Tuesday, August 29, 2017

That Russian Thing

We’ve all been thinking about the millions of people under water in Texas, about the state of race relations after Charlottesville, about the missiles of North Korea, and well we should be concerned about all of them.  But there’s also the ongoing and sometimes forgotten investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 and the involvement of the Trump campaign in it.

It’s not a question any more of whether or not Russia did it.  It’s now to what degree — criminal or otherwise — did Trump’s people and perhaps even himself participate in it.  The latest bit of news comes via the New York Times which is reporting that a Trump associate was bragging about how they’d get their man elected president if a real estate deal in Moscow went through.

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin. He predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election to try to help Mr. Trump. Investigators want to know whether anyone on Mr. Trump’s team was part of that process.

Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow.

“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Of course the Trump organization is trying their best to distance themselves from all of this: “Sater?  Never heard of him,” along with asserting that they have never had any real estate holdings in Russia.

If Mr. Sater is not high enough up the food chain then, how about Michael Cohen, who is described in the Washington Post as a top Trump organization executive trying to work his way with the authorities in Moscow?

A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress on Monday.

The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s closest business advisers, who asked longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov for assistance in reviving a deal that Cohen suggested was languishing.

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote to Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled.

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen’s email marks the most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.

Cohen told congressional investigators in a statement Monday that he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov or having further contact with Russian government officials about the project. The email, addressed to Peskov, appeared to have been sent to a general Kremlin press account.

The note adds to the list of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials that have been a focus of multiple congressional inquiries as well as an investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III exploring Russian interference in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin intervened to help elect Trump.

Unlike hurricanes or riots in the streets, a story like this doesn’t come with dramatic pictures and BREAKING NEWS banners across the screens of cable TV networks, and besides, it is complicated; you can’t tell the players without a program and knowing their backstories.  “Game of Thrones” is easier to follow because it has dragons (or so I’ve heard).  But while the story may lack those elements of high drama, it is the stuff of which brings down the players as surely as a wall of water.

One bark on “That Russian Thing

  1. It’s better if we see all this as a rerun of The Pink Panther. These e-mails were sent on ordinary open-to-all internet services. What were these idiots thinking? Are they all 72 year olds?

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