Do Trump’s Murky Financial Ties to Russia Connect to Money Laundering?

Investigators have only begun to follow the money.

aluxum/Getty

By Bill Buzenberg

Federal investigators continue to dig into Russia’s cyberattack on the US election and the Trump administration’s possible involvement—but as bad as that intrusion and collusion may be, Trump’s opaque financial dealings could prove even more perilous for the president.

Trump has blazed a decades-long trail of questionable financial dealings with Russian sources that could provide investigators with the grist they need for legal action. A wide array of Russian oligarchs with links to Vladimir Putin have invested tens of millions of hard-to-explain dollars in Trump properties. And Trump professes never to know who these people are or where they got the big bucks for their mostly cash deals.

Money laundering is the process of taking proceeds from criminal activity (dirty money) and making them appear legal (clean). Although the news didn’t make much of a splash during the 2016 campaign, Trump paid a $10 million fine to the U.S. Treasury in 2015 for his bankrupt Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City because it failed to meet anti-money-laundering requirements. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Regulators said the casino failed to establish and implement an effective anti-money-laundering program, failed to implement an adequate system of internal controls, and failed to properly file currency transaction reports or keep other required records.”

It is already a matter of public record that several Trump-affiliated businesses and associates are connected to alleged Russian money-laundering operations.

Many of Trump’s business dealings involve Deutsche Bank or the Bank of Cyprus—both known for their connections with Russian oligarchs. Deutsche Bank is also Trump’s biggest lender; he owes the bank some $300 million, as first reported by Mother Jones‘ Russ Choma and David Corn. The Guardian reported that Deutsche Bank paid $630 million in fines for failing to prevent $10 billion in Russian money laundering between 2012 and 2015.

The Bank of Cyprus is also well known as a money-laundering haven for Russian oligarchs. Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has invested heavily in the Bank of Cyprus (some $424 million in 2014, giving him an 18% stake) and he was once vice-chairman of the bank, according to the Guardian. Ross presided over deals that raise questions about his tenure at the bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs.

Ross shared his vice-chairman post at the bank with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally.

Mother Jones

Trump’s Numbers Continue To Tank As 60% Of Americans Don’t Think He’s ‘Level-Headed’

Overall, the poll reflects a resounding rejection of Trump as a person and the agenda he has worked to implement over the course of his first several weeks in office.

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By Sean Colarossi

It’s been less than three weeks since Donald Trump took the oath of office, and the American people are starting to question whether the new president is even sane enough to hold a job.

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, a whopping 60 percent of registered voters say that Trump is not “level-headed.” Just a dismal 35 percent of the survey’s respondents say that he is.

This is no surprise given what Trump has managed to do over the first several weeks of his presidency, from lying about crowd sizes and wreaking havoc on American airports to threatening war with two countries and making a deadly and ill-formed foreign policy decision.

Quinnipiac’s finding is just one in a series of devastating numbers showing that a majority of the American people don’t think the president has positive leadership traits.

Politicus

Pictures From Women’s Marches on Every Continent

Crowds in hundreds of cities around the world gathered Saturday in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington. JAN. 21, 2017

A participant of a Women's March in Helsinki holds up a poster depicting US President Donald Trump and German dictator Adolf Hitler on January 21, 2017, one day after the US president's inauguration. / AFP PHOTO / Lehtikuva / Jussi Nukari / Finland OUTJUSSI NUKARI/AFP/Getty Images NYTCREDIT: Jussi Nukari/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images
A participant of a Women’s March in Helsinki holds up a poster depicting US President Donald Trump and German dictator Adolf Hitler on January 21, 2017, one day after the US president’s inauguration. / AFP PHOTO / Lehtikuva / Jussi Nukari / Finland OUTJUSSI NUKARI/AFP/Getty Images
NYTCREDIT: Jussi Nukari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The New York Times

President Barack Hussein Obama

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“My favorite months in the Oval Office are late fall to early winter when occasionally the afternoon light will be at just the right angle to create some interesting backlight if the President is working at the Resolute Desk.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Behind the Lens: 2016 Year in Photographs

The Constitution lets the electoral college choose the winner. They should choose Clinton.

Hillary Clinton (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Hillary Clinton (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

By Lawrence Lessig

Conventional wisdom tells us that the electoral college requires that the person who lost the popular vote this year must nonetheless become our president. That view is an insult to our framers. It is compelled by nothing in our Constitution. It should be rejected by anyone with any understanding of our democratic traditions  — most important, the electors themselves.

The framers believed, as Alexander Hamilton put it, that “the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the [president].” But no nation had ever tried that idea before. So the framers created a safety valve on the people’s choice. Like a judge reviewing a jury verdict, where the people voted, the electoral college was intended to confirm — or not — the people’s choice. Electors were to apply, in Hamilton’s words, “a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice” — and then decide. The Constitution says nothing about “winner take all.” It says nothing to suggest that electors’ freedom should be constrained in any way. Instead, their wisdom — about whether to overrule “the people” or not — was to be free of political control yet guided by democratic values. They were to be citizens exercising judgment,  not cogs turning a wheel.

Many think we should abolish the electoral college. I’m not convinced that we should. Properly understood, the electors can serve an important function. What if the people elect a Manchurian candidate? Or a child rapist? What if evidence of massive fraud pervades a close election? It is a useful thing to have a body confirm the results of a democratic election — so long as that body exercises its power reflectively and conservatively. Rarely — if ever — should it veto the people’s choice. And if it does, it needs a very good reason.

So, do the electors in 2016 have such a reason?

In this election, the people did not go crazy. The winner, by far, of the popular vote is the most qualified candidate for president in more than a generation. Like her or not, no elector could have a good-faith reason to vote against her because of her qualifications. Choosing her is thus plainly within the bounds of a reasonable judgment by the people.

Yet that is not the question the electors must weigh as they decide how to cast their ballots. Instead, the question they must ask themselves is whether there is any good reason to veto the people’s choice.

There is not. And indeed, there is an especially good reason for them not to nullify what the people have said — the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. We are all citizens equally. Our votes should count equally. And since nothing in our Constitution compels a decision otherwise, the electors should respect the equal vote by the people by ratifying it on Dec. 19.

The Washington Post

Polish Refugees Remember Mexico’s Warm Embrace

See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Polish children from Santa Rosa, Guanajuato, Mexico. See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Melita Marie Garza

Chester Sawko arrived in North America in July 1943 and within days learned those words important to a child in any language.

“Lend me your bicycle!” the 13-year-old Polish refugee shouted in Spanish at the curious Mexicans who rode their bikes up to the fence of the temporary safe haven that had been set up for refugee families at Colonia Santa Rosa in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Sawko, now 66, and the president of his suburban Chicago manufacturing firm, never has forgotten the kindness of the Mexican people who obligingly let the refugee kids ride their bikes, even though most didn’t know how.

“It was a real novelty for us because we never had any toys,” said Sawko, whose family members were among 1.7 million Poles uprooted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and shipped on cattle cars to labor camps in Siberia during World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany divided Poland.

“Mexico was the first place we felt at home, where we realized we were still part of the human race,” said Thaddeus Piezcko, 63, who was 15 when he was resettled in Chicago at the now-shuttered St. Hedwig’s orphanage.

The journey to Mexico was a long one for the refugees, beginning Sept. 17, 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied part of Poland, then a few months later began mass deportations mostly from the northeastern half of Poland.

Each family has its own story, but they all begin like Sawko’s, with Soviet soldiers banging on the door in the middle of a cold, snowy February night in 1940.

The family was given 30 minutes to pack what belongings and food they could carry on a wooden sleigh. Sawko’s father, a forest ranger, was arrested. Sawko’s mother, then 35 and pregnant, was crying.

An older brother, Stanley, then 16, was allowed to stay and care for a sister, 14, in the hospital. But Sawko and his three younger brothers were forced onto the sleigh with their parents and driven to a city where they were put in a crowded railroad car for a four-week trip to the Soviet border.

Chicago Tribune

Under Darkness

Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp. This photo shows less than half of the bodies of the several hundred inmates who died of starvation or were shot by Gestapo men. Germany, April 12, 1945. Myers. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-203456 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1121
Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp. This photo shows less than half of the bodies of the several hundred inmates who died of starvation or were shot by Gestapo men. Germany, April 12, 1945. Myers. (U.S. Army)

By konigludwig

They came without warning late one night in 1943 and took 7 year-old Rebekkah Dunst and her parents from their home. The next day my mother cried and cried. Her older brothers too. Rebekkah had been my mother’s best friend. My grandmother wept bitterly for the Dunst family. They had been close neighbors, good friends, kind, decent and gentle people. They had done nothing wrong. Nothing.

My mother and her brothers were warned by my grandmother not to be seen crying for the Dunst family in public. In Nazi Germany, to show empathy for Jews, foreigners, the disabled, homosexuals, or anyone else who didn’t represent the Nazi ideal of an ethnically pure and glorious Greater Germany revealed a moral weakness that was not to be tolerated nor excused. The slightest sign of nonconformity was dangerous. Germans were afraid. Everyone was afraid. Not just Jews.

My grandfather was a soldier in the German Wehrmacht. His family had lived in Germany since 1482. But that did not stop the Gestapo from ransacking my grandmother’s house, a German soldier’s home, on several occasions. My uncles were in the Hitler youth but that did not matter either.

They were looking for letters from my grandfather’s brother and sister, who had emigrated to Brazil when the Nazis first came to power in Germany. Even possessing a simple letter from someone whose loyalty to the Third Reich was suspect could be a death warrant.

And so here we are again. We have failed to learn the lessons of history. We have elected a president openly supported by Nazis and White Supremacists–a man who has refused to disavow their support–and who now finalizes plans to “relocate” millions of Hispanic immigrants and to forcibly register millions of Muslim-Americans. Suddenly, the American Right is no longer preoccupied with our constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Religion nor their abstract fears of imagined government concentration camps.

The majority of Germans didn’t vote for Hitler. But now, like then, a great nation has lost its moral compass, and the long established relations of the civilized world have been suddenly swept in a single night into an abyss of pure darkness.

Ⓒ 2016 by konigludwig

This is racism.

Let’s call this what it is.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump react as they watch the election results during Trump’s election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. CREDIT: AP/John Locher
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump react as they watch the election results during Trump’s election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. CREDIT: AP/John Locher

By Casey Quinlan

Donald Trump won the presidency last night. Many voters were stunned, after the media overwhelmingly predicted a Clinton win and Trump began to look desperate, sending a lawyer to Nevada to demand information about when a line ended for early voting. Now, Americans are looking back at the past few months and trying to understand what happened.

In the days before the election, the Washington Post published a piece entitled, “What is this election missing? Empathy for Trump voters.” But a lot of people who have watched this election closely pointed out there has actually been a lot of outpouring of empathy for Trump voters.

Throughout the campaign, the media was on a perpetual quest to understand what attracted people to Trump’s message. Journalists considered economic disadvantage as a major factor for why Trump voters felt unheard — and interpreted Trump’s support as evidence that these people reject the establishment Republicans and Democrats who have left them behind.

That was the popular narrative for months. It appears that many members of the media wanted to consider anything but racism, as if it couldn’t possibly that be so straightforward. But it really is.

America’s demographics are changing, and they’re changing quickly. By 2055, there will no longer be a single racial or ethnic majority in the United States and 14 percent of the country will be foreign born, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty-three percent of Millennials are people of color.

Let’s be clear: This is scaring white voters. White people believe that they are more often the victims of racism than black people, according to a 2011 new study from researchers at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School. The research also found that white voters perceived social progress for people of color to be much swifter than it actually is.

The authors wrote, “These data are the first to demonstrate that not only do whites think more progress has been made toward equality than do blacks, but whites also now believe that this progress is linked to a new inequality — at their expense.”

ThinkProgress

Robert F. Kennedy saw conspiracy in JFK’s assassination

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By Bryan Bender and Neil Swidey

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was sitting at his backyard patio table, clutching a tuna fish sandwich, when the call came through. Kennedy had spent the morning at a Justice Department conference on his intensifying war against organized crime. He had invited two of his employees from New York, US Attorney Robert Morgenthau and an aide, back to his sprawling home, Hickory Hill in McLean, Va., to continue the conversation over a private lunch.

A key focus of the morning meetings had been the Justice Department’s efforts to put Mafia kingpins behind bars. Now, by the pool on an unseasonably warm day in November 1963, Kennedy talked optimistically about efforts to neutralize one of those mob leaders, Carlos Marcello. At the very moment when Kennedy and his guests were digging into their sandwiches and clam chowder, Marcello was sitting in a packed courtroom in New Orleans, awaiting the verdict in his deportation trial.

Kennedy had turned 38 just two days earlier, and his mop of brown hair, slim frame, and charging intensity had always combined to project an aura of youth. Still, the bags under his eyes betrayed the weight of responsibilities he had been shouldering for the previous three years, serving as not just the nation’s top law enforcement official but also the president’s most trusted adviser and fixer.

Kennedy glanced at his watch. It was 1:45 p.m. “We’d better hurry and get back to that meeting,” he told his guests.

Just then his wife, Ethel, called over to him, holding the patio phone extension. “It’s J. Edgar Hoover,” she said, a look of worry playing over her face. They both knew the FBI director never called Bobby at home.

Morgenthau, in a recent interview, recalled watching Kennedy drop his sandwich, race over to the phone, and then quickly cup his hand over his mouth as he heard the devastating news. “Jack’s been shot in Dallas,” Bobby said with a gasp. “It may be fatal.”

No one had done more than he to create enemies for the Kennedy administration — the right kind of enemies, to the brothers’ way of thinking. In the mob, in corrupted labor, in Castro’s Cuba, in the rogue wing of the American intelligence system.

There is no indication that Bobby ever found evidence to prove a wider conspiracy. But judging from his actions after hearing the news out of Dallas, it’s clear that he quickly focused his attention on three areas of suspicion: Cuba, the Mafia, and the CIA. Crucially, Bobby had become his brother’s point man in managing all three of those highly fraught portfolios. And by the time the president was gunned down, Bobby understood better than anyone how all three had become hopelessly interwoven, and how much all three bore his own imprint.

An immediate focus, according to several of his aides with direct knowledge, was Hoffa. Bobby knew that a year earlier, according to a Teamster middle-manager turned FBI informant, Hoffa had complained, “I’ve got to do something about that son of a bitch Bobby Kennedy. He’s got to go.” Hoffa had also allegedly asked that informant if he knew anything about “plastic explosives” and suggested opportunities for getting Kennedy, when he was swimming alone in his pool at home or driving alone in his convertible, according to historian David Kaiser’s book, “The Road to Dallas.”

Bobby knew he had given Hoffa and his heavyweight mob pals plenty of new reasons to want to cut him down. At the same time the shots were being fired in Dallas, Bobby’s Justice Department was preparing for the jury-tampering trial of Hoffa in Nashville, which had sprung from its unremitting probe of the Teamster leader. From the federal courthouse there, Walter Sheridan, who had been Bobby’s aide-de-camp in the mob war ever since the Rackets Committee, told his boss in another phone call RFK made that afternoon that he hadn’t been able to find any evidence linking Hoffa to the assassination.

But, according to an oral history that Sheridan would eventually give to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Sheridan later informed Bobby that Hoffa had been at a restaurant when he learned JFK had been shot. The reaction of the pugnacious labor leader was unlike that of most other Americans. “He got up on the table,” Sheridan said, “and cheered.”

Meanwhile, another Mafia leader and Hoffa associate, Carlos Marcello, sat in that New Orleans courtroom, awaiting his verdict. The second deportation trial for Marcello, who ran the mob in New Orleans and Dallas, was the culmination of a relentless three-year campaign by Bobby’s team to get him out of the country.

While not on trial at the time, another mob leader close to Hoffa was also chafing under the intense scrutiny of the Justice Department. Santo Trafficante Jr. was the Florida mob boss and former big-time Havana casino owner who lost millions when Castro took over Cuba. (Trafficante had been imprisoned in Cuba in 1959. His visitors during that stretch, according to Kaiser, included Dallas nightclub owner and mob foot soldier Jack Ruby, who gunned down Oswald in the basement of Dallas police headquarters two days after JFK’s murder.)

In addition to lots of underworld associations, Trafficante and Hoffa even shared a lawyer, Frank Ragano. In his book “Mob Lawyer,” Ragano detailed how Hoffa had instructed him in the summer of 1963 to tell Trafficante and Marcello that the time had come to kill the president. He thought Hoffa was just venting, and delivered the message jokingly, but said the two mobsters seemed to take it much more seriously.

The Boston Globe

This Moment, This America

This election is revealing not only the greatness of democracy but the greatness of the American people. Now go vote.

New citizens wave US flags before being sworn in during a Naturalization Ceremony conducted to swear in 125 new citizenship candidates at a ceremony on Liberty Island on October 28, 2011 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

By David Rothkopf

I have traveled to more than 70 countries. In 2016 alone, I have been on six continents. I have never been to a place that was not endowed with people, history, culture, or other qualities that did not recommend it — even the roughest of places in the roughest of times. The world is like that. It’s not a bad place.

Yet every time I return home to the United States, I feel a surge of pride and joy. There is no place else I would rather live, no place with so much to recommend it. From natural splendors to economic opportunities, from personal freedoms to the riches of our cultural mosaic, this is a wonderful country, and it’s getting better all the time.

I know that’s not a popular point of view in some quarters these days. If you’ve listened to much of the rhetoric of this election year, you would think we were on our knees. The slogan of one of our major political parties at the moment is “Make America Great Again,” implying that we are not great now, that we have lost our mojo. But I would argue that not only are we still great; we are greater than ever.

In fact, we are at a special moment in our history.

But this election is revealing not only the greatness of democracy but the greatness of the American people. Democracy — messy, ugly, coaxing out of the shadows our inner demons — is actually working. When this election is said and done, provided voters do not become too complacent and do their duty on Election Day, not only will sanity prevail and the most qualified candidate win (and Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified, accomplished, and deserving candidates for president America has ever seen), but the forces of darkness will be repudiated soundly, unmistakably rejected by the majority of the American people.

Foreign Policy