STEAL THIS ELECTION
CNN reports, “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” citing US officials. According to one unnamed official, this is “partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia”. The FBI is currently in the review process of an investigation, which “includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings”.
MANAFORT’S MONEY TRAIL OF FEARS
The AP reports, “U.S. Treasury Department agents have recently obtained information about offshore financial transactions involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as part of a federal anti-corruption probe into his work in Eastern Europe”. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network requested the information from Cyprus earlier this year. Recall, Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was previously vice-chairman and served on the board of the Bank of Cyprus along with figures linked to Russian intelligence. Cyprus itself is widely known as a place where Russians go to stash their money offshore because Russia is not a safe place for banking or much else. According to The AP, “Manafort was known to route financial transactions through Cyprus, according to records of international wire transfers,” citing “public court documents filed in a 2014 legal dispute in the Cayman Islands. In the 2014 case, Manafort used Cypriot shell companies as part of a nearly $19 million deal with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to purchase Ukrainian cable television provider Black Sea Cable. Deripaska said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding”. It is also expected that American officials will, “look into millions of dollars’ worth of wire transfers to Manafort.” The AP cites an example they uncovered where, “a Manafort-linked company received a $1 million payment in October 2009 from a mysterious firm through the Bank of Cyprus. The $1 million payment left the account the same day — split in two, roughly $500,000 disbursements to accounts with no obvious owner.” The US Treasury Department for its part would neither confirm nor deny the investigation, as is their policy.
From The AP.
Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the former Vice-Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, is facing fresh scrutiny after The Guardian reports Ross, “presided over a deal with a Russian businessman,” Artem Avetisyan “who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank.” At the time, Sberbank was under sanctions by the US and the EU after Russia annexed Crimea. In 2015, when Ross was still vice-chairman, the bank’s Russian businesses were sold to Avetisyan. Meanwhile, inside the Kremlin, “Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.” In the deal with the Bank of Cyprus, “Avetisyan’s business partner, Oleg Gref, is the son of Herman Gref, Sberbank’s chief executive officer, and their consultancy has served as a ‘partner’ to Sberbank,” according to The Guardian. Curiously, “Ross had described the Russian businesses – including 120 bank branches in Russia – as being worth “hundreds of millions of euros” in 2014 but they were sold with other assets to Avetisyan for €7m”. That’s quite the markdown! Nonetheless, The Guardian writes, “Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing and there is no indication the Russian deal violated US or EU sanctions.” Also curiously, Ross presided over a deal that gave “Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, until 2019 – four more years than originally planned – to pay back a €100m debt it owed in connection to Alfa’s purchase of the bank’s Ukrainian assets. Alfa Bank still owed Bank of Cyprus €57m as of the end of September.”
From The Guardian.
Russians have gotten so used to threatening Americans on US soil by a variety of means, that a letter to a computer scientist barely registers – but it should! Alfa Bank, the Kremlin-linked bank alleged to have a secret server at Trump Tower that was used for campaign communications, has sent a letter threatening legal action to University of Indiana computer scientist L. Jean Camp who has called for an investigation of the server. According to CNN, “In recent months, Camp posted the bank’s leaked computer logs on her personal website.” Accordingly, “She has repeatedly said ‘this computer traffic should be investigated’ by American law enforcement.” CNN reports Russia has decided to menace her through legal channels as a result as “The bank is seeking copies of her emails with fellow computer scientists and journalists who reported on this topic.” In 2016, “Camp was part of a small group of computer scientists who analyzed computer logs,” and noticed “Alfa Bank looked up the internet address of a Trump Organization email server 2,820 times — more lookups than the Trump server received from any other source during a four-month period.” The source of the computer logs “is someone who goes by the name of ‘Tea Leaves.’” Alfa Bank is naturally eager to track down that person and as has become routine among Russian officials in recent months in any way linked to Trump and Russia’s America operation, likely kill that person or seriously injure them to send “a message” – we don’t know. Camp’s response was to post the letter to her blog. Fight on, L. Jean!
PIZZAGATE PART OF PROBE
Newsweek reports that the FBI probe “into Russian subversion is now looking into continuing threats against a Washington, D.C. pizza shop targeted by right-wing conspiracy mongers.” The northwest DC pizzeria came under heavy attack last year from far-right conspiracy websites “because of its owner’s friendship with senior members of the Hillary Clinton campaign as well as David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America”. The conspiracy alleges “that Comet pizza owner James Alefantis and the Clintons were operating a child-sex ring in the restaurant’s basement.” This of course led to catastrophe when “Last December the flood of tweets, supercharged by anonymous online ‘bots,’ motivated a 28-year-old North Carolina man, Edgar Madison Welch, to enter the shop with a loaded automatic rifle and fire off three rounds in search of the nonexistent basement sex chamber.” Welch reached a plea deal on March 15 and will be sentenced Friday. A man named David Seaman, a one-time unpaid Huffington Post contributor who authored a book on generating buzz “for your business, your product, or yourself,” was one of the conspiracy’s key promulgators who “could not be reached for comment.” Conclusion: as H.L. Mencken said, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
ATTACK ON UK PARLIAMENT + WESTMINSTER BRIDGE
A terrorist attack in two parts unfolded in the UK on Wednesday, which is usually not the domain of TRUMPISTAN WATCH and nor would it be if it were not for the apparition of a curious witness to part of the attack. A man drove a car into a crowd that included international tourists on Westminster Bridge before rushing the parliament and shooting a police officer. Curiously, one of the witnesses to the bridge attack is ex-Foreign Minister of Poland Radek Sikorski who tweeted out a video in the aftermath. Sikorski is well known in policy and international relations circles for three reasons beyond his status as former Foreign Minister: 1) he is the husband of Washington Post columnist and author of Gulag and Iron Curtain Anne Applebaum, 2) he is a former war correspondent, 3) the Russians are not fans of his. Several years ago, there was an incident where it was wrongly reported that a car bomb intended for Anne Applebaum exploded, something that was completely false but nonetheless set off an international firestorm of news about it. Now we must ask with the benefit of hindsight and the onslaught of so-called “fake news,” eg enemy propaganda, of the last year, was that a Russian disinformation operation? It is impossible to say if Sikorski’s presence is coincidence or if Russian intelligence had anything to do with Wednesday’s incidents, it could really just be a coincidence. There is no reason to believe otherwise at present moment.
RUSSIAN MP WHO FLED SHOT DEAD IN KYIV
Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed Thursday in Kyiv, shortly after fleeing Russia for his life. Early reports were coming in as TRUMPISTAN WATCH goes to press so expect more of what is known to the press tomorrow on this item.
From The AP.
DARKNESS AT NUNES
The Republican chair of the House intelligence committee Devin Nunes said Wednesday, according to The Financial Times that “US spy agencies intercepted communications involving Donald Trump during their electronic surveillance of foreign citizens”. In other words, routine targets of electronic espionage were in contact with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Presumably Nunes said as much to help Trump, but it seems certain in due time, post-Kabuki theater of the day to do quite the opposite especially since Nunes took time Wednesday to brief “Trump about dozens of intelligence reports that he said included the name of Trump transition officials, including possibly the president.” Any communications were gathered legally but were widely disseminated across the intelligence community with Trump related officials “unmasked,” which has Nunes in a tither. Now this is quite crazy logic. If there is a coup in your country, wouldn’t you want that information to be shared among members of your nation’s intelligence service? In my country, this was the publicly stated logic of post-September 11 intelligence reforms. If you were investigating something, would you reveal the evidence in a non-discovery phase and brief your key target? Unless you are working for someone to sabotage an investigation this makes no sense. Nunes’ decision to brief the president and go to the media before consulting the committee was strongly criticized by Rep. Adam Schiff, the top ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. POLITICO reports Schiff’s response was to clearly scold Nunes, “The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both”. The next public hearing is Tuesday! We will get to hear from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates then. As is U.S. policy on all matters these days, yee-haw!
—–KNOW YOUR ENEMY—–
DEVELOPING IN DALLAS
As Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. look to build a new hotel chain brand Scion because it’s like they know soon the Trump brand will be worthless, they have turned to their stable crop of Fellini-esque mafiosi-like characters from developing countries to do it. The New York Times profiles a project in downtown Dallas with a Turkish “real estate executive” named Mukemmel Sarimsakci, and found that “records including corporation registrations, private emails and archived websites found that Alterra Worldwide, the real estate firm that would own the hotel and be partners with the Trumps, has business ties in Russia, Kazakhstan and at least two dozen other countries”. Sarimsakci’s brother, “Yusuf Sarimsakci, has helped oversee numerous developments around the world, including the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow near the Kremlin.” Recall this is where Trump stayed during the Miss Universe competition in Moscow in 2013. The New York Times reports, “On that project, Yusuf worked with a wealthy Kazakh businessman who has ties to the strong-arm leader of that country.” The Panama Papers also show “that Yusuf had worked with an array of companies based in corporate secrecy and tax havens like the British Virgin Islands,” The New York Times writes. Yusuf was involved in several shady seeming enterprises including a furniture company, Black Sea Galleries, that was late or failing to deliver until it was closed amid litigation while he was also working to establish himself “in Moscow, first as an executive with Mosenka, a joint real estate venture founded by the Moscow municipal government and Enka Holding, a Turkish company. He later became managing director of Capital Partners, where he helped manage projects like Metropolis Center and the Ritz Carlton in Moscow.”
From The New York Times.
DEUTSCHE BANK’S DIRTY RUSSIAN LAUNDRY
The Guardian reports, “The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin” nicknamed “the global laundromat”. TRUMPISTAN WATCH is beginning to wonder if either Trump or Putin have any non-criminal friends! “Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of ‘criminal origin’ from Russia,” according to The Guardian. The scheme ran from 2010-2014 and involved “a group of politically well-connected Russians” – perhaps mobsters but certainly oligarchs – who used “UK-registered companies to launder billions of dollars in cash”. These fake companies “made fictitious loans to each other, underwritten by Russian businesses”. Then the companies defaulted on each other and “Judges in Moldova then made court rulings enforcing judgments against the firms.” As a result, the Russian bank accounts could “transfer huge sums to Moldova legally.” From there the money went to Latvia and Trasta Komercbanka. Deutsche Bank comes in here as it acted as a “correspondent bank” to Trasta Komercbanka until September 2015. In plain English it means “Deutsche provided dollar-denominated services to Trasta’s non-resident Russian clients” a service that “was used to move money from Latvia to banks across the world.” In this time frame, Wall Street banks exited the Latvian market citing concerns that the country was becoming a center of global money laundering, especially involving Russian clients. In the 1990s in the chaos of the break up of the Soviet Union, Latvian banks were literally advertising on television in Russia with a little boy dealing with a crook being invited to deposit money in Latvia because “mother will never know,” according to a friend based in Moscow in that period. The problem resurged in recent years and became significant enough that “In 2013, and under US regulatory pressure, JP Morgan Chase ceased providing dollar clearing services to the country. From 2014, only two western lenders were willing to accept international dollar transfers from Latvian banks,” both German: Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. In the middle of last year, Latvian regulators shut down Trasta Komercbanka, citing “repeated violations, and said the bank had failed to deal with its money laundering risk.” According to Suddeutsche Zeitung cited by The Guardian, “Deutsche processed more than $24m of Laundromat cash in 209 transactions” by then.
From The Guardian.
RULE BY KLEPTOCRATS
CNN takes a look at how much Trump’s “White House is certainly starting to resemble the Kremlin in the way it works.” They cite, “Critical media voices denounced as ‘enemies of the people,’” and efforts to replace legitimate media with bizarre conspiracy mongering characters, “Power not in the hands of elected officials, but the President’s close friends and family,” and “Statecraft taking place to the interests of the inner circle”. That’s a pretty good list! Uncomfortably for civil servants at all levels, “both in Moscow and Washington, the key to true power has more to do with your relationship to the president, not your job title.” While “Many of Trump’s inner circle are businesspeople,” so CNN is very kind and normalizing noting, “it is unsurprising that they might see their roles in terms of how they further their economic interests.” By contrast, “Putin treats the whole Russian state as his piggy bank”. Who imagines Trump does not do the same here? Anyone, anyone at all? Should we be relieved? Sadly CNN notes, “There is, it seems, no longer anything unique about the Kremlin’s personalized, post-truth style of rule.”
—–TOWARDS A PEACEFUL NUCLEAR EXCHANGE—–
SHIT SERGEY LAVROV SAYS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We are ready to discuss the possibility of further reducing nuclear capacity, but only if all factors are taken into account and not only the number of strategic offensive weapons,” according to Russian state-run news sources cited by Reuters. Lavrov told Russian state-run TASS, “it was ‘absolutely clear the time had not yet come’ for eliminating all nuclear arms”. Recall: Russia maintains a first strike policy put in place before the annexation of Crimea and currently has nukes in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, which were moved into their current position just before the U.S. “election”.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
Russia Beyond the Headlines has a delightful listicle of famous Russian writers’ last words to prepare us as we contemplate our own lives ahead of the coming nuclear exchange. Tolstoy wrote in his diary “the word of a dying man is particularly significant”. TRUMPISTAN WATCH might expand this to include the world of dying men. If the nuclear exchange happens because we continue to trot merrily down this path of total moral relativism and nihilism, we might all end up with final words in common with symbolist poet Alexander Blok, “Russia ate me, like a stupid pig eats its piglet.” Or as Gogol might say, “Bring me the ladder!”
—–RADIO MOSCOW: STORIES FROM THEIR PRESS AND OURS—–
UKRAINE DOESN’T WANNA PUT IN RUSSIA IN EUROVISION
As if to say to Russia, there are limits and there are things we can do to you, Ukraine has banned Russia’s Eurovision contestant from entering the country for three years. The contest of kitsch and splendor will be hosted in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in May, after Ukraine’s Jamala won last year’s contest in Stockholm with her anti-Stalinist ballad “1944,” about the mass deportations of Crimean Tatars in that year. The song somehow skirted passed the regulations against explicitly political songs (Georgia’s 2009 entry following the August War with Russia the preceding year, “Don’t Wanna Put In” was labeled too political as it was clearly, explicitly so, and barred from that year’s competition). Technically Ukraine did not ban Russian contestant Julia Samoilova for three years simply because she is Russian but because she is a Russian who violated Ukrainian sovereignty by entering Crimea “illegally” through Russia, not from Ukrainian territory. The BBC reports, “Samoilova, 27, has confirmed that she sang in Crimea in 2015.” So there you go, Ukraine is well within its rights to do so, even though it is always a pity to lose a chance at constructive dialogue especially in a lighthearted and open but politics-heavy setting like Eurovision, TRUMPISTAN WATCH’s favorite day of the entire year.
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