Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The OTHER Trump scandals

I'm not saying that Ukrainegate isn't important. In fact, I recommend this Lawfare report on the matter.

But there are plenty of other scandals out there which the Dems should look into. Where Trump is concerned, the public seems to require the shock of the new. If a scandal lingers for a while, people acclimate themselves: "It's Trump. Whatcha gonna do?"

Every couple of days, Dems should clobber this administration with NEW NEW NEW evidence of corruption. Investigation after investigation after investigation. God knows that Trump provides plenty of content, and God knows that the Republicans would do the same if positions were reversed.

I have no idea why Pelosi keeps giving him a free ride. If I had her job, I'd launch new accusations every couple of days, and I'd instruct all Dem House members to keep using phrases like "Mob Boss Donald Trump" and "Trump Crime Family."

What else should the Dems look into? In this post, I'll offer a couple of suggestions. In subsequent posts, I'll offer more.

Trump Tower. This ProPublica article is damning. Basically, it's a story about documents that don't add up: Trump tells his lender one thing and the tax people another thing.
In the latest case, the occupancy rate of the Trump Tower’s commercial space was listed, over three consecutive years, as 11, 16 and 16 percentage points higher in filings to a lender than in reports to city tax officials, records show.
Sixteen points may not sound like much, but it's pretty damned significant. This scheme allowed Trump to pay less tax while refinancing the building on favorable terms.

What caused the gap? Apparently, the Trump organization itself. The documents tell two very different stories about how much space the Trump organization takes up within the building. The lenders were led to believe that Trump's company takes up 31% of the building, while the tax people were told that the company takes up 18% of the building.

Let us pause to remember Whitewater -- the bullshit pseudo-scandal which, even if it were not bullshit, would still have been far, far, far less important than Trump's lies about Trump Tower.

Needless to say, there is more than one questionable property in Trump's portfolio. He plays this game a lot.
Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street
If any Dem did this kind of thing, the red staters would want to see him drawn and quartered.

Malta. Few are paying attention to this tiny little country, but Malta is important to scandal watchers because it is an offshore banking center. Thus, the place has become a favorite of crooks, spies and wheeler-dealers from all over the world.

The notorious Joseph Mifsud is, or was, Maltese. (Nobody seems to know if he is still alive.) He is (was?) the Russia-connected "professor" who acted as a go-between linking Team Trump to Team Putin. One must be careful when speaking about Mifsud: In recent times, the right has concocted an alternative script in which he worked for either the FBI or the CIA. You're probably going to hear a lot about those claims when Barr releases his report on December 9.

(I have no doubt that Barr's report will be a big, steaming pot of bullshit stew, liberally spiced with lies. But that's a topic for another time.) 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Mifsud is a journalist's nightmare -- a professional double-dealer. I'm tempted to call him a modern-day George de Mohrenschildt, though only we Ancient Ones will understand that reference. Such men scuttle about Spookworld while making all sorts of different claims, which makes it easy for agenda-driven "investigators" to construct misleading narratives.

But Mifsud is not the Maltese miscreant I'd like to talk about here.

In October of 2017, a car bomb killed celebrated Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who did so much to expose the Panama Papers.
Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state.

Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.
You may be wondering: What does her murder have to do with Trump? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps much.

We addressed that question in this earlier post, which published a report from a European writer we know as B. He cited this article published in September of 2017, shortly before the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia:
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump probe likely to reach Malta
Why was the FBI interested in Malta's links to Trump? Because the Russians tend to set up offshore companies in Malta for various nefarious purposes. Several such companies belonged to something called the Silk Road Group. This group was involved with plans to build a Trump Tower in the Republic of Georgia, in the city of Batumi.

(Yes, I know that Georgia is not Russia; yes, I know that the two neighboring countries were at war in 2008.)
A licence was granted to approve the building of a Trump Tower in Butami, and it was to be developed and financed by subsidiaries of the Silk Road Group. It is reported that the latter received a US$300 million loan from B.T.A Bank, the largest bank in neighbouring Kazakhstan.
$300 million is no small amount of change. Remember, Trump couldn't get loans from most normal sources. The bank is run by yet another of those oligarchs close to Putin.

So basically, we have very good evidence that a lot of money from a Putin crony flowed into a Trump project. For more, see here.

(That story ends by making a sensible point: If Trump availed himself of "funny money" to build that tower in Georgia, he opened himself up to foreign blackmail.) 

Mueller looked into the Silk Road angle, though not to the degree I would have preferred. The businessman who handled the Georgia Trump Tower for Silk Road was one Giorgi Rtskhiladze. (Yeesh. Must Slavic names contain so many consonant-clusters?) Mr. Lotsa-Consonants was also the point man for another Trump project in Kazakhstan...

...and for the proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. That's the big one -- the infamous one. You don't head up a project like that unless you're Putin's man.

Conclusion: Silk Road represented Putin's interests. The tower was to be built in Georgia, but the money was Russian.

I remind you: $300 million. It seems that Trump couldn't get that kind of money from any non-Russian source.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was looking into Silk Road when she was blown up.

I can't say that Silk Road was the reason why she was assassinated, because she was looking into other shady activities as well. More than one person had reason to want her gone.

There have been new developments in the investigation into the car-bombing. Investigators are looking into a businessman named Yorgen Fenech. He was the secret owner of a mysterious "on paper" company called 17 Black Ltd, apparently used in money laundering. That company had come to Caruana Galizia's attention via the Panama Papers, though she died before she could learn the name of its owner.

It turns out that Fenech kept in constant contact with Keith Schembri, the chief of staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. In her final post, Caruana Galizia accused Schembri of corruption.

The latest twist in this story has been much misunderstood -- frankly, it's quite possible that I do not yet understand the situation. If I'm wrong, please correct.

Muscat has just pardoned another man named Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver who dabbled in various ultra-shadowy activities. It is said that he acted a paymaster to the actual assassins. Although a lot of people have concluded that Muscat pardoned Theuma as part of a cover-up, that may not be the case. Apparently, the purpose of the pardon is to make it easier to force Theuma to name the mastermind of the crime. The decision to offer a pardon came from Malta's equivalent of our Justice Department; under Maltese law, Muscat could not override that decision. 

Am I alleging that Trump and Muscat are working together in some fashion? No. I am saying this: Caruana Galizia was looking into both Silk Road and 17 Black Ltd, two offshore "funny money" groups set up in Malta to avoid taxation and regulation. She had inconvenienced a number of powerful people. Silk Road may -- or may not -- be the reason why she was killed.

On a related note: This interesting article argues that Trump and Joseph Muscat have used the exact disinformation technique. Both men were the subject of extensive reports. Both men claimed to have been "exonerated" by investigations which did no such thing.
Muscat has accused opposition politicians and journalists of a “frame up” although there is no mention of this in the summary of the report.

Like Trump, Muscat first falsely signalled transparency and then turned to weaponised secrecy. Both now falsely claim that ‘not enough evidence’ to support a criminal charge is the same as no evidence at all.
Sound familiar? It's as if these guys all go to the same propaganda school.
George de Mohrenschildt...yep. Damn I'm old.
Lest we forget:
Rtskhiladze looks like a Georgian name; it's definitely not Slavic.

A Scandinavian
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