By Kumar David –
Russia Inquiry will have to follow the money wherever it leads – Kushner: Albatross round Trump’s neck
Who finds the heifer dead and bleeding fresh
And fast by a butcher with an axe
But will suspect ‘twas he that made the slaughter
Henry VI, Pt 2
Russia poked, probed and interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections; there’s no news value in that. America and all big or regional powers influence foreign events to their advantage and if possible engineer regime change. America is world leader at that game. But I also think Russian interference did not have a discernible effect on the outcome. Trump won because a swathe of America’s underprivileged classes, unemployed white workers and ranting racists, fed up with the elite and ‘The System’, united in anger. (Elite + System = Swamp). And the Trump base is still holding solid. I am not commenting on the legality of interference, I am speculating it was of little significance in deciding the elections outcome.
It may turn out that there was undesirable, deplorable or even malfeasant conduct by Trump’s team, with or without the knowledge of the boss, but I would not be surprised if the final finding is that no indictable or even impeachable offence had been committed. There is no smoking gun yet, no hard evidence yet, only a tangle of circumstantial events which are inexplicable. Special Counsel Bob Mueller is a stickler and the expectation is that he will be precise in law and balanced in findings. To that extent we can repose confidence in the residual structures of American democracy, which is a great deal more than we can say for ourselves, especially during the Rajapaksa era.
I am prepared to hazard a hunch that what will be explosive is not collusion with Russia, but rather, the financial tangles which Mueller’s probe may unravel. Remember ‘The Untouchables’ never got Al Capone for drug and liquor running; it was comparatively trivial tax evasion that landed him in Alcatraz. Nixon came to grief not for the Watergate break-in but for firing investigator Archibald Cox who was demanding access to White House tapes. That much loved rascal Bill Clinton was not impeached for lechery but for lying to a Grand Jury about his capers. Where an investigation starts and where the trail leads are convoluted. To cut to the point, what I am saying is that it may not be alleged collusion with Russia but family and businesses financial trails the inquiry may unveil that could be fatal.
Nevertheless for the benefit of readers who have not followed details I will summarise what is known and what suspected about the Russian connections of the three Trump teams – in chronological order, the campaign team, the transition team and White House-cum-Cabinet.
From Russia with love
The youthful all powerful Grand Wazir of the Trump presidency is Jared Kushner, son-in-law (married to Ivanka) and during the campaign and transition, point man for foreign officials. During the campaign he met Sergey Gorkov who has ties to Putin and runs a bank under U.S. sanctions for Russian annexation of Crimea. The meeting was for private business we were told– not illegal, just extraordinary for the time. Then on 19 December 2016, during the transition, he asked Ambassador Kislak to set up a secret communication channel between the transition team and the Kremlin. A president elect’s Grand Wazir bypassing the nation’s security agencies is astounding! Again not illegal but Kushner has become an albatross round Trump’s neck and will likely be a pre-impeachment sacrificial offering.
Carter Page a confidant of Trump and his foreign policy advisor, later described as “a very low-level member of the campaign team”, was fired when his deep connections with Russia came to light. Page had business dealings with Russian oil and gas companies. His partner Paul Manafort had extensive Russian business connections and may have been paid millions by a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Manafort had links to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and twice predicted the release of documents. He was kicked out of the transition team when these connections and links to oligarch Deripaska were exposed.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s intelligence expert, was appointed National Security Advisor but resigned in three weeks after it was disclosed he had had dealings with Ambassador Kislyak and lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General (Justice Minister) was compelled to recuse himself from the Russia probe after news of meetings with Kislyak which he concealed during his confirmation hearing, came to light.
Loquacious and quick witted, Sergey Kislyak fits the mould of savvy long-serving envoys who shaped Moscow-Washington relations. He acts strategically to engage family members of foreign leaders thought to be useful allies. The Chinese are past masters at this as we know from the Rajapaksa case.
I do not wish to burden readers with an information overload; a summary comment will do as catchall: There has been a phenomenal amount of contact between Trump’s teams and family, and the Kremlin and Russian officials. However as I will detail next, this pales beside the financial ties between Trump’s businesses, and Russian oligarchs of dubious repute and Russian and Kazakh mobsters.
“How quickly nature falls into revolt when gold becomes her object” Shakespeare’s Henry IV moaned in Part II, Act 4. Shoddy and shady business dealings, dubious Russian and Central Asian mafia connections and lying under oath are the subject of several recent studies and documentaries. All pertain to the period prior to the presidency, perhaps prior to the candidacy, I think. Authors of three books are two Trump biographers James Henry and Michael d’Antonio and an attorney Fred Obelander. Documentaries, available on YouTube, are ‘Dubious Friends of Donald Trump’ (Dutch producer Zembla, 2017), a BBC Newsnight programme in 2013 and ‘Donald Trump’s business links to the mob’ (BBC; March 2016).
If a fraction of what these books and documentaries allege is true it’s hair-raising. There have been dicey American presidents before but this is the daddy of them all. Mob work was run from the Trump Tower (by an outfit called Bayrock Co.), close ties are alleged to convicted crime boss Felix Slater and a big Russian mafia figure, Semion Mogilevich. There was a partnership with Alif, a crooked Kazak billionaire; Trump was the front for Alif to penetrate US business. If all this is all fabrication and fake news we should have seen a slew of libel suits long ago.
The reason Trump broke with tradition and refused to bare his tax filings, as all previous presidential candidates have done, is palpable; it would have brought to light the timbre of his business associates, and it could have exposed at best shoddy at worst illegal transactions. Mueller’s probe will drag much of this into the open; this explains Trump’s apoplectic anger. Mueller has called for Trump’s family financial and loan documents to be handed over. Again, Henry IV, Pt.2 offers an apposite line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”.
American security and intelligence agencies are leaking like a sieve. A day does not go by without another embarrassing revelation creeping into the New York Times or Washington Post. It is being said, correctly, that the Deep State and the liberal media are out to get him; but I have also heard the defence that federal officials are at the end of their wits how to limit the absurdity of this administration and that without the media there would have been no Congressional investigations or Special Counsel.
Popinjay Trump’s braggadocio strutting on the European stage won his country no friends. Angela Merkel declared after his departure “Europe can no longer depend on the US”. Perhaps Trump took his cue from Henry IV, Pt.2: “Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels, the action hence borne out may waste the memory of former days”. Or maybe Henry VI, Pt. 3 takes a nod in the direction of Vladimir Putin: “How can tyrants safely govern home, unless abroad they purchase great alliances?” Let me not prolong my “romp with the Henrys”, as a friend calls it, and settle on “Thou foul accursed minister of hell!”