Whenever a politician gets in trouble, pundits will recite
‘Correlation is not causality’ ‘The cover up is worse than the crime.’ But other than the Clintons (where that does seem to be true*), the crime is always worse than the cover up. Hell, four decades later, and we’re still learning loathsome shit about the Nixon administration.
Speaking of loathsome shit, let’s talk about Il Trumpe’s Russian Connection. Of all the things to worry about, the election hacking was trivial. Compared to so many other factors, such as Comeygate, lousy media coverage, some poor campaign decisions, and a couple decades of New Democrats, unless you’re suffering from a massive bout of Sanders Derangement Syndrome, it just didn’t have very much effect (boldface mine):
I run into people who to this day sincerely believe the election results should be overturned in Clinton’s favor because of Russian hacking. And I run into other people who weren’t Clinton supporters who think the whole thing is just the Democrats being overwrought because they lost the election. But it’s not about the election. The election was just a sideshow.
It’s noteworthy that the Russian hacking scandal didn’t blow up into a big bleeping deal until after Clinton had lost, even though the Washington Post had reported on the hacking of the DNC in June and the first Wikileaks release was in July. Everybody paying attention to politics had heard about the allegations that Assange was working with the Russians long before the election, in other words.
But the Clinton faction pooh-poohed the Wikileaks releases and were silent on Russian hackers until Clinton lost. Then they started screaming about Russian hacking.
However, an analysis of the timing of Wikileaks releases shows no significant impact on opinion polls. Further, the November election was something like a perfect storm of many factors that worked against Hillary Clinton, and of all those factors Wikileaks falls pretty far down the list. IMO it’s probable the election results would have been about the same without the Russian hacks.
It’s entirely possible the Kremlin did hope to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, but that’s no longer the central issue. Wikileaks was a sideshow.
I’m guessing Russian operatives never thought Clinton would lose to Trump–they probably just viewed in as a good way to ding her popularity and weaken her ability to move against them**. To the extent the Trump campaign might have known or coordinated with Russian agents, that is a problem–and it does need to be investigated. But that’s not what this is really about.
Trump’s crisis comes down to a very simple and obvious, though not very quantifiable (at this time) Russian relationship: as Josh Marshall notes, Trump has a lot of business deals with Russian businessmen, a fair number of whom have interesting ties, including the Russian government and Russian organized crime, along with those who have looted the Russian state (and some are involved in all three).
When you look at his companies’ organization–the Trump organization is actually a collection of over 500 LLCs–it’s not designed to get around tax liabilities. That’s just a bonus. There are plenty of ways to do that which aren’t nearly as byzantine–this organization is designed to hide any financial activity. Which makes it perfect for less-than-respectable investors to use him as a money launderer or sanctions avoider–and real estate is a classic vehicle for this.
Trump might not even know anything about some of the launderers’ illegal activities (pretty certain he doesn’t care or choose to look either). But if you wanted to get money out of Russia (or other places), Trump would be a good vehicle to do that. Here’s one example of what I mean (boldface mine):
The building, a five-star hotel and residence called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, has never opened, though from the road it looks ready to welcome the public….
A former top official in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Tourism says that, when he learned of the Trump hotel project, he asked himself, “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.”
The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs…
The sustained back-and-forth between the Trump Organization and the Mammadovs has legal significance. If parties involved in the Trump Tower Baku project participated in any illegal financial conduct, and if the Trump Organization exerted a degree of control over the project, the company could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. Tom Fox, a Houston lawyer who specializes in anti-corruption compliance, said, “It’s a problem if you’re making a profit off of someone else’s corrupt conduct.” Moreover, recent case law has established that licensors take on a greater legal burden when they assume roles normally reserved for developers. The Trump Organization’s unusually deep engagement with Baku XXI Century suggests that it had the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor it for corruption….
Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization had commissioned a risk assessment for the Baku deal, but declined to name the company that had performed it. The Washington Post article on the Baku project reported that, according to Garten, the Trump Organization had undertaken “extensive due diligence” before making the hotel deal and had not discovered “any red flags.”
But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force….
But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.
Wrage pointed out that corrupt government leaders often use their children or their siblings to distance themselves from illicit projects. Such an official creates a company in the relative’s name which appears to be independent but is controlled by the official.
Keep in mind, this is a case we happen to know about. What else is out there?
That’s why I think Trump doesn’t want to release his taxes–people would realize he’s nothing more than a bagman and a cover for some really reprehensible people. He ‘makes’ a lot of his money–and at a critical juncture in the late 1990s, maybe most of it–as a cover and/or pass through for shady or even illicit profits.
Besides, never trust a bagman.
*The odious shit, such as taking millions of dollars of speaking fees from banks that took advantage of minority borrowers, was right out in the open.
**Though she very well might have decided to attack Russia to bolster her popularity–though I have no idea if that would have worked. Moot point, anyway.