The Trump Tape(s)

This is my reaction to an interesting article by John R. Schindler, published in Observer in November 2017.[1]

The trail in the burgeoning Trump-Russia scandal appears to lead in two directions. And if John Schindler’s information about the “Trump tapes” is correct, some mysterious force wants to seize our attention and shove it into smoke-filled love chambers where pretty Russian girls lounge eager to have sex with powerful men. I’m suspicious.500px-Taj_Mahal_Atlantic_City_New_Jersey

Schindler believes the idea of Donald Trump having been caught on tape doing something salacious is entirely possible. I agree. He even cites at least one time where Trump boasted about his adventures at Studio 54: “I would watch supermodels getting screwed, well-known supermodels getting screwed, on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting screwed by a different guy.”[2] It makes us all wonder what kind of dirt the Russians have on Donald Trump.

But maybe that’s the idea.

Schindler claims that currently, as many as a dozen different intelligence services on four continents hold a “Trump tape” of one sort or another. Some reportedly show underage women. Most have been faked, but at least one is in the hands of what Schindler calls a “Western intelligence agency with a solid professional reputation.” That tape, he says, has been assessed—”with high confidence”—to be exactly what it looks to be. That recording, Schindler says, came from a trusted source who plausibly could have had access to such a thing. But the problem is that nothing is truly verifiable. What would it take. We’d need a high level of detail. Place, time corroborated by other information. And the girl. We’d need the girl. The agency with the “high-confidence” tape has also been approached twice with obvious fakes. The culprit? Schindler names the Kremlin: attempting to spread confusion suits their present foreign policy stance. The goal of lifting sanctions has failed, so Putin has to settle for classical KGB games of confusion and disinformation.

I think there’s a bit more to it than that.

If unverifiable “Trump tapes” are popping up all over the world, then the waters surrounding Trump’s sexual escapades have become very turbid indeed. And that’s where everyone’s looking—clawing around in the dark to find the truth. Which brings me to a question: what if it didn’t matter? What if hiding Trump’s sexual encounters in Russia isn’t what any of this fuss about compromising material—kompromat in Russian—is about? What if the confusion tactics are meant to conceal something else? Like something more damaging to the Trump Organization and the Kremlin?

Money laundering is what comes to mind. And why not? There’s been more than a whiff of it in the air swirling around a number of close Trump associates. Paul Manafort seems to have been following a tried-and-true business model as he helped ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych funnel tens of millions of dollars out of Ukraine and into shell company accounts in Cyprus, the Grenadines, and elsewhere.

There are certain inconvenient facts that support this supposition. One is that the Trump Organization has had a documented relationship with Russian nouveaux riches throughout the 1990s and beyond. So let’s pose a hypothetical: if the Trump Organization were to help wealthy Russians launder money into the United States, how could that have been accomplished?

If pretty young girls loiter at the end of the first kompromat trail, money laundering lies down the second. But where’s the evidence? Could it be more than circumstantial? If it’s real, it has to be somewhere. Our first stop is Donald Trump’s grand casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, which was the subject of a $10 million civil penalty levied in 2015 by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) for “willful and repeated violations” of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). FinCEN had previously assessed the Trump Taj Mahal a $477,700 civil penalty in 1998 for currency transaction reporting violations.[3] Going further, we find one of Trump’s other casinos, the Trump Castle. A complaint filed with the New Jersey Gaming Commission in 1991 describes one transaction as follows:

In December of 1990, Trump Castle had a large interest payment due and payable on a public bond. Part of the payment came from two deposits totaling $3.5 million into a Castle’s account. The first deposit was a certified check for $3.35 million, tendered at the casino cage by Howard Snyder, identified as an attorney for Fred Trump. The money flew from an account that had been set up the same day, also by attorney Snyder. In return for the check, Snyder received $3.35 million in the casino’s gray $5,000 chips, which he removed from the grounds without placing a single bet. But the chips were not cashed out. An additional $150,000 was wire-transferred from the Fred Trump account to Castle the next day, again, in return for chips, completing what regulators saw as a loan and the nondisclosure of the elder Trump as a financial backer of the casino.[4] That offense drew a $30,000 civil penalty.

Now for the Russia gambit. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a notorious Russian mafia boss named Vyacheslav Ivankov was released from a tough Siberian prison by a judge who’d been bribed by another Russian mobster residing in America. Ivankov, nicknamed “Yaponchik” (“Jap”), entered the United States in March 1992, after the allegedly murders of two Turkish nationals in a Moscow restaurant. The FBI eventually caught up with Ivankov in 1995, and found him living in a luxury apartment in Trump Tower.

The early Trump Taj Mahal violations dated to a time when the casino was a haunt of transplanted Russian mafia bosses, including Semion Mogilevich, a Ukrainian-born resident of Trump Tower who was reputed to be another “boss of bosses.” Mogilevich paid the judge who’d released Ivankov, and was said to be one of Ivankov’s closest associates.

Glenn R. Simpson, co-founder of the now-infamous Washington research firm Fusion GPS, the producer of the Steele Dossier, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 that Trump had turned from his associations with known or suspected Italian to Russian mob figures during the 1990s—a period now described with the rubric, “the looting of Russia,” when the large-scale transfer of Soviet state assets into private hands hit a crescendo. When asked by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) whether the many property transactions conducted between the Trump Organization and Russian figures would be “known by” or were “on behalf of” the Russian government, Simpson answered “yes.” In later testimony, Simpson added, “If people who seem to be associated with the Russian mafia are buying Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties, it does raise a question about whether they’re doing it on behalf of the [Russian] government.”[5]

A Growing Opposition

Commentators and politicians alike continue to speculate on what kind of kompromat Putin must have on Trump. Frolicking with girls for hire? Golden showers? Perhaps.

But it doesn’t matter.

We seem to have graduated to a new cultural “normalcy” in America, where the President can openly make lewd and abusive statements about women, yet his supporters accept it without so much as a second look. So what if Trump enjoyed the company of prostitutes in a Moscow hotel?

But what if the basis of the early Trump-Russia relationship were about money laundering? Instead of building a Trump Tower in Moscow, as Trump sought to do, the Russian money mill turned out to be Trump’s own properties in New York and Florida that he aggressively sold to skeins of newly wealthy Russians. If money laundering were the basis for the relationship, it’s reasonable to concluded that both Trump and the Kremlin would want to hide it for their own separate purposes. Trump’s reasons should be obvious. Putin’s incentives for keeping the truth about foreign money-laundering activities on the down-low, however, have much to do with keeping a lid on a growing internet-savvy opposition led by Alexei Navalny, who was prohibited from running in the 2018 election, but remains very much alive and politically vocal.

And it’s not a voice in the wilderness. Alexei Navalny has focused his efforts on fighting corruption, a theme that resonates extremely well in Russia. In March 2017, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation released a short film, “He’s Not ‘Dimón’ to You” (On vam ne Dimon), a sharply damning documentation of corruption allegedly depicting how Medvedev had become fantastically wealthy. The film includes video of palatial mansions, sprawling vineyards, offshore villas, cozy mountain retreats, and luxury yachts. As of this writing, the Russian-language video has been viewed nearly 30 million times. [English link: https://fbk.info/english/english/post/304/] A year after the film’s release, on March 26, 2018, the Moscow streets filled with tens of thousands of protesters. Targeting Medvedev was intelligent. While Putin enjoys widespread popularity, Medvedev is viewed with considerably more cynicism. As former chessmaster Garry Kasparov tweeted, “Today’s protests across Russia are anti-corruption, but make no mistake—they are anti-Putin. Corruption is the system. Putin is the state.”[6] Navalny and his followers have successfully rebranded Putin’s United Russia party as the “Party of Crooks and Thieves” (Partiya zhulikov i vorov).

PZhiV
AGAINST the Party of Crooks and Thieves

Navalny’s continuing challenges show that Putin has a healthy respect for him—otherwise, by now, Navalny would certainly have joined the ranks of deceased opposition journalists and politicians. Which brings us back around to another question: what if the Mueller probe triggers a process that uncovers information about past Trump Organization money laundering on behalf of Russians? It seems that both Trump and the Kremlin would want to keep that secret. Perhaps each side knows too much.

It’s not collusion, perhaps, but certainly a likely convergence of interests.


NOTES

[1]  Schindler, John R. “Spies Suspect Kremlin is Pushing Dozens of Fake Trump Sex Tapes.” Observer 9 November 2017. http://observer.com/2017/11/spy-circles-suspect-kremlin-is-behind-dozens-of-fake-trump-sex-tapes/. Retrieved 1 May 2018.

[2] Horgan, Richard. “Daily Mail Still Milking That Donald Trump-Studio 54 Quote.” Adweek 7 May 2016. http://www.adweek.com/digital/daily-mail-donald-trump-studio-54/. Retrieved 1 May 2018.

[3] United States Department of the Treasury. “FinCEN Fines Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort $10 Million for Significant and Long Standing Anti-Money Laundering Violations.” 6 March 2015. https://www.fincen.gov/news/news-releases/fincen-fines-trump-taj-mahal-casino-resort-10-million-significant-and-long. Retrieved 1 May 2018.

[4] State of New Jersey, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Gaming Enforcement v. Trump Castle Associates Limited Partnership. 3 April 1991. New Jersey Casino Control Commission Docket No. 91-1060-VC. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-stat/graphics/politics/trump-archive/docs/dge-complaint-re-fred-trump-castle-chip-buy.pdf. Retrieved 1 May 2018.

[5] Neuhauser, Alan. “Trump Had Ties to Russian Mob Figures: Testimony.” US News 18 Jan 2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-01-18/trump-had-ties-to-russian-mob-figures-fusion-gps-founder-testifies. Retrieved 1 May 2018.

[6] Kasparov, Garry. https://twitter.com/Kasparov63/status/845961285942554624.

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