Monday, August 15, 2016

This is it

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 get along.

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_ ?"

Politicus (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.

One insider close to the powerful leader tells Us Weekly the relationship is “serious.”
Donald Trump's daughter is best friends with Vladimir Putin's main squeeze. 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.

Summing 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.

David Atkins 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.

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.
Update: Wendy Deng has denied that she is dating Vladimir Putin. 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.
The plot thickens, it seems.

And yet, prepare for the "Hillary is the one that's really corrupt!!" screamers to arrive here.

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. know, Mr. Atkins had a great article, but this sentence nearly ruined it for me. It wasn't needed; it just felt like an unnecessary bit of hard-man posturing just to show "Hey, I'm more to the left than the rest of you!!".

Baseless conspiracy theories don't become true just because they are about a baseless conspiracy theorist.

Croatia is the site of a controversial gold course built by Trump, or perhaps the dalmatian locals defeated that. Not sure.

Wendi Deng was rumoured to be the PRC's handler/bodyguard for Murdoch.

Trump didn't charge Trump Escorts for his name.

Fascists aren't reliabe. No "investigation" from the Ukrainian government can be trusted.
Might Donald Trump flee the U.S. for Russia before the end of this year as an exile?
My significant other told me she though Trump would win (she doesn't follow politics at all, really) because she knows people who say they are voting for him and sees signs in yards. Here in rural central PA, it's Trump country. Of course, when I drive to my parents house in a housing development in the town that is home to Penn State University, I see primarily Clinton signs in yards (or, in most cases, nothing at all as these people are quite anal about their lawns and likely don't want to clutter them up even if they do support Clinton.....they put the bumper sticker on their car and that's that).

I still suspect Clinton to be the chosen candidate, as has been pointed out here in the comments previously. The security establishment has her back, so I would find it unlikely that Trump would get in with that kind of backing against him. However, I doubt they would be upset about riots and gun play by upset Trump supporters certain that the election had been rigged (probably even correct about that assumption). That can only further the goals of the authoritarians behind the scenes that are supporting Hillary. Wouldn't that be an interesting twist? They actually DO rig the election for Clinton, so that civil unrest is guaranteed and they can then implement even more crackdowns on basic freedoms. Maybe a bit TOO conspiracy theory, but I wouldn't put it past the establishment.
There's an awful lot for me to study here.

This is just to mention that the Wall Street Journal calls in today's editorial for Donald Trump to change his behaviour by Labour Day or get replaced as the candidate by Mike Pence.
I had, mercifully, largely forgotten the existence of David Atkins.

Now I find myself on the same side of a political fence with Atkins, and also with He Who Pummels Fermented Cabbage (Krauthammer) and many other neocons.

Funny, I don't recall having fallen down any rabbit holes...
Honestly, Joseph, I'm getting a bit confused about who, exactly, is supposed to be the bȇte noire de jour. I mean, you're telling me that Manafort (and by extension Trump) is Evil Incarnate because of his association with the pro-Putin faction in the Ukraine, which you describe as "morality-free" and "corrupt as hell".

Yet back in 2014 and 2015 you derided those who opposed Putin in the Ukraine and Crimea as "Nazis" and "thieves":

The coup we engineered in Ukraine is really an American business takeover. Putin is innocent; the west is simply up to its usual thieving ways. (Cannonfire 12/27/2014)

Cohen's piece pretends that Putin invaded Crimea. Election? According to Cohen, there was no election. According to Cohen, the poor Crimeans now suffering under Putin's yoke would much rather be ruled by the swastika-bedecked assholes pictured above.

Cohen pretends that the people in eastern Ukraine (who sensibly want nothing to do with the maniacal regime we intalled[sic]) are being brutalized by Russia, not by Kiev. Cohen writes as though Communism never fell. He wants us to believe that Putin (a genuinely popular elected leader) is the new Stalin. And the new Hitler. Simultaneously.
(Cannonfire 02/10/2015)

So I'm a little confused. How is helping the opposition to "Nazis" and "thieves" a "morality-free" act? Which is worse, a "maniacal regime" populated by "Nazis" or a "morality-free" and "corrupt as hell" one (albeit one allied to a "genuinely popular elected leader")? Is Oceania still at war with Eurasia?
You are a pretty astute observer most of the time, Cannon. But this ridiculous election seems to resemble more and more the Salem Witch Trials. In this case, the actual Witch is accusing everyone else of being a witch. Putin Is Coming! Putin Is Coming! Eeeeek! Are you kidding???
If you still think it's impossible for Trump to be elected president...Carl Paladino, who has his own history of repulsive behaviour towards others, has twice been elected by the people of South Buffalo to the Buffalo Public SCHOOL Board.
Regardless of what you think of Putin, this infatuation of trump is dangerous to say the least. What's annoys me to no end is instinctive of some of the leftists to defend anything coming from that part of the world. As if they are loyal to a locality rather than ideology. Hello!!! the KGP(Putin) is the biggest part of what happened there few decades back.
I don't believe Cannon ever claimed Putin was a saint, only that he was innocent of any wrongdoing in Ukraine. Which is still true. However, when a foreign leader has undue influence in a US Presidential election, that can't be good for anyone. I guess we shouldn't be worried that Putin might have ulterior motives for wanting Trump elected? Just because he was more or less innocent in one situation (Ukraine) doesn't mean he is out to support the welfare of the American people. He's a leader of a large nation, and has his own specific interests. I have no doubt he would love to see Trump turn this nation into a 3rd world country to give himself a freer hand in world affairs. No, Cannon made clear in those posts you site that Putin was not some sort of innocent child on the world stage. His opposition to "Nazis" and "thieves" was entirely sensible and consistent with his own interests. That doesn't make him a moral or trustworthy leader by default.
Ah, Roy Cohn! I didn't know he was mobbed up. Cohn played a crucial role in Donald Trump's early career, according to Libby Handros's 1991 documentary "Trump: What's the Deal?" that Trump tried to suppress. I watched it a few days ago. If I recall correctly, it was Cohn who enabled Fred Trump's son Donald to "cross the bridge" from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

And...a crucial role in a businessman's early career. We all know what that means.
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