukovych’s people would say, well, she did bad things. She stole money in the 1990s. Frankly, every Ukrainian politician from the ‘90s, almost, has stolen money. So it looked very much like a case of selective justice and kind of political repression. And, of course, we had this kind of motif throughout 2016.

I remember vividly watching Michael Flynn addressing the Republican convention in Cleveland, looking really sober and serious, saying, you know, lock her up, lock her up; if I had done the tenth of the things that Hillary had done - well, of course, now we know that Flynn was secretly on Moscow’s payroll, hadn’t declared that, hadn’t declared much else. But first, the desire for vengeance to lock up your particular political opponents is very kind of former Soviet Union. And there are kind of other aspects, as well.

I mean, Yanukovych had a kind of family regime. His son became enormously rich after he became president, worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, I’m not saying that Trump’s family have enriched themselves, but certainly, breaking with all precedent, that they play, politically, highly influential roles. Jared Kushner is a senior adviser. Ivanka is a senior adviser and has her father’s ear. And this is very much a kind of Eastern, almost Central Asian model of that kind that America has never seen before. It’s quite astonishing.

And just the last similarity, I think, is sort of fake news. I mean, that’s Donald Trump’s favorite phrase, but it’s - there’s a kind of echo chamber here between Moscow and Washington, and Washington and Moscow. The Kremlin, well before Donald Trump got in in the act, dismissed any criticism of what it did or its human rights record as fake - as fake news, as fictitious. And Donald is doing the same thing.

GROSS: Well, I think this is a good time to take a short break. Let me reintroduce you. My guest is Luke Harding, a reporter for The Guardian and author of the new book “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, And How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” Back after a short break, this is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you’re just joining us my guest is Luke Harding, a reporter for The Guardian. He was the paper’s Moscow bureau chief from 2007 to 2011. His new book is called “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, And How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” It’s based on the Russian dossier, his research into the Panama and Paradise Papers, and other original reporting, including Harding’s two meetings with Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier.

So Manafort has been indicted on money laundering charges. Can you give us a brief idea of what those money laundering charges are about?

HARDING: Well, the charge sheet against Manafort is pretty long. It also includes charges against his longtime associate, Rick Gates, whom I met in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, around about the same time, about 2008. And essentially, they were - the allegation goes that they were taking money from Ukrainians, from the Party of Regions, which was the political party of Viktor Yanukovych, the then-prime minister and president. And they were processing very large sums through a whole series of anonymous bank accounts - some in Cyprus, some in the British Virgin Islands, some in the Grenadines. They weren’t paying taxes.

And moreover, they were running a very extensive under-the-table lobbying operation in America which was designed to get visas for people from the ruling - Ukraine government’s kind of inner circle to promote their image in the U.S., and also to kind of deflect criticism of this Ukrainian regime from people who were upset about the fact that Yanukovych had jailed Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition leader.

So it was a kind of - it was a sort of clever arm’s length campaign. Now, Manafort denies any wrongdoing, but I think the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, according to Mueller, that that’s precisely what he did.

GROSS: Now, Manafort had or has - I’m not sure which - three properties in New York City, one of which was in Trump Tower. And is that significant?

HARDING: Well, I mean, not everyone gets to live in Trump Tower. It doesn’t necessarily have to be significant. But again, if you look at the pattern of what Manafort did with real estate, he - it was rather curious. He bought these properties using cash, often via offshore vehicles. And then as soon as he’d acquired them he remortgaged them and took out very large loans against their values.

So the money coming offshore went into a brownstone in Brooklyn or an apartment in SoHo and then came out as a kind of bank loan. Now, again, we have to be clear Manafort denies any wrongdoing. But this looks like, on the surface, classic money laundering.

GROSS: In investigating Donald Trump’s finances, you investigated the bank Deutsche Bank that loaned a lot of money to Donald Trump, and that led to some very interesting territory. Tell us about that bank.

HARDING: Well, Donald Trump’s finances, what we know of them, are - it’s a pretty kind of combustible story. And if you cast your mind back to the 1990s several Trump ventures - casinos in sum - went bankrupt. And the lenders, the American lenders, banks that used to give him money, refused. And then if you fast-forward to the late ‘90s, the early ‘00s, there’s one institution prepared to give Donald Trump credit, and that’s Deutsche Bank - German bank, German’s biggest lender which was going through kind of massive expansion and trying to compete with the big boys on Wall Street.

So nothing wrong there apart from the bank lends Donald Trump about $300 million. He fails to repay a loan in 2008 because of the financial crash. He sues the bank, says he’s not going to give them anything. And they file a kind of countersuit, basically, sarcastically quoting back some things that Trump has written in his ghosted autobiographies about stiffing banks, about it’s their problem, it’s not his problem and so on. They kind of settle their feud. And incredibly, Deutsche Bank continues lending to Trump. Now, I tried to kind of talk to the bank to ask them why they did that. They won’t engage or - they won’t engage with anyone. They won’t tell us or say anything about their lending to Trump, who still owes them about $300 million.

But meanwhile, while money from Deutsche Bank New York is going into the Trump Organization, Deutsche Bank in Moscow is at the center of a massive Russian money laundering operation involving about $10 billion, a rogue American trader called Tim Wiswell who’s doing a whole series of kind of basically fictitious trades so that the kind of VIPs in Moscow, Kremlin-connected individuals - we don’t know who they are - can take rubles out of Russia and convert them into dollars in the United States. Now, Deutsche Bank has been fined for this. But we have a kind of shuffle of money.

We have money going from New York to Donald Trump. And we have money going from Moscow into Deutsche Bank in New York through this illegal scheme, which has seen Deutsche Bank fined by authorities both in the U.S. and the U.K hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, we cannot say that this Russian money went directly into Trump. I mean, that’s - you know, we can’t prove that. We don’t know that. But what we can say is that the bank that lent to Trump was simultaneously laundering billions and billions and billions of dark Russian cash.

GROSS: How hard was it to find this out?

HARDING: It - Terry, it’s been quite a year.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDING: It’s been quite a lot of work, I mean, on a number of levels. First of all, this book has been secret. It wasn’t announced. It wasn’t on Amazon. No one knew about it until two weeks ago. We - I have a wonderful publisher called Sonny Mater (ph) who brought everything forward when the Mueller indictments came out. I stayed up all night and I rewrote the epilogue, and the book has been kind of crashed out in record time. And as far as I know, it’s the first book on Trump and Russia. So that was one aspect of it. Another was the kind of sleuthing aspect. I mean, I’ve met a number of sources. Obviously, I met Christopher Steele before his dossier came out. But subsequently, I’ve kind of cultivated various intelligence contacts in Washington and in London and elsewhere in U.S., including actually in Philadelphia. And I’ve also had kind of various emails, intriguing messages, sometimes encrypted, from other people on this story who have supplied me information. And so I’ve built up a kind of network of sources.

But actually, if I’m honest with you, Terry, I mean, this book was quite easy to write because it is such a compelling story. It is like a thriller, but with bizarre elements, but just a kind of relentless plot. And I kind of wrote each chapter as sort of character by character so that there’s a chapter on Steele, there’s a chapter on Michael Flynn - who jokes to a Russian that he met that he was actually General Misha, which is Russian for Michael - and Paul Manafort, whom I met, and so on. And I - you know, the book, I think, came together in record time.

GROSS: You know, you’re right. Initially, Trump was happy to have the Russia investigation deflect attention away from his business dealings in China and other emerging markets because you say, unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks.

HARDING: Well, again, we can’t prove this. But this is what the Steele dossier alleges. And it’s based on Steele’s own secret sources. And by the way, no one knows who they are, these secret sources. But I think one point, which is kind of very important on the sources, is that I’ve talked to friends of Steele’s. And what they point out is that these sources were not new. They’re not people that he kind of discovered yesterday. They are trusted contacts who essentially had proven themselves in other areas.

So for example, not many people kind of knew this - this is kind of a new aspect to my book - but Steele wrote more than a hundred reports after 2014 about the war in Ukraine - about what Russia was doing, about its sort of covert movement of tanks and troops, about its sort of strategic objectives. And these were well-received by U.S. intelligence. They were sent up the chain. They were circulated within the State Department. And they were, I was told, read by John Kerry and Victoria Nuland, who was the assistant secretary of state in charge for Europe at the time in the Obama administration.

In other words, the sources who were right on Ukraine were behind the Trump dossier. And the FBI knows that. The U.S. intelligence community knows that. And that’s really why they take Steele pretty seriously. I mean, like any intelligence officer, his work is not perfect. He’s not infallible. There may be some errors there. But broadly, I think people in British and American intelligence think the dossier is correct, which means that Donald Trump is compromised.

GROSS: Well, Luke Harding, thank you so much for talking with us. And thank you for your reporting.

HARDING: Thank you, Terry. It was great.

GROSS: Luke Harding is a foreign correspondent for The Guardian and author of the new book “Collusion.”



Comments:



2

Posted by DanielS on Fri, 24 Nov 2017 01:26 | #

Thanks Satanist, though we noted the gist of this article at the time it came out, its important to have these things re-affirmed with critical feedback - you’re right, the Chabad International is pivotal to Jewish / American - Trump - Russian / Jewish ties (Chabad is a connecting membrane as it were):

Politico, ” The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group That Connects Trump and Putin”, 9 April 2017:

Where Trump’s real estate world meets a top religious ally of the Kremlin

Chabad of Port Washington, a Jewish community center on Long Island’s Manhasset Bay, sits in a squat brick edifice across from a Shell gas station and a strip mall. The center is an unexceptional building on an unexceptional street, save for one thing: Some of the shortest routes between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin run straight through it.

Two decades ago, as the Russian president set about consolidating power on one side of the world, he embarked on a project to supplant his country’s existing Jewish civil society and replace it with a parallel structure loyal to him. On the other side of the world, the brash Manhattan developer was working to get a piece of the massive flows of capital that were fleeing the former Soviet Union in search of stable assets in the West, especially real estate, and seeking partners in New York with ties to the region.

Their respective ambitions led the two men—along with Trump’s future son-in-law, Jared Kushner—to build a set of close, overlapping relationships in a small world that intersects on Chabad, an international Hasidic movement most people have never heard of.

Starting in 1999, Putin enlisted two of his closest confidants, the oligarchs Lev Leviev and Roman Abramovich, who would go on to become Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide, to create the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia under the leadership of Chabad rabbi Berel Lazar, who would come to be known as “Putin’s rabbi.”

                     

A few years later, Trump would seek out Russian projects and capital by joining forces with a partnership called Bayrock-Sapir, led by Soviet emigres Tevfik Arif, Felix Sater and Tamir Sapir—who maintain close ties to Chabad. The company’s ventures would lead to multiple lawsuits alleging fraud and a criminal investigation of a condo project in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the links between Trump and Chabad kept piling up. In 2007, Trump hosted the wedding of Sapir’s daughter and Leviev’s right-hand man at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort. A few months after the ceremony, Leviev met Trump to discuss potential deals in Moscow and then hosted a bris for the new couple’s first son at the holiest site in Chabad Judaism. Trump attended the bris along with Kushner, who would go on to buy a $300 million building from Leviev and marry Ivanka Trump, who would form a close relationship with Abramovich’s wife, Dasha Zhukova. Zhukova would host the power couple in Russia in 2014 and reportedly attend Trump’s inauguration as their guest.

With the help of this trans-Atlantic diaspora and some globetrotting real estate moguls, Trump Tower and Moscow’s Red Square can feel at times like part of the same tight-knit neighborhood. Now, with Trump in the Oval Office having proclaimed his desire to reorient the global order around improved U.S. relations with Putin’s government—and as the FBI probes the possibility of improper coordination between Trump associates and the Kremlin—that small world has suddenly taken on outsize importance.

Trump’s kind of Jews

Founded in Lithuania in 1775, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement today has adherents numbering in the five, or perhaps six, figures. What the movement lacks in numbers it makes up for in enthusiasm, as it is known for practicing a particularly joyous form of Judaism.

Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, recalled having this trait impressed upon him during one family wedding at which the two tables occupied by his first cousins, Chabad rabbis, put the rest of the celebrants to shame. “They were dancing up a storm, these guys. I thought they were black. Instead they’re just black-hat,” Klein said, referring to their traditional Hasidic garb.

Despite its small size, Chabad has grown to become the most sprawling Jewish institution in the world, with a presence in over 1,000 far-flung cities, including locales like Kathmandu and Hanoi with few full-time Jewish residents. The movement is known for these outposts, called Chabad houses, which function as community centers and are open to all Jews. “Take any forsaken city in the world, you have a McDonald’s and a Chabad house,” explained Ronn Torossian, a Jewish public relations executive in New York.

Chabad adherents differ from other Hasidic Jews on numerous small points of custom, including the tendency of Chabad men to wear fedoras instead of fur hats. Many adherents believe that the movement’s last living leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, is the messiah, and some believe he is still alive. Chabad followers are also, according to Klein, “remarkable” fundraisers.

As the closest thing the Jewish world has to evangelism—much of its work is dedicated to making Jews around the world more involved in Judaism—Chabad serves many more Jews who are not full-on adherents.

According to Schmuley Boteach, a prominent rabbi in New Jersey and a longtime friend of Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, Chabad offers Jews a third way of relating to their religious identity. “You have three choices as a Jew,” he explained. “You can assimilate and not be very affiliated. You can be religious and Orthodox, or there’s sort of a third possibility that Chabad offers for people who don’t want to go the full Orthodox route but do want to stay on the traditional spectrum.”

This third way may explain the affinity Trump has found with a number of Chabad enthusiasts—Jews who shun liberal reform Judaism in favor of traditionalism but are not strictly devout.

“It’s not a surprise that Trump-minded people are involved with Chabad,” said Torossian. “Chabad is a place that tough, strong Jews feel comfortable. Chabad is a nonjudgmental place where people that are not traditional and not by-the-book feel comfortable.”

He summarized the Chabad attitude, which is less strict than the Orthodox one, as, “If you can’t keep all of the commandments, keep as many as you can.”

Torossian, who coincidentally said he is Sater’s friend and PR rep, also explained that this balance is particularly appealing to Jews from the former Soviet Union, who appreciate its combination of traditional trappings with a lenient attitude toward observance. “All Russian Jews go to Chabad,” he said. “Russian Jews are not comfortable in a reform synagogue.”

Putin’s kind of Jews

The Russian state’s embrace of Chabad happened, like many things in Putin’s Russia, as the result of a factional power struggle.

In 1999, soon after he became prime minister, Putin enlisted Abramovich and Leviev to create the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities. Its purpose was to undermine the existing umbrella for Russia’s Jewish civil society, the Russian Jewish Congress, led by oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, a potential threat to Putin and President Boris Yeltsin. A year later, Gusinsky was arrested by Putin’s government and forced into exile.

At the time, Russia already had a chief rabbi as recognized by the Russian Jewish Congress, Adolf Shayevich. But Abramovich and Leviev installed Chabad rabbi Lazar at the head of their rival organization. The Kremlin removed Shayevich from its religious affairs council, and ever since it has instead recognized Lazar as Russia’s chief rabbi, leaving the country with two rival claimants to the title.

The Putin-Chabad alliance has reaped benefits for both sides. Under Putin, anti-Semitism has been officially discouraged, a break from centuries of discrimination and pogroms, and the government has come to embrace a state-sanctioned version of Jewish identity as a welcome part of the nation.

As Putin has consolidated his control of Russia, Lazar has come to be known derisively as “Putin’s rabbi.” He has escorted the Russian leader to Jerusalem’s Western Wall and attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, Putin’s pet project, on the Jewish Sabbath. Putin returned that favor by arranging for Lazar to enter the stadium without submitting to security checks that would have broken the rules for observing Shabbat.

In 2013, a $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opened in Moscow under the auspices of Chabad and with funding from Abramovich. Putin donated a month of his salary to the project, while the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, pitched in by offering relevant documents from its archives.

In 2014, Lazar was the only Jewish leader present at Putin’s triumphal announcement of the annexation of Crimea.

But the rabbi has paid a price for his loyalty to Putin. Since the annexation, his continued support for the Russian autocrat has caused a rift with Chabad leaders in Ukraine. And for years, the Russian government has defied an American court order to turn over a trove of Chabad texts called the “Schneerson Library” to the Chabad Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Shortly after the opening of the tolerance museum, Putin ordered the collection transferred there instead. The move made Lazar the custodian of a prized collection that his Brooklyn comrades believe is rightfully theirs.

If Lazar has any qualms about his role in all the intra-Chabad drama, he hasn’t let on publicly. “Challenging the government is not the Jewish way,” the rabbi said in 2015.

Trump, Bayrock, Sapir

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, as Trump looked for business and investors in the former Soviet Union during the first years of this century, he struck up an enduring relationship with a firm called Bayrock-Sapir.

Bayrock was co-led by Felix Sater, a convicted mob associate.

Sater and another Bayrock employee, Daniel Ridloff, who like Sater later went on to work directly for the Trump Organization, belong to the Port Washington Chabad house. Sater told POLITICO Magazine that in addition to serving on the board of the Port Washington Chabad house, he sits on the boards of numerous Chabad entities in the U.S. and abroad, though none in Russia.

The extent of Sater’s ties to Trump is a matter of some dispute. Working out of Trump Tower, Sater partnered with the celebrity developer on numerous Trump-branded developments and scouted deals for him in the former Soviet Union. In 2006, Sater escorted Trump’s children Ivanka and Don Jr. around Moscow to scour the city for potential projects, and he worked especially closely with Ivanka on the development of Trump SoHo, a hotel and condominium building in Manhattan whose construction was announced on “The Apprentice” in 2006.

In 2007, Sater’s stock fraud conviction became public. The revelation did not deter Trump, who brought him on as “a senior advisor to the Trump Organization” in 2010. In 2011, a number of purchasers of Trump SoHo units sued Trump and his partners for fraud and the New York attorney general’s office opened a criminal inquiry into the building’s marketing. But the purchasers settled and agreed not to cooperate with the criminal investigation, which was subsequently scuttled, according to the New York Times. Two former executives are suing Bayrock alleging tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering, bribery, extortion and fraud.

Under oath, Sater has described a close relationship with the Trumps, while Trump has testified under oath that he barely knew Sater and would not be able to pick his face out in a crowd. Several people who worked closely with Sater during this period and who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation from both men, scoffed at Trump’s testimony, describing frequent meetings and near-constant phone calls between the two. One person recalled numerous occasions on which Trump and Sater dined together, including at the now-defunct Kiss & Fly in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

“Trump called Felix like every other day to his office. So the fact that he’s saying he doesn’t know him, that’s a lot of crap,” said a former Sater colleague. “They were definitely in contact always. They spoke on the phone all the time.”

In 2014, the Port Washington Chabad house named Sater its “man of the year.” At the ceremony honoring Sater, the chabad’s founder, Shalom Paltiel, recounted how Sater would spill his guts to him about his adventures working as a government cooperator on sensitive matters of national security.

“I only recently told Felix I really didn’t believe most of it. I thought perhaps he watched too many James Bond movies, read one too many Tom Clancy novels,” said Paltiel at the ceremony. “Anyone who knows Felix knows he can tell a good story. I simply did not put too much credence to them.”

But Paltiel went on to recount receiving special clearance years later to accompany Sater to a ceremony at the federal building in Manhattan. There, said Paltiel, officials from every American intelligence agency applauded Sater’s secret work and divulged “stuff that was more fantastic, and more unbelievable, than anything he had been telling me.” A video of the event honoring Sater has been removed from the Port Washington Chabad house’s website but is still available on YouTube.

When I contacted Paltiel for this article, he hung up the phone as soon as I introduced myself. I wanted to ask him about some of the connections I’d come across in the course of my reporting. In addition to his relationship with Sater, Paltiel is also close to “Putin’s rabbi” Lazar, calling Lazar “my dear friend and mentor” in a short note about running into him at Schneerson’s gravesite in Queens.

According to Boteach, this is unsurprising, because Chabad is the sort of community where everybody knows everybody else. “In the world of Chabad, we all went to Yeshiva together, we were all ordained together,” Boteach explained. “I knew Berel Lazar from yeshiva.”

The Port Washington Chabad house has another Bayrock tie. Among its top 13 benefactors, its “Chai Circle,” as listed on its website, is Sater’s partner, Bayrock founder Tevfik Arif.

Arif, a former Soviet bureaucrat turned wealthy real estate developer, owns a mansion in Port Washington, an upscale suburb, but he makes a curious patron for the town’s Chabad. A Kazakh-born citizen of Turkey with a Muslim name, Arif is not Jewish, according to people who have worked with him. In 2010, he was arrested in a raid on a yacht in Turkey that once belonged to the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, and charged with running an international underage prostitution ring. Arif was later cleared of the charges.

Before the scandal on Ataturk’s yacht, Arif partnered closely with Trump, Ivanka Trump and Sater in the development of Trump SoHo along with the Sapir family, a New York real estate dynasty and the other half of Bayrock-Sapir.

Its patriarch, the late billionaire Tamir Sapir, was born in the Soviet state of Georgia and arrived in 1976 in New York, where he opened an electronics store in the Flatiron district that, according to the New York Times, catered largely to KGB agents.

Trump has called Sapir “a great friend.” In December 2007, he hosted the wedding of Sapir’s daughter, Zina, at Mar-a-Lago. The event featured performances by Lionel Ritchie and the Pussycat Dolls. The groom, Rotem Rosen, was the CEO of the American branch of Africa Israel, the Putin oligarch Leviev’s holding company.

Five months later, in early June 2008, Zina Sapir and Rosen held a bris for their newborn son. Invitations to the bris described Rosen as Leviev’s “right-hand man.” By then, Leviev had become the single largest funder of Chabad worldwide, and he personally arranged for the bris to take place at Schneerson’s grave, Chabad’s most holy site.

Trump attended the bris. A month earlier, in May 2008, he and Leviev had met to discuss possible real estate projects in Moscow, according to a contemporaneous Russian news report. An undated photograph on a Pinterest account called LLD Diamond USA, the name of a firm registered to Leviev, shows Trump and Leviev shaking hands and smiling. (The photograph was first pointed out by Pacific Standard.)

That same year, Sapir, an active Chabad donor in his own right, joined Leviev in Berlin to tour Chabad institutions in the city.

 


3

Posted by Jared, Ivanka, Roman, Dasha on Fri, 24 Nov 2017 01:46 | #

Ibid. Politico

Jared, Ivanka, Roman, Dasha

Also present at the Sapir-Rosen bris was Kushner, who along with his now-wife Ivanka Trump has forged his own set of ties to Putin’s Chabad allies. Kushner’s family, which is Modern Orthodox, has long been highly engaged in philanthropy across the Jewish world, including to Chabad entities, and during his undergraduate years at Harvard, Kushner was active in the university’s Chabad house. Three days before the presidential election, the couple visited Schneerson’s grave and prayed for Trump. In January, the couple purchased a home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood and settled on the city’s nearby Chabad synagogue, known as TheSHUL of the Nation’s Capital, as their house of worship.

In May 2015, a month before Trump officially entered the Republican presidential primary, Kushner bought a majority stake in the old New York Times building on West 43rd Street from Leviev for $295 million.

Kushner and Ivanka Trump are also close with Abramovich’s wife, Dasha Zhukova. Abramovich, an industrialist worth more than $7 billion and the owner of the British soccer club Chelsea FC, is the former governor of the Russian province of Chukotka, where he is still revered as a hero. He owes his fortune to his triumphant emergence from Russia’s post-Soviet “aluminum wars,” in which more than 100 people are estimated to have died in fighting over control of aluminum refineries. Abramovich admitted in 2008 that he amassed his assets by paying billions of dollars in bribes. In 2011, his former business partner, the late Boris Berezovsky—an oligarch who had fallen out with Putin and gone on to live in exile at the Trump International on Central Park West—accused him of threats, blackmail and intimidation in a lawsuit in the United Kingdom, which Abramovich won.

Abramovich was reportedly the first person to recommend to Yeltsin that he choose Putin as his successor. In their 2004 biography of Abramovich, the British journalists Chris Hutchins and Dominic Midgely write, “When Putin needed a shadowy force to act against his enemies behind the scenes, it was Abramovich whom he could rely on to prove a willing co-conspirator.” The biographers compare the two men’s relationship to that between a father and a son and report that Abramovich personally interviewed candidates for Putin’s first cabinet. He has reportedly gifted Putin a $30 million yacht, though Putin denies it.

Abramovich’s vast business holdings and his personal life overlap with Trump’s world in multiple ways.

According to a 2012 report from researchers at Cornell University, Evraz, a firm partly owned by Abramovich, has contracts to provide 40 percent of the steel for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project whose completion was approved by Trump in March after years of delay. And in 2006, Abramovich purchased a large stake in the Russian oil giant Rosneft, a company now being scrutinized for its possible role in alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. Both Trump and the Kremlin have dismissed as “fake news” a dossier that alleges that a recent sale of Rosneft shares was part of a scheme to ease U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Meanwhile, his wife, Zhukova, has long traveled in the same social circles as Kushner and Ivanka Trump: She is a friend and business partner of Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng, one of Ivanka’s closest friends, and a friend of Karlie Kloss, the longtime girlfriend of Kushner’s brother, Josh.

Over the years, Zhukova has grown close to Jared and Ivanka themselves. In February 2014, a month before Putin illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Ivanka Trump posted a photo to Instagram of herself with Zhukova, Wendi Deng, a bottle of wine, and the caption, “Thank you [Zhukova] for an unforgettable four days in Russia!” Deng was recently rumored to be dating Putin, though she denied it. Other photos from the trip show Kushner was also present in Russia at the time.

Last summer, Kushner and Ivanka Trump shared a box at the U.S. Open with Zhukova and Deng. In January, Zhukova reportedly attended Trump’s inauguration as Ivanka Trump’s guest.

On March 14, The Daily Mail spotted Josh Kushner dining with Zhukova in New York. According to the outlet, Josh Kushner “hid his face as he exited the eatery with Dasha.”

A week later, at the same time Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were vacationing in Aspen with her two brothers and their families, Abramovich’s plane flew from Moscow to Denver, according to a flight tracking service. Abramovich owns two properties in the Aspen area.

A spokesman for Abramovich declined to comment on the record about the Colorado overlap. The White House referred queries about the couples to a personal spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump. The spokeswoman, Risa Heller, initially indicated she would provide answers to questions about the Colorado overlap and recent contacts between the couples, but did not do so.

President Trump has reportedly sought security clearances for Kushner and Ivanka, who have taken on growing roles in his White House. For anyone else, a close personal relationship with the family of a top Putin confidant would present significant hurdles to obtaining security clearances, former high-ranking intelligence officials said, but political pressure to grant clearances to the president’s children would be likely to override any security concerns.

“Yes, such connections to Russia should matter for a clearance,” said Steve Hall, a former CIA Moscow station chief. “Question is, will they?”

“I don’t think the Trump family camp will have any trouble with security clearances, as long as there’s no polygraph involved,” said Milt Bearden, former chief of the CIA’s Eastern European division. “It’s absolutely crazy, but not going to be an issue.”

***

With Washington abuzz about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump world’s relationship with Putin’s Kremlin, their overlapping networks remain the object of much scrutiny and fascination.

In March, the New York Times reported that Lazar had met last summer with the Trump administration’s special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, then a lawyer for the Trump Organization. The men characterized the meeting as a normal part of Greenblatt’s campaign outreach to Jewish leaders and said it included general discussion of Russian society and anti-Semitism. The meeting was brokered by New York PR rep Joshua Nass, and Lazar has said he did not discuss that meeting with the Russian government.

In late January, Sater met with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to discuss a proposed Ukraine peace deal that would end U.S. sanctions on Russia, which Cohen then delivered to Trump’s then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House, according to the Times. Cohen has given varying accounts of the episode.

According to one Jewish Republican who said he sees Cohen “all the time” there, Cohen himself is a regular presence at the Midtown Chabad on Fifth Avenue, a dozen blocks south of Trump Tower and a half-dozen blocks south of his current office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Cohen disputed this, saying, “I’ve never been to a Chabad and I’ve never been to one in New York City either.” Cohen then said he last stepped foot in a Chabad over 15 years ago to attend a bris. He said the last Chabad-related event he attended was on March 16 at a hotel in Newark when he spoke at a dinner honoring Trump’s secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin. The dinner was hosted by the Rabbinical College of America, a Chabad organization.

To those unfamiliar with Russian politics, Trump’s world and Hasidic Judaism, all these Chabad links can appear confounding. Others simply greet them with a shrug.

“The interconnectedness of the Jewish world through Chabad is not surprising insofar as it’s one of the main Jewish players,” said Boteach. “I would assume that the world of New York real estate isn’t that huge either.”


4

Posted by Trump tweet jeopardizes his presidency on Sat, 02 Dec 2017 16:36 | #

The Hill, “Former ethics director: Trump’s tweet on Flynn could end presidency”, 2 Dec 2017:

A former government ethics official said Saturday that President Trump’s tweet about the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn could end his presidency.

“Are you ADMITTING you knew Flynn had lied to to the FBI when you asked Comey to back off Flynn?” Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, tweeted at Trump.

“Before we slipped into an alternate universe of unabashed corruption, this tweet alone might have ended a Presidential administration,” he added.

The Hill, “Ex-Obama DOJ official: Trump ‘just admitted to obstruction of justice” 2 Dec 2017:

Ex-Obama DOJ official: Trump ‘just admitted to obstruction of justice’

A former Department of Justice official under former President Obama said President Trump “admitted to obstruction of justice” Saturday in a tweet.

“Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice,” Matthew Miller tweeted. “If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case.”

Miller was responding to a tweet Trump posted Saturday in which he said he fired former national security adviser Michael Flynn because “he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.”

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies,” Trump tweeted. “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
6:14 PM - Dec 2, 2017



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Katie Hopkins panders to Israel commented in entry ''Western man, stand up for your wives, daughters', Kate Hopkins tweet investigated as inciting hate' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:28. (View)

mancinblack commented in entry 'Hungary and Slovakia Must Admit Refugees as Part of EU Relocation Program, EU Court Rules' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 13:52. (View)

mancinblack commented in entry '"Miss Grand Myanmar", Shwe Eain Si, stripped of her title for telling truth about crisis in Rakhine' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 12:31. (View)

mancinblack commented in entry 'Cernovich daggers and shields for the Alt-Right' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:34. (View)

pennine commented in entry 'Kevin Crehan, 35, jailed for leaving bacon in front of mosque then executed by Muslims in his cell' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:34. (View)

Rutgers prof in trouble for posts on Faceberg commented in entry 'Merkel and Zuckerberg are teaming up to attack you on Facebook' on Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:00. (View)

On the Rise of Mixed-Race Britain commented in entry 'Harry engages old colored woman, threatens to adulterate Royal line's representation of 41,000 years' on Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00. (View)

Shamychel commented in entry '“Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."' on Sun, 10 Dec 2017 06:11. (View)

Ukwuachu commented in entry '“Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."' on Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:59. (View)

Shawn commented in entry '“Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."' on Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:38. (View)

Chafin commented in entry '“Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."' on Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:05. (View)

The Nation: The Alt-Right Looks Left commented in entry 'White Left Imperative to defense, systemic health of European peoples' on Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:35. (View)

DanielS commented in entry 'Jez on great form' on Sat, 09 Dec 2017 04:34. (View)

National-Satanist commented in entry 'Jez on great form' on Sat, 09 Dec 2017 04:23. (View)

DanielS commented in entry 'Netanyahu Concerned Race-mixing to Destroy Liberal Jews and American support' on Sat, 09 Dec 2017 01:42. (View)

Merkel seeks 390,000 Family Reunification Visas commented in entry 'EP President Schulz: Germany exists only in order to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.' on Fri, 08 Dec 2017 04:23. (View)

Flynn, "we're going to rip-up those sanctions and" commented in entry 'Evidence of Trump-Russia Collusion Already Exists, Watergate Prosecutors Say' on Thu, 07 Dec 2017 18:44. (View)

(((Lauren Southern))) commented in entry 'Hardly The Battle of Cable Street: What Berkeley Doesn't Mean' on Thu, 07 Dec 2017 18:28. (View)

mancinblack commented in entry 'EP President Schulz: Germany exists only in order to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.' on Thu, 07 Dec 2017 12:20. (View)

mancinblack commented in entry 'EP President Schulz: Germany exists only in order to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.' on Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:34. (View)

Schulz calls for United States of Europe commented in entry 'EP President Schulz: Germany exists only in order to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.' on Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:24. (View)

Russia likely Israeli match-maker commented in entry '"Israeli Defense Minister: 'I Prefer ISIS to Iran on Our Borders"' on Wed, 06 Dec 2017 03:10. (View)

Russia cheated at Sochi, banned at S Korea commented in entry 'N.Korean threat/capacity, shows both determinism & social construction by contrast to southern twin' on Wed, 06 Dec 2017 02:52. (View)

Lyon Christmas market cancelled by cost of terror commented in entry 'Berlin terror attack: 12 dead, 49 injured as truck ploughs into crowd at Christmas market' on Wed, 06 Dec 2017 01:22. (View)

Islamic plot to kill PM Theresa May foiled commented in entry 'Weston disbands Liberty GB in favor of backing Anne Marie Waters For Britain' on Wed, 06 Dec 2017 01:08. (View)

Cernovich daggers & shields for the alt-right commented in entry 'Cernovich seeds FireMcMaster hashtag propagated by 600 most active Russian Twitter operative handles' on Tue, 05 Dec 2017 20:22. (View)

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