Follow the money.
The boldfaced sentence above was popularized by the 1976 docu-drama All the President’s Men where two Washington Post reporters chronicled the nefarious trickeries of Richard Nixon. In 2016, the sentence emerged again into our everyday lexicon when Donald Trump used it while campaigning against Hillary Clinton.
In a classic twist of irony, it may now describe how Trump will be brought down.
The Trump-Russia Investigation has picked up the scent on a trail that may lead to shady, illegal international deals involving lots of money, Russia and Trump. Most Americans lack knowledge about international banking, money-laundering, bribery, and fraud. However, we’re rapidly learning—thanks to the news media’s ongoing coverage of Trump’s international business deals.
Some Americans ignore or could care less about Trump’s Russian connections. This is unfortunate for our country as a whole. It demonstrates a lack of thinking, reasoning, caring, and awareness among a segment of our citizens. The Trump-Russia issue has the potential to be more adversely impactful upon the American psyche and self-worth than the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s, Nixon’s ribald lying of the 1970s, and Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. On the other hand—for Americans who follow the Trump-Russian issue—it sometimes seems as if we’re wandering around with Dante through the nine concentric circles of Hell, the realm for those who have perverted “their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellow men.”
Create confusion: Trump knows an investigative journey into his finances is not good for him. His tactics to deflect the investigation have been of the same ilk as they were to avoid anti-Trump issues during the campaign and since the inauguration. When he wants to sidestep a topic, he relies on combative, nasty tweets and outlandish statements to change the national dialogue and redirect the public’s attention elsewhere.
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As news gained ground in late July and early August about the Trump-Russian Investigation turning to Trump’s finances, the president suddenly steered us toward the brink of war with North Korea. He also crazily announced the possibility of using the U.S. military in Venezuela. He flip-flopped back and forth on the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacy related to the Charlottesville tragedy, and his inflammatory tweets and public proclamations switched the national dialogue to statues of Confederates and American heroes.
Trump also began a highly public Twitter offensive that attacked U.S. Senators in his own party for various issues such as the Senate’s inability to repeal and replace Obamacare. One attack began after Trump and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a profanity-laced phone conversation in which the president berated McConnell for not protecting him in the Russia probe. Next, Trump’s tweets insinuated that McConnell should resign over the Obamacare issue. Well, you get the point…Trump’s tactic is simple: Do what I say to stop the Russian probe or I will attack you on another topic.
Trump’s diversions serve two purposes. They appeal to many supporters in his political base. In addition, and more importantly for his own personal protection, they veer the public’s vision away from the money trail and such related issues as possible collusion between his campaign and Russians in the 2016 presidential election, a topic under scrutiny by the Trump-Russian Investigation.
Art of bad deals: Trump has a well-documented track record in the U.S. for defaulting on loans, business failures, bankruptcies, and deceptions. Years ago, almost every bank in the country started refusing to finance deals in which he was involved. “Trump has had a few successes in business, (but) most of his ventures have been disasters,” pointed out a 2016 Newsweek article which took an in-depth look at business deals he made over decades. “Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.”
Without access to American financing, Trump turned to foreign countries for money for real estate and other deals: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. And Russia. One of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, once admitted, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
In contradiction to Eric Trump, the president’s lawyers have recently and artfully said Donald Trump’s Russia-related income in the last decade only includes $12.2 million for holding the 2013 Miss World contest in Moscow and $95 million from a Russia billionaire who in 2008 bought a Trump estate in Florida, property that only four years earlier Trump purchased for $41 million. The transaction with the Russian was tagged as the single biggest family home sale in the history of America. The Russian never lived there and the home has since been demolished. A good deal that fleeced the Russian? Or a good payoff for some shady deal? Or money laundering? We don’t know.
Most importantly, as a New York Times article pointed out in May, the revelation by Trump’s lawyers leave “other questions unanswered, including whether Mr. Trump or his firms received Russian income or loans from entities registered elsewhere or whether he derived income from Russian-linked partnerships that file their own returns.”
Trump has claimed time and again that he has never had business deals with Russia. He deceitfully crafts such statements so listeners think he means all and any Russians. But, if one reads between the lines and does the research, it becomes obvious he specifically means only the Russian government. It appears to be true, in fact, that he never has had a business deal with the government.
However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried. On August 27, the Washington Post published an insightful article about Trump and his organization attempting to create a deal with a Russian bank—one that is largely owned by the Russian government—to build a massive hotel in Moscow. The effort went on in secret while Trump was a candidate in late 2015 and early 2016.
Trump and his organization have deep connections with foreign companies, countries, and oligarchs (business elites with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin) strongly associated with and influenced by Putin and the Kremlin. As The New Yorker reported in its August 21 issue, some of these Trump partners have committed or are being investigated for money-laundering, fraud, illegal loans, and bank theft of billions of dollars.
Prevailing theory: The most common theory—which the Trump-Russia Investigation is following—is that Trump has profited through business arrangements with these Russia-associated companies, countries and oligarchs, and such arrangements are illegal under American and international laws. The other part of the theory is that Putin has secret information about Trump’s involvement in illegal deals. As a result, Putin has significant blackmail leverage over Trump.
The idea that Russia uses blackmail as a political tool is not new. The Russians have a name for it: kompromat. Putin and his government have craftily developed kompromat into a major component of foreign policy. They cultivate “marks” like Trump for years, enticing them with money and other promises, involving them in business deals and sometimes sexual opportunities. Remember the dossier about Trump and Russian made public earlier this year? (Read the dossier.) On August 23, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent 10 hours interviewing the owner of the company that commissioned the private investigation into how Trump was cultivated and used by Russia.
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Thus, our president dons kid gloves when it comes to Putin. Thus, Trump dismisses proof about Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Thus, Trump is Putin’s lapdog. Thus, America is in jeopardy; democracy endangered.
All of this, of course, brings us back to the Trump-Russian Investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a formidable team of lawyers with expertise in criminal law, organized crime, money-laundering, racketeering, counterterrorism, cyber security, and foreign bribery. Not unexpectedly, Trump doesn’t like the team. On July 27, he tweeted, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history—led by some very bad and conflicted people!”
Regardless of Trump’s views, the Mueller team will continue to focus on Russian connections. Trump will continue to try to discredit the investigation and change the national dialogue. Nonetheless, Americans have opportunities through news reports to learn more about the complexities and possible illegalities of Trump’s international business deals.
What is our role in this journey? Quite simply, we must not get distracted by Trump’s nasty tweets and wild statements; nor by the the Kafkaeque nature—the nightmarishly complexities—of Trump’s international business deals. There are layers and layers of shell companies designed to hide illegal transactions in these international deals. To make matters more complicated, Trump and his organization make it a practice to destroy records and sometimes keep a second set of secret books, as plaintiffs in some of the 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump over the last three decades have discovered.
The most important action we can take at this moment is to keep abreast of news about his involvement with Russia and their associates. Read. Watch. Listen. Discuss. If the investigative trail leads to where many believe, put heavy pressure on our congressional representatives to vote for impeachment.
Whether Trump is proven guilty or innocent of collusion or other illegal activities, the Trump-Russian Investigation is a historic endeavor that will be discussed by pundits and historians for decades.
If innocence is on Trump’s side, we’ll face more of the same that we currently see under the Trump administration: an emboldened Alt-Right, more pollution of our air and waterways, tax incentives for the rich, fewer civil rights, and, among other things, less economic opportunity for many Americans.
If he’s guilty, well, then, we’ll have the opportunity to claw our way out of Trump’s purgatory and back into being a nation that is governed rather than ruled by hateful tweets.
Keep your eyes on the money trail.
Learn more: Read the following articles by respected media outlets:
- Bloomberg: Mueller uses classic prosecution playbook despite Trump warnings.
- The New Yorker: Trump’s Business of Corruption.
- Washington Post: With Trump and Putin, it’s all about money.
- Slate: Wall Street Journal article reports Russian bank helps Trump’s Toronto deal.
- Vanity Fair: Why Robert Mueller has Trump’s SoHo dealings is his sights.
- Newsweek: Trump’s business failures.
- Vox: The Trump-Russian collusion.