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Trump’s Russia Connections Do Not Connote Collusion, Political Corruption Has Enriched Family and Friends Well Before the Donald

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The following information is sourced from Peter Schweizer’s recently released book, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends. I would also recommend reading his New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich for an illuminating look into the extensive corruption and cronyism in the Clinton Foundation which prompted a renewed FBI investigation into the pay-to-play politics perpetrated while Hillary was secretary of state.

But let’s take a look at the Donald since all my friends on the Left want him impeached.

Before Donald Trump ran for president, he conducted business around the world and would ink deals with some shady individuals, a necessary task in the dog-eat-dog world of New York City real estate. His alleged collusion with Russia is a nonexistent crime. Collusion is not included as a crime in the U.S. Code. Trump is getting the attention no other president has for potential conflicts of interest because he is the first businessman/non-politician to become president of the largest economy and military in the world. Sure, the potential is there, but let’s deal in facts, not possibilities. There has been no collusion or conspiracy with the Russians to propel Mr. Trump to the White House.

However, he did have some notable Russian business connections.

The Trump SoHo project, a $450 million, 46-story hotel condominium on Spring Street in New York was a Trump Organization-run development partnered with Bayrock Group, which provided the capital for the 2010-completed project (the Trump Organization exited the property late last year). Bayrock was founded by Tevfik Arif, a Kazakh real estate mogul from the former Soviet Union. Arif had ties to Kazakh businessman turned politician, Viktor Khrapunov who created three LLCs in April 2013 that corresponded to condos purchased in the Trump SoHo building. Trump was not a beneficiary of the sales. The seller was Bayrock/Sapir Organization, LLC.

Felix Sater was a Russian emigre and was also involved in the SoHo project. Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering in 1998. He worked for Bayrock and apparently carried a business card that listed himself as a “senior advisor to Donald Trump.”

On November 3, 2015, Sater emailed Michael Cohen (Trump’s personal attorney): “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it…I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage the process.” Sater said he obtained financing for the Trump Moscow hotel deal from VTB Bank, sanctioned at the time by the US government. A letter of intent for the deal was signed as Trump’s campaign for president picked up steam. However, permits and other favors were needed to get the deal done in Russia.

Sater pitched a Trump visit to Moscow to tout the deal in return for Putin publicly praising Trump. For some reason, Sater claimed that Trump would not only benefit from a historic real estate deal in Moscow, but would in turn clear a path for Trump to be in the White House. No one knows why the two points were connected. Putin and Trump did end up having nice things to say about each other during the 2016 campaign though. Regardless, the real estate deal went nowhere, petering out in January 2016.

According to Schweizer, “No one knows (at this writing) whether the deal provides any context or prologue for the now infamous June 2016 meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian delegation promising kompromat on Hillary Clinton. Cohen would downplay Sater and his credibility to the Post and the Times, dismissing his talk of a direct pipeline to Putin as “salesmanship.” New York Magazine reporter Andrew Rice states Sater and Cohen knew each other as teenagers–perhaps explaining Sater’s excitement, expressed to Cohen: “Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?” There’s nothing wrong with a politician obtaining dirt on their opponent. Clinton was doing it. Everyone does it. That does not signal obvious collusion.  

Unfortunately, in a pivoting era painting Russia as the boogeyman again as America was during the Cold War, Trump’s massaging of Russian-American relations are seen as collusion instead of a savvy retooling of a reckless American foreign policy.

Another Bayrock connection was Tamir Sapir from the country of Georgia, formerly in the Soviet Union. He sold electronics to KGB agents from a storefront in Manhattan. Tamir’s son, Alex, was involved in the Trump SoHo project. Alex Sapir’s business partner and brother-in-law is Rotem Rosen, a former right-hand man of Soviet born Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, an oligarch with longstanding ties to Putin.

Leviev keeps a photo of the Russian president on a shelf in his office. When Trump was looking for deals to do in Moscow, he met with Leviev in 2007 to discuss. Leviev also sold Jared Kushner a portion of the old New York Times Building in Times Square in 2015 shortly after Trump announced he was running for president. Mortgages for the Trump SoHo building were issued by Sam Kislin, a Ukrainian businessman who partnered with Tamir Sapir in an electronics business. In 1976, they sold 200 TVs to Trump’s Commodore Hotel and ended up establishing a commodities business trading with the Soviet Union. The FBI has labeled Kislin a member of the Russian mob. Interpol claimed Kislin’s commodities firm was used by two Uzbekistan mobsters for fraud and embezzlement.

The Trump SoHo deal was completed well before Trump ran for office, but business relationships can be complicated and “create alliances that lead to vulnerabilities,” Schweizer wrote. Trump has garnered unprecedented attention due to his long history of business transactions. The first businessman with no political experience is now in the most powerful position in the world and he has felt the brunt an endless stream of criticism and accusations of conspiratorial ties to Russia from the liberal mainstream media with zero evidence to back up that up.

Professor Zephyr Teachout of Fordham declared, “Trump is upending 240 years of tradition and a core conviction of the founders: that a stable, fare, representative republic depends on protecting against the foreign corruption of our office holders.” Teachout appears to be completely unaware of the Chinese and Ukrainian commercial deals done by the son of Vice President Joe Biden or the financial ties between Senator Mitch McConnell’s family and the Chinese government, both stories that are covered at length in Secret Empires.

Foreign corruption has rightly been a fear of America’s leaders. Elbridge Gerry, the country’s fifth vice president, warned, “Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us & insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purposes. Everyone knows the vast sums laid out in Europe for secret services.” Liberals and never-Trumpers would have you believe our current president is one of those individuals sent among us, serving Russia as opposed to the U.S.

Schweizer wrote: “FOREIGN COMMERCIAL ENTANGLEMENTS ARE A PROBLEM. BUT THEY DIDN’T BEGIN WITH TRUMP” (all caps my own).

When Penny Pritzker became commerce secretary during the Obama administration, the issue of receiving payments or things of value from a foreign government or its agents (the Emoluments clause) never came up. Nevertheless, she owned commercial real estate properties and hotels that did plenty of business with the U.S. government and foreign governments and did not sever her ties to them once in office. Trump has been called on to sell all his holdings or to transfer his business interests into a blind trust. But, Trump famously did not do either, instead appointing his children to run his empire and removing himself from decision making, far from blind.

Barack Obama’s best friend from his Chicago days is Marty Nesbitt. The Chicago Tribune called him, “the First Friend.” President Obama went hard after certain industries during his time as the regulator in chief, especially oil and gas, financial services, and healthcare. Nesbitt was always in the right place at the right time to purchase companies on the cheap that dropped in value from regulatory threats or actions from Obama. He never had to call to schedule a time to talk with the president, he always had his friend’s ear.

Nesbitt serves as CEO of Vistria, an investment firm. The industries Vistria targeted were the same industries Obama was attacking with government regulation. Vistria teamed up with two larger private equity firms to purchase the University of Phoenix’s parent company, Apollo Education Group, the stock price of which fell 90% from January 2009 to January 2016. Of course, the Obama administration approved the sale to Vistria with unprecedentedly favorable terms. To sweeten the deal, the viable competition was crushed or completely out of business. Soon thereafter, federal funds flowed back to the school. Similar smash and grab maneuvers benefitting Nesbitt occurred in the financial services and railroad industries and are covered in depth in Schweizer’s investigative tale.

The story is yet to be told on how Trump will help enrich himself and his friends and family with his new office on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, it bears repeating that he is far from the first to have some shady business dealings in his past. In fact, many politicians have used their public office to make their family members rich while in office. Though Trump’s situation does leave him open to foreign powers currying favor, he appears to be putting America first in all facets of his work. Paying off a porn star to be quiet is not against the law in any way. Meeting with Russians does not prove collusion. Let’s dial back the outrage and focus on what is.

 

Trump certainly has a sketchy personal attorney in Michael Cohen, but no crimes have been committed and no collusion has been hinted at despite the endless and expanding Mueller investigation. Attempting to impeach Trump over morally bankrupt deals and decisions made many years ago will be a massive mistake if undertaken by the Democrats and would be a godsend for Republicans in Congress. For proof of that, look no further than Bill Clinton. Trump maintains a conflict of interest by not completely detaching himself from his business empire, but he has yet to show a willingness to use that to enrich himself. Yet, he remains vulnerable. And power obviously corrupts.

The last few presidents have been catapulted to power promising to end the political cronyism running rampant in the Washington DC swamp. Will Trump be any different? Or will he cave like all other presidents and politicians have? I guess we’ll find out. One thing’s for sure, this president is unlike any politician we have had in office in our nation’s history.

Here’s what’s important today. President Trump is putting more money into the pockets of struggling taxpaying Americans (90% to be exact) with the tax cuts and is giving businesses a chance to succeed through significant deregulation. Unfortunately, he is getting us back on the warpath with Bolton and Pompeo now in his ear, getting us out of the Iran deal this week and ultimately risking World War III in the Middle East. But that is another topic for another day.

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0 Comment

  1. Joseph Mangano May 11, 2018

    Just because political corruption is widespread doesn’t mean we should downplay the seriousness of Trump potentially being compromised by his Russian interests and connections. Also, I think you’re overstating the positive impact of the tax cut and potentially understating the danger of the administration’s foreign policy decisions.

    Reply

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