September 20, 2018

THE PLUMPEST MOUSE:

How Putin's Oligarchs Got Inside the Trump Team (SIMON SHUSTER, 9/20/18, TIME)

Already Mueller's probe has shown the range of assets Putin brought to bear on the 2016 campaign. Russian hackers stole and leaked the private emails of Trump's opponents and worked to polarize and enrage voters by manipulating social media, according to evidence made public by Mueller. Russian diplomats wooed Trump's advisers, who were eager for information that could hurt Hillary Clinton's chances.

But it is oligarchs like Deripaska, wielding extraordinary wealth and global connections, who may have played the most important role in the Russian influence campaign. Putin himself has suggested as much. Onstage with Trump at a press conference in Helsinki on July 16, the Russian leader said he "can imagine" private Russian businessmen supported Trump's bid for the presidency. "And so what?" Putin demanded. "They don't represent the Russian state."

In fact, their ties to the state are a lot closer than Putin let on. From the very beginning of his 19 years in power, the Russian President has turned his country's wealthiest men into a loose but loyal band of operatives. In exchange for lucrative deals with the government, or simply protection from the authorities, these billionaires have gathered contacts at the highest levels of U.S. politics, high enough to influence policy in the service of the Russian state. "These are cats that like to bring dead mice to the Kremlin," says Mark Galeotti, a leading expert in Putin's influence operations at the Prague-based Institute of International Relations.

And in the Trumps, the oligarchs found plump targets. One Russian billionaire hosted Ivanka Trump and her husband, the President's senior adviser, Jared Kushner, at a gala in Moscow in 2014. Another has links to a $500,000 payment to Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen in 2017. A third ran a propaganda operation that pumped pro-Trump content into the news feeds of millions of American voters. In the heat of the presidential race, a fourth tycoon arranged the meeting where a Russian lawyer offered dirt on Clinton to Trump's closest aides. And then of course there was Deripaska, whose years of fishing for friends in Washington eventually got the chairman of a presidential campaign on the line.

Posted by at September 20, 2018 5:54 PM

  

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