February 12, 2018


Glenn Simpson Has Given Us a Russiagate Road Map (Bob Dreyfuss, JANUARY 26, 2018, The Nation)

At the very start, Simpson points out that his Fusion GPS investigation didn't start by looking only at Trump-Russia. It began, he said, by compiling data on Trump's overseas business deals, tax disputes, "labor practices around his factories," his bankruptcies, and his business partners. And what popped up early on was Trump's connection to Felix Sater, whose company, Bayrock, "was engaged in illicit financial business activity and had organized crime connections." (As The Nation reported in September, it was Sater who in November 2015 wrote Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.... I will get all of [Vladimir] Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.")

"We also had sort of more broadly learned that Mr. Trump had long time associations with Italian organized crime figures," Simpson told HPSCI, based on his research. "And as we pieced together the early years of his biography, it seemed as if during the early part of his career he had connections to a lot of Italian mafia figures, and then gradually during the nineties became associated with Russian mafia figures."

In his testimony, Simpson didn't provide details to back up his charges about Trump's alleged ties to the mob. However, over the past two years, numerous articles have drawn connections between Trump, his businesses, and both Italian and Russian organized crime. During the primary campaign, Senator Ted Cruz talked about Trump's "business dealings with the mob, with the mafia," and Politifact backed him up. In May 2016, David Cay Johnston, writing in Politico, penned a lengthy piece on the subject. And as recently as November, a joint NBC/Reuters investigation tied Trump to mobsters and other criminals in connection with the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. In his just-released testimony, as we shall see, Simpson refers several times to Trump's possible money-laundering ties to Russians in Panama and elsewhere.

The mastermind of Russia's approach to the 2016 election, according to Simpson, didn't reside within Russia's foreign-intelligence service, the SVR. Instead, he said, it was run by Sergei Ivanov, "the head of the presidential administration" (that is, Putin's chief of staff). "As I dug into some of the more obscure academic work on how the Kremlin operates by some of the more distinguished scholars of the subject, I found that Ivanov is, in fact, or was at the time, in fact, the head of a sort of internal kind of White House plumber's operation for the Kremlin and that he seemed to have the kind of duties that were being described in [the dossier]." (By "White House plumbers," of course, Simpson is making an analogy to President Richard Nixon's Watergate team, nicknamed "the plumbers" because their initial job was to find and plug the sources of leaks from the White House.)

According to Simpson, Russian organized crime is far more sophisticated than the Italian version, especially when it comes to money laundering, with closer ties to major businesses, especially in real estate. Asked whether Fusion GPS found any evidence that Trump was linked to such money-laundering activity, Simpson was cautious. "'Evidence,' I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering.... various criminals were buying [Trump's] properties." One of them, a major Russian organized-crime figure, "was running a high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower, while he himself was a fugitive for having rigged the skating competition at the Salt Lake [City] Olympics and a bunch of other sporting events engaged in rigging." When Trump went to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, this gangster was in the VIP section "with Mr. Trump and lots of other Kremlin biggies." Simpson said that the individual was called "Taiwanchik," an apparent reference to Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, who, according to the Moscow Times, is an alleged gangster sought by the United States.

Trump's various golf resorts were the subject of intense scrutiny by Simpson. Taking note of statements by Eric Trump that the golf-course projects benefited from Russian investments, Simpson began digging. "So we were able to get the financial statements. And they don't, on their face, show Russian involvement, but what they do show is enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources and--or at least on paper it says it's from The Trump Organization, but it's hundreds of millions of dollars. And these golf course [sic] are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money," said Simpson. "If you're familiar with Donald Trump's finances and the litigation over whether he's really a billionaire, you know, there's good reason to believe he doesn't have enough money to do this and that he would have had to have outside financial support for these things."

Which raises two questions: Did Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, help Russians launder money through investing in his golf resorts? And did those investments obligate Trump to shadowy Russian interests or make him vulnerable to blackmail? [...]

Gradually, Simpson and Steele concluded that a pattern was emerging. "Back then we had what appeared to be credible allegations of some sort of a pattern of surreptitious contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian people either working for the government or acting on behalf of the Russian Government," said Simpson. "I think that the evidence that has developed over the last year, since President Trump took office, is that there is a well-established pattern of surreptitious contacts that occurred last year that supports the broad allegation of some sort of an undisclosed political or financial relationship between The Trump Organization and people in Russia."

Under questioning by Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrat who is the ranking minority member on HPSCI, Simpson began to lay out detailed recommendations on which people, which bank records, which real estate transactions, ought to be mined for potentially incriminating information--including in connection with Trump's golf resorts and other properties in Panama, Toronto, and elsewhere.

It's not that hard, Simpson said. "I'm trying to think of the creative way to do this. I mean, as you may know, you know, most of these transactions are cleared through New York. And the other sort of central place for information is SWIFT in Brussels. But I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions," said Simpson. "And there's--again, it's these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produce it by rote. So we've done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities."

When Schiff ended his round of questioning, Representative Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida, picked up the thread. This hilarious exchange followed: "All those questions that Mr. Schiff asked about, you know, with the subpoena power and where we would go if we wanted to find out about Scotland and Panama and Toronto and Ireland, and you were talking about like the brokers and I guess the banks in Switzerland and New York, my only question is, why didn't you do that?" asked Rooney. Answered Simpson: "I don't have subpoena power."

Posted by at February 12, 2018 3:13 PM