Fact-Checking That “Trump & Putin” Thing

Josh Marshall asked me to substantiate my criticism on Twitter of his use of facts in his TalkingPointsMemo.com article “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really A Thing”.

As background, Josh published the above mentioned post. Mark Cuban called him out for jumping to conclusions. Josh replied that he stuck narrowly to the facts. I disagreed w/ Josh and gave a few reasons why. Josh asked me for specifics.

What follows are seven statements from the TPM article which Josh has claimed are facts. He only got two out of seven correct.

“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.”

The increase in Trump’s debt load came from a Bloomberg estimate. An estimate is what’s done when accurate data isn’t available. So while Josh accurately quoted an estimate (not a fact), it’s also important to note that the Trump Organization disputed it according to Bloomberg. Josh failed to note that.

There’s no evidence that Trump has been blackballed. There is evidence that some big U.S. banks don’t want to work with him, but Deutsche Bank has lent him $300 million since 2012.

“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.”

As a luxury real estate developer, Trump sells to Russian and Chinese ultra-high net worth individuals because that’s who has been buying expensive real estate. In 2014, however, Russian investment money started drying up and Chinese investors filled the void.

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.

Here’s a fact that Josh got right — Trump will take money from anyone including Russian criminals.

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.

Paul Manafort‘s DC lobbying firm has taken so much money from so many despots, dictators, and human rights abusers ($900,000/yr from Ferdinand Marcos alone) that it’s been named as a top five firm in The Torturer’s Lobby (.pdf). He was paid $700,000 in an ISI operation (Pakistan’s Intelligence service) during the 90’s. And yes, Manafort was one of many political campaign advisors to deposed Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from 2004–2010, and made at least $63,750 during a six-month period.

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…. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

Josh focused exclusively on Page’s relatively brief tenure advising Gazprom and completely excluded his connection with Ukraine’s billionaire philanthropist Victor Pinchuk. It was his friendship with Pinchuk that got him the Merrill Lynch appointment to Moscow in the first place. Why exclude it? Because unlike Gazprom, there’s no connection between Pinchuk and Putin that Josh could exploit.

Josh’s claim that “Those ties allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time” is a mystery to me because Page left Gazprom in 2007 and has made very little money from Russia ever since; especially after sanctions hit in 2014.

Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump.

The article Josh used to source that “fact” only mentioned RT (Russia Today). This editorial in the Moscow Times hoped for a Clinton presidency: “The Moscow-Washington relationship promises to remain a rocky one and its management will require a steady hand, which a President Clinton is more likely to provide than a President Rubio, or, God forbid, a President Trump.”

And just a few days ago, the Kremlin criticized Trump’s statement on NATO and Russia via TASS.

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…. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform.

Totally indifferent? Not according to the very same Tierney Sneed article that Josh used as a source. Sneed wrote “the Trump campaign had representatives at the platform meetings who were in communication with the delegates on the committee. They were very much aware of and involved in the process in the sense that they were talking to the delegates, Kobach said.”

But total indifference was what Josh needed in order to make the leap to his “One Big Exception” — Ukraine. Trump wanted to soften the wording on providing military assistance to Ukraine to providing “appropriate assistance”. Standing on its own, that’s actually a responsible change which is in agreement with a lot of other policy makers.

CONCLUSION

A fact is defined as a “true piece of information”. How many of Josh’s facts were true?

  • Trump’s debt load was a Bloomberg estimate, not a fact.
  • Trump is highly reliant upon money from Russia. Open to interpretation, not a fact.
  • Trump Soho took investment money from Russian criminals. Fact.
  • Trump’s campaign manager used to work for Viktor Yanukovych when he was running for Prime Minister of Ukraine. Fact.
  • Putin could put Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy advisor, out of business at any time. Not only not a fact, but untrue and ridiculous on its face.
  • Putin has aligned all state-controlled media behind Trump. False.
  • The Trump Camp only cared about softening the platform on arming Ukraine. False.

For the record, I despise Donald Trump. I can’t imagine a worse candidate for President and I’m shocked and appalled that he is the Republican nominee. However, there’s no need to invent Russian conspiracies to make the Trump boogeyman appear worse than he is.