All through the night and early morning, the internets have been abuzz about this NYT article
on Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager. It's been known for a long time that Manafort worked on behalf of Putin's man in Ukraine. Now we have documented evidence of large amounts of off-the-books money changing hands.
Before proceeding, I should remind readers that Manafort and Roger Stone are longtime partners in the political manipulation business. Stone and Trump are close friends who met via the infamously mobbed-up lawyer Roy Cohn.
In the past, Manafort's specialty was burnishing the images of bloody foreign dictators
. He would wipe away the bloodstains, train his thuggish clients to spout a few anti-communist cliches, and then introduce them to various movers-n-shakers in DC.
Amusingly, Manafort could take a psychotic killer like Ferdinand Marcos and get him to sit up straight and say the right words -- but Donald Trump has proven to be utterly uncontrollable.
By this point, it is widely known that the morality-free former leader of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, hired Manafort to burnish his image. Yanukovich was pro-Putin, and he was corrupt as hell -- a fact admitted by one and all, even by those Ukrainians who favor Russia.
The current Ukrainian government has launched a probe of the Yanukovich years -- and guess whose name showed up in the course of that investigation?
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.
Offshore shell companies? That reminds me of the Panama Papers. Remember them? We'll get back to that line of inquiry in a short while.
It should be noted that Manafort has never registered as a foreign agent for Ukraine. Also, I'm not sure if taxes were ever paid on that $12.7 million. That's an awful lot of money from a Putin ally -- and in light of the "Guccifer" hacks on Democrats, this story is looking extremely
sinister. (It should be noted that Russian hackers also appear to have targeted John McCain and other Republicans who aren't big fans of The Donald.)
The NYT's story really took off when it was referenced in a tweet by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. It's an open secret that Lewandowski and Manafort did not
It's fair to presume that when Lewandowski left Team Trump, he probably signed some sort of non-disclosure agreement, and that he probably also agreed not to say anything harmful to The Donald. But such an agreement would not stop him from linking, without comment, to a New York Times article -- even though doing so really ticked off
some leading Trump supporters.
(A more neutral observer delightfully tweeted: "Revenge isn't a bad dish when served hot either, am I right, @CLewandowski_ ?"
(a pro-Hillary site) zooms out for a wider view:
Anti-corruption officials there say the payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort, previously unreported, are a focus of their investigation, though they have yet to determine if he actually received the cash. While Mr. Manafort is not a target in the separate inquiry of offshore activities, prosecutors say he must have realized the implications of his financial dealings.
Trump’s campaign manager’s name appeared in an illegal off the books ledger that came from a system where Russia strongman Putin exerts an overwhelming influence. Donald Trump’s campaign was already reeling, but this news is another step towards confirmation that despite his tough talk, Donald Trump is a chosen puppet of Putin.
Suspicion was already growing that Putin was attempting to manipulate the US presidential campaign through Trump, and this report, which is rumored to be the tip of the iceberg as a series of upcoming stories are going to shed a great deal of light on the ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Putin.
The Republican Party has a whole new set of problems thanks to Donald Trump. The man that the Republicans handed their presidential nomination to is this close to being outed as a puppet for an adversarial foreign country. The election was already going badly for the GOP, but this story is about to make things a whole lot worse.
All of which brings us to the tweeted response that really
intrigues me. Adam Weinstein -- a good journalist who has worked for Gawker and Mother Jones -- offered this tantalizer:
Speaking as someone who has a story coming this week: This is just the beginning for Manafort. It gets worse.
(Side note: I've skimmed Weinstein's Twitter feed for follow-up info. The right-wingers seem to have targeted him for one of their gang assaults, as they are wont to do. It's the usual guff: "Why aren't you looking into the real stories? Evil Hillary! Evil Soros! Emails! BenGHAAAAAAAZEEEEEEE!"
Unless your name is Donald Trump, Twitter is a worthless time suck, and I'm glad I decided to stay away from it.)
So: What might Weinstein be looking into?
I'd like to suggest some possible areas of investigation. Remember when we mentioned the Panama Papers...?
When the story first broke, I wrote that the Panama Papers scandal was a controlled leak designed to malign Putin, even though that scandal did not direct implicate Putin himself. (I had a much more favorable impression of Putin at that time.) But even then, I had the gnawing feeling that the story would one day morph into something more important.
According to this little-noticed McClatchy story
from last April, three very interesting names did
pop in that news bureau's investigation of the Panama Papers.
First, there is Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch who is worth a little more than two billion dollars. We've already noted his link to Manafort.
Second is -- guess who? -- Donald Trump
. His name appears in those papers some 3500 times. You read that right: 3500 times
Oddly, many of the offshore accounts set up by Mossak Fonseca use Trump's name yet have no traceable link to the Republican nominee. This doesn't make sense: Everyone knows that Trump charges big money for the use of his name. Something very weird is going on here.
The third name is that of Paul Manafort.
Former partners and associates of Trump campaign strategist Paul Manafort, a lawyer and lobbyist, appear in the Panama Papers too. One is a Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, currently suing Manafort and investment partners in a Cayman Islands court over a $26 million offshore entity that went bust about eight years ago.
“He and others gave deposition testimony last year under the auspices of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at the request of a Cayman Islands court,” Richard Hibey, Manafort’s lawyer, confirmed, adding Manafort has never done business through Mossack Fonseca. “The proceeding in the Virginia federal court is ‘terminated.’”
The documents show Deripaska as the true owner of Batu Mining Limited, an offshore company opened in the British Virgin Islands in 2003 and designed, the documents said, for investments in the Mongolian coal mining business. Attempts to reach Deripaska through his website and a Cyprus firm handling his offshore went unanswered.
A 2009 British lawsuit names Ziad Takieddine, a Franco-Lebanese businessman, as the owner of an offshore company called Warwick Estates Limited in the British Virgin Islands. The lawsuit, found in Mossack Fonseca files, suggests the offshore was a holding company for pricey London property.
Manafort and Takieddine have both become involved with an investigation of an ongoing scandal in France from 1995. The inquiry was about arm sales and the campaign funds of former French President Edoard Balladur, who Manafort was then advising.
“(Manafort) was interviewed by USDOJ (Justice Department) at the request of the French authorities. He was thanked for his cooperation. Nothing more transpired,” Hibey said, denying Manafort had any relationship with Takieddine.
You may be asking: How does all of this tie in with the recent revelations from Ukraine? I'm not sure. But it all seems connected, don't you think?
The Balladur scandal is easily summarized: In the mid-1990s, France sold some submarines to Pakistan for a billion dollars -- and Balladur is said to have skimmed off some of this money for himself. Manafort also got a chunk for helping to arrange the deal; he was paid by one Abdul Rahman el-Assir, a middleman in the sub deal. (I haven't researched that name yet, but it sounds intriguing.) Takieddine was the other middleman involved in that transaction.
The French scandal probably won't come back to haunt Manafort, but I suspect that whatever Weinstein is looking into may have something to do with the Panama Papers. Here's one suggestion: What if Putin (or one of his oligarch pals) is using those offshore accounts to funnel money to Donald Trump?
No, I don't have any evidence that such is the case. Are you now poised to accuse me of concocting a baseless conspiracy theory? Well, that accusation might carry more weight if Trump himself were not bestest buds with Alex Jones, one of the most irresponsible paranoia-peddlers in the history of this nation. Conspiranoia is the fuel that propels the entire Trump movement.
(Another side note: One of the oddities of Trumpworld is that everyone sues everyone -- so I'm not surprised to learn that Deripaska sued Manafort. You should look up the weird relationship between Manafort and Carl Palladino.)
One aspect of the story that we should always keep in mind is tax evasion
. That's why offshore accounts exist.
Remember how they got Al Capone?
A really weird Trump/Putin/Murdoch link.
Did you know that Ivanka Trump is on vacay in Croatia (of all places!) with Wendi Deng
, until recently the wife of Rupert Murdoch?
Question: Why is Ivanka out of the country this
close the election? Shouldn't she be traveling around the battleground states stumping for her father? Among civilized people, she
makes a better impression than he does.
(I've been given to understand that Trump's sons are also out of the country. Supposedly, they are off shooting more animals in exotic locales, although I've yet to confirm that.)
Here's another bit of gossip for you: Wendi Deng is dating none other than Vladimir Putin
Reports of the pair have been floating around for years, ever since their respective divorces in 2014 and 2013.
Donald Trump's daughter is best friends with Vladimir Putin's main squeeze.
One insider close to the powerful leader tells Us Weekly the relationship is “serious.”
Wow. Yow. Holy cow.
You can't make this stuff up. Yes, I know that's a cliche, but what else is there to say? You can't make this stuff up
Some of you may have trouble squaring all of the above with my previous posts decrying the "new Cold War" mentality. Let's set the record straight: I still
don't want a new Cold War, and I still think that Putin can be a valuable ally in Syria. But I sure as hell don't want Moscow to manipulate American politics -- and I sure as hell don't want to see Donald Freakin' Trump
in the White House.
I never wanted to be a Putin-hater, but -- NO. Not Trump. You can't ask me to accept that.
in Washington Monthly articulates a position which "kinda sorta" resembles my own.
I’m personally more concerned about the radicalization and subversion of democracy in Turkey than by what’s happening in Russia, and I do believe that our working to subvert Russia (e.g., by kowtowing to Erdogan in Turkey, acting at cross-purposes in Syria or by promoting fracking in Europe) is doing more harm than good in the world. Furthermore, I’m a proudly self-described post-Westphalian transhumanist socialist who sees jingoistic nationalism as morally equivalent to racism, sexism and every other form of prejudice exercised between human beings.
Update: Wendy Deng has denied that she is dating Vladimir Putin.
So I’d be the last person to start freaking out about whether another country might be meddling in American affairs, since I believe the fate of the world rests on eventually erasing the barriers that exist between nation-states.
But still. How much does Trump and his team need to do before we start asking serious questions about whether they’re a Manchurian Candidate campaign actively working on behalf of a foreign nation? Trump’s campaign manager is deep in with Putin cronies, the Putin regime is very likely behind the hacking on Democratic organizations to benefit Trump, his campaign worked to soften anti-Putin and anti-Russia language in the GOP platform, and his finances and investments are enmeshed with Russian cronies–which may be a key reason why he refuses to release his tax returns.
Can you imagine what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would be saying if these things were true of a Democratic candidate for president? They would be openly demanding a trial for treason and using “Rosenberg” as a nickname.
It’s astonishing what the Republican Party has been reduced to, and just how unprecedented this campaign has become.
That link goes to a story published by People
. The article which says that she is
dating Putin was published by Us
. Frankly, I never thought that this blog would ever be citing those two publications -- I'm not exactly a "People" person. I wonder how they came to be in conflict on such a matter.