If life imitates art, then the behind-the-scenes Trump story is torn from the pages of a John Le Carre novel. For those who don’t know his books, they are political and social commentary in the form of spy novels, complete with complex skulduggery and corruption.
Up until now, Oaklandsocialist has said that the real reason Trump was under such attack was that he was intent on using his administration for personal enrichment at the expense of US capitalism’s global interests. It seems this was only half right.
No, as crazy as it sounds, the reality is Trump’s connections with the Russian Mafia, whose interests he must serve. Whowhatwhy.org explains much of the story.* (We urge readers to read this full hyperlink, which provides many more details.)
Trump Bankruptcies & Russian Mafia
In the 1990s, Trump Organization filed a series of bankruptcies. This history made financiers reluctant to invest in new building/real estate ventures with Trump. Around that time, which was shortly after the old Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian oligarchs/Russian mafiosi started to rise and to expand their operations globally.
As WhoWhatWhy explains: ‘The Russian mob should also not be confused with a mere crime syndicate. It is an organization comprised of state actors, oligarchs, and specific groups of individuals working collectively with the authority of the Russian government — a “mafia state.”’
Mogilevich: “Boss of Bosses” and “Yaponchik” Ivankov
One leader of this mafia, Semion Mogilevich, known as “the boss of bosses”, prevailed on a Russian judge to release a lifetime criminal, Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov from prison. In 1992, Ivankov arrived in the US and set about organizing the disparate elements of the Russian mafia here into one coordinated body. He moved into Trump Tower. When the FBI, which had been looking for him, spotted him there he disappeared (again)… only to be found in Atlantic City at… Trump’s Taj Mahal.
Gangsters at Trump Tower
Ivankov was not the only such resident at Trump Tower. As “WhoWhatWhy” put it: “Right from the earliest days of Trump Tower, in 1983, some of the choicest condominiums, including those in the 10 floors immediately below the future president’s own triplex apartment, went to a rogues gallery of criminals and their associates.” These included Robert Hopkins, convicted of running a gambling ring; Sheldon and Jay Weinberg, convicted of running the largest Medicaid
fraud in the US at the time; David Bogatin, who purchased five apartments on the 62nd floor while running a massive tax avoidance scheme. Another was Joseph Weichselbaum, three times convicted drug trafficking. Weichselbaum was also Trump’s helicopter pilot! (We told you this reads like a Le Carre novel.)
As for Trump’s complaints that he was wiretapped by Obama: Often such claims have something behind them. Oaklandsocialist has to wonder whether it wasn’t that the Obama administration was wiretapping some of these gangsters in Trump Tower and Trump got caught up in their recorded conversations.
Back to Ivankov: Ivankov also founded White Rock investment company. Then, he was arrested and convicted for extortion and was sent back to Russia in 2004.
In the decade prior (the 1990s), Trump had declared a series of bankruptcies, and as a result was unable to raise financing for new projects. This was right around the time that Ivankov had arrived in the US. One of the major goals of the Russian oligarchs/mafia was to find investment outlets here, especially since both the politics and the Russian rouble were so unstable.
Felix Sater & Bayrock
Around this time, another Russian-born Trump associate appeared on the scene: Felix Sater. Sater came to the US as a child in 1974. He went to work for Bear Stearns as a stock broker, but one little incident interrupted that career: He was convicted of stabbing a fellow broker in the neck and face with the broken-off end of a martini glass after he got into an argument with him. He then went into real estate investment, including with Russian and Turkish investment companies. In 1992, Sater joined Ivankov’s White Rock group where several years later he was convicted of fraud. He served no time in prison and only paid a $25,000 fine in exchange for agreeing to serve as an FBI informant.
In 2001, he joined Bayrock investment company. Through that role, he partnered closely with Trump, with his business card advertising himself as a “senior advisor to Donald Trump.” and “ Bayrock became one of the most important links between Trump and big-money sources from the former Soviet Union,” according to WhoWhatWhy. Bayrock partnered with Trump in projects in Toronto, Florida,
Arizona and New York City, including the SoHo Towers. This last was the only one in which Trump actually put up any equity; by that time, Trump’s business strategy had changed from directly investing his own or borrowed cash to simply licensing the use of his name to other investors – a perfect set-up for money launderers.
In 2007, Sater’s past was publicly “outed” by the New York Times and he was forced to leave Bayrock, but it’s not credible that Trump didn’t know about his past prior to then. Now, Trump claims he hardly knew Sater at all, which is also not credible. They did high profile deals together, apparently flew together on Trump’s jet, and appeared together in public.
Trump 2005 Tax Return
Trump’s refusal to turn over his tax returns are also relevant. The one return we have part of – 2005 – shows an income of $153 million, which puts him in the top, top echelon. As WhoWhatWhy puts it, “Trump’s windfall seems to have developed around the same time that investors from countries of the former Soviet Union started opening the cash spigot…. One thing is certain: Bayrock became one of the most important links between Trump and big-money sources from the former Soviet Union.” (Bear in mind that this was after his 1990s string of bankruptcies left him having difficulty raising cash.)
The role of the FBI and other government agencies should also be considered. Why, for example, would Ivankov even have been allowed to enter the country after his release from prison? More central, maybe, is the issue of Sater. In the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, FBI chief Comey chose to release a letter reraising doubts about Hillary Clinton’s possible criminality over her e mail scandal. There is legitimate belief that the reason for this release was that many agents within the FBI favored Trump. (This, in itself, should put to rest the silly idea that the “deep state” is opposed to Trump because he “wants peace”.) More serious is their sitting on the Sater story. There is a lot more to this:
FBI Special Agent Gary Uher and fellow Agent Leo Taddeo were the main investigators of Sater’s “pump and dump” investment scheme. (This is a scheme whereby you artificially pump up the price of a stock you own, con some gullible investors into buying in, and then dump the stock, leaving the investors holding the bag.) In 2011, Uher – then retired from the FBI – organized a private security business called XMark, along with another former FBI agent. XMark became one of the firms that guarded Trump during the presidential campaign
US Department of Justice
Meanwhile, two former colleagues of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Leslie Caldwell and Kelly Anne Moore, went private, joining the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Buckles, which represented Sater in his 2009 stock fraud trial. In 2013, Caldwell returned to the Justice Department as the third in command. Two years later, she removed Mogilevich (remember
him?) from the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. This was an extremely exceptional move, usually only done when one of these Big Ten is either arrested or dies.
In January of 2017, Trump announced that he’d hired this same law company as his ethics counsel. Just six month’s earlier, Morgan Lewis offices in Moscow had been given the award as “Russian Law Firm of the Year”!
Trump Appointees’ Russian Connections
The list of Trump appointees and associates who had or have links with Russian capitalists is broad and deep. One of the more outstanding was Carter Page, who founded his own investment fund, Global Energy Capital, which partnered with Sergei Yatsenko, the former executive of (Russian state gas company) Gazprom. “Business Insider” reported that when Page was in Moscow in July of 2016 to give a speech, he was offered the brokerage fee for the sale of a 19% stake of Rosneft (the Russian state oil company) if he could convince Trump to lift sanctions on Russia. That 19% stake was sold to a Qatar fund in December (i.e., after Trump was elected). The deal was financed by Gazprombank (the bank for Gazprom), of which Page was a member of the board of directors. Page was in Russia one day after the sale was finalized.
Other Trump associates/appointees with financial ties to Russian capitalists included Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Stephen Bannon. (See this article.)
Tiger by the Tail
The attacks on Trump on the major news outlets like CNN clearly show that the tops of Corporate America – the US capitalist class – want Trump out. But why, then, are Trump’s links with criminals like Sater not being trumpeted on the news?
The reason is that they have a tiger by the tail. It’s equally clear that these links also involve the Department of Justice (Caldwell) as well as the FBI. In addition, Trump is not isolated from the US capitalist class in general, as his high-end 2016 wedding to Melania shows.
At the end of the day, this entire Trump affair shows the utter depravity of the US capitalist class and its government. If this ever fully sees the light of day, it could set off a protest movement that would dwarf 2011’s Occupy movement. Let’s hope that happens and do everything we can to further that!
* –This online journal is founded by Russ Baker, former reporter for the NY Times, The Village Voice and other major papers, and contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. We mention these connections because nowadays all too many wing-nuts and charlatans parade as “investigative reporters” and publish all sorts of weird conspiracy theories.