FEDS CONVINCED FOLLOWING THE MONEY MEANS JAIL FOR TRUMP’S TEAM
What a week. What drama. What lies. What stupidity.
There are two narratives at work here. First is the public drama being played out breathlessly in the media and the private drama, a train wreck in slow motion as the FBI and Senate investigations move inexorably forward. Two new developments: The Feds have begun to play the immunity card, and the first of Mike Flynn’s associates has taken the offer. Further conversations are well advanced that will reveal new information about the dealings of Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. The Feds are increasingly confident that arrests are inevitable.
Second, it’s hardly surprising that for a man like Trump, who lives in a world of corruption and broken promises, there is a long trail to follow. For the Feds, it’s all about the money, and that trail has revealed a whole bunch of connections with Russia, money laundering, and corruption that spell big trouble for the President, his family, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. For the FBI, the case for Russia playing Trump like a fiddle is proved beyond all reasonable doubt. Next step: consolidating all the evidence into a case that will stand up in court.
Anyway, more of that later.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like being stuck in the White House as one crisis folds seamlessly into the next. Four months ago, there were optimism and excitement as we all set out on this grand adventure. A few weeks ago, there was much fear that some of us would likely end up in jail. Today, as the list of crimes grows longer and longer, there is certainty that jail is in the future of several of my colleagues.
Just this past week, I learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions played a key part in orchestrating the firing of James Comey as Director of the FBI. Yet Sessions had recused himself from any involvement in any part of the investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia. Now he’s instrumental in firing the man leading that investigation. Then TFC (That Fucking Child: Trump) reveals that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. The President and the Attorney General guilty of obstruction of justice? Looks like a no-brainer to me.
Then, the very next day TFC met with two of the major players in the Russian drama US Ambassador and former (some say current) intelligence officer, Sergey Kislyak, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. In the middle of the meeting in an apparent effort to show the Russians how important he is, TFC revealed details of one of the most closely-held intelligence operations which in turn gave insight for the Russians into one of the most covert US intelligence relationships.
The information was codeword classified at TS/SCI, the highest classification there is and the value to the Russians of the intelligence Trump blurted out is incalculable. Of course, TFC himself had no idea of what he had done while word of the breach spread like wildfire through the national security community. At one stroke, Trump put at risk a priceless covert relationship, told the Russians enough to allow them to pinpoint where the intelligence came from and put at risk a significant counter-terrorist operation. If this breach of security had been done by anyone other than the President, the person would likely have been arrested. As it is, Trump goes on his merry way while the intelligence community wrestles with trying to contain the damage which ultimately might be seen to have cost American lives.
TFC was astonished — astonished! — that his firing of Comey was not greeted by plaudits on all sides. Really, the man has the political antennae of a newt. And of course we all had to bear the brunt of his tantrums as he tried to blame anyone within range for his own stupidity.
To illustrate just how bad things have gotten, I heard two different conversations over the past few days as the Comey affair unfolded. The first involved Jim Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, who had warned Obama last year that there was evidence that Trump was a threat to the security of the United States.
Talking about the Comey firing, Clapper said, “I’m sad to have to say this, but I think the President is mentally unstable and unfit for the office. It’s clear he has no understanding of the law, no sense of responsibility. Someone has to step forward and get him out of there before we find ourselves at war because of an early-morning tweet.”
The second comment came from Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and was relayed to me by a friend. TFC has been privately dismissive of Ryan, whom he’s described as a “pygmy” and “useless.” Ryan was publicly silent for 24 hours after the Comey firing; privately, it was a different story.
“That stupid, ignorant idiot has just destroyed any chance we ever had of passing tax reform or anything else,” he told some of his staff. “He’s also killed the careers of some pretty good Congressman who will be destroyed at the elections next year. And for what? Another fucking ego trip. He’s nuts.”
It’s difficult to remember that these conversations are about the President of the United States. But I have to report that things inside the White House are far, far worse than even the most vicious critic can imagine.
The Comey firing had nothing to do with the Justice Department recommending his axing. Instead, it was the result of TFC’s Amen Chorus of Jeremiah (Steve Bannon), Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump reinforcing his rage at Comey and at anything having to do with Russia. For weeks, he’s railed against anyone who mentions the Russia investigation. He has — and I kid you not — thrown his hamburger at the TV and tossed the President’s Daily Brief (the synthesis of the best information the US intelligence community can produce) into the trash because it says things about Russia he doesn’t like. In a rage, he has summoned staff into the Oval Office to rail against the media for covering a story he has repeatedly dismissed as “fake news.”
“Those fuckers!” he shouted on one memorable occasion. “Lying bastards! I’ve never even met Putin. I know nothing about all this. So dishonest.”
The trouble with these rants is that all of us toiling at the coalface have connections with friends in other agencies, people we met on the campaign trail, or those we know from other lives. So there is a constant back-and-forth of gossip and insider trading of the latest juicy details. We all know now with complete certainty that our boss is a crook, and we have watched as he and his family have treated the Presidency as yet another get-rich-quick scheme. It may be disgusting to me and my friends, but the truth is, for Trump and his family it’s business as usual.
Amid all the noise, the single most significant event of last week got much less coverage than it should have. This was the request, by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s Russia connections, for all information on Trump and his associates held by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). This is a really big deal, because the FBI has already been tapping the same source and has come up with a ton of potentially illegal activity.
It’s worth noting that in 2015 FINCEN fined Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino $10 million for repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act during the period 2010 to 2012. In 1998, FINCEN fined the casino $447,700 for similar offenses.
The focus of the current investigation revolves around the Bank of Cyrus, which for years has been a haven for Russian oligarchs seeking to stash their money overseas. It has also been a center for funding Russian intelligence operations around the world. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s current Commerce Secretary, is a former vice-chairman of the bank. The other vice-chairman was a former Russian intelligence officer turned oligarch (in Putin’s Russia, the two often go hand in hand). Funnily enough (I say sarcastically), this was the bank where Paul Manafort, another Trump associate and the former chairman of his election campaign, chose to put money he earned overseas, including from Russia.
Deutsche Bank is also part of the investigation, as it holds $300 million of Trump business debts, and was recently fined $425 million over a $10 billion scheme to illegally launder Russian oligarchs’ cash.
One of the key figures is Dmitri Rybolovlev, Russia’s fertilizer king, who also happens to be a shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, and who bought a property Trump owned in Palm Beach. Trump had bought the property three years earlier for $40 million; the $95 million the oligarch paid for it seemed a highly inflated price, especially as he tore the house down soon after buying it. Investigators are looking to see if this transaction was a covert way for Trump and the oligarch to launder money.
Curiously, on October 30 and November 3, Trump’s campaign jet and Rybolovlev’s private jet were on the ground at exactly the same times in Las Vegas and in Charlotte, North Carolina, then crossed paths again after the election, in Florida and New York.
One thing to remember in this seemingly bewildering array of names and places is that Russia is a completely corrupt country where no truly successful business can operate without colluding with Putin’s regime. At the same time, many of Russia’s business leaders are former members of Russian intelligence who have continued their spying in the private sector. To the FBI, there are no innocent Russian oligarchs; every one of them works under Putin’s orders.
That makes it all the more surprising that Jared Kushner chose to meet with Russian banker Sergei Gorkov, a former Russian intelligence officer, at the request of Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, another former intelligence agent. At the time of the Kushner-Gorkov meeting, the bank Gorkov was running was on a list of US firms sanctioned by the Obama administration as punishment for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Gorkov is a former head of Sberbank, Russia’s largest state bank, which recently hired Trump’s longtime lawyers, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, to defend it in court. It was those same lawyers who wrote a letter, circulated last week, claiming that neither Trump, his business, nor his family had any financial links with any Russians, “with a few exceptions.” The letter is puzzling, because Trump and his sons have boasted for years about the hundreds of millions of dollars the Russians have invested in his businesses, a fact confirmed by Russian sources. It’s also worth noting that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius was named Russian Law Firm of the Year in 2016.
There may be innocent explanations for all this. It’s possible that Trump and his sons were lying when they claimed that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” It’s also possible that all these former Russian intelligence officials with business links to Trump were operating independently of Putin and had no hidden agenda. And that money paid by those same oligarchs to Trump and his associates was all for services actually rendered.
But neither the FBI nor the CIA believes in the innocence theory. On the contrary, I was shown a chart the other day that shows all the links between Trump, his family, Russian businesses, and Russian intelligence officers. Stretching back 20 years, it covers dozens of meetings, hundreds of transactions, and a fortune in money transfers. In addition to the chart, there are electronic intercepts, records of bank transfers, flight records, and bank statements. To the investigators, it adds up to a damning indictment of corruption, and of a vast and ultimately successful intelligence operation orchestrated by Vladimir Putin.
“This is the kind of thing you expect to see in Venezuela, Malaysia, or Brazil,” one person involved in the investigation told me. “But the President of the United States? I never thought I would live to see the day.”
The FBI investigation still has months to go. Records are being subpoenaed, immunity deals are being offered and taken, and the net is slowly closing. The FBI are now confident that four of Trump’s associates will face criminal prosecutions. They also believe that Trump and his immediate family are now firmly in the frame.