George Papadopoulos, the first person to plead guilty in the Mueller Investigation, a former adviser to President Trump and HUD secretary Ben Carson and the author of (Diversion Books, 2019), talks about his theory of the Russian investigation.
The key period begins in 2010, when Trump and his businesses were suffering a series of many watershed crises. All major banks except for Deutsche Bank refused to lend him money, his television program was sinking in the ratings, his casino business was in the midst of a humiliating collapse, and the lifeblood of his company—the steady transfer of cash from his father and then his father’s estate—had run out. Yet, that same year, Trump began an unprecedented spending spree, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into several money-losing golf courses, particularly Doral, in Florida, and two courses in Scotland. At this moment, the Trump Organization is seeking approval to spend nearly two hundred million dollars to develop housing and amenities for his course in Aberdeen.
This sudden windfall has never been clearly explained. Eric Trump once told a reporter that the funding came from wealthy Russians who love golf. He subsequently denied ever saying this, and instead claimed that it came from “incredible cash flow.” This is confusing. The Trump Organization is best understood as a series of unconnected high-risk bets and schemes, most of which have lost money. Much of its cash flow came primarily from the legacy properties in Queens and Brooklyn developed by Trump’s father, Fred, and four office towers that Trump, quite accidentally, found himself co-owning. There is nothing that Trump was doing in 2010 or the years afterward that suggests a sudden increase in his “incredible cash flow.” So where did the money come from? Barr’s summary does not address this vital question.
It is no small matter for the President of the United States to have had a dramatic and unexplained increase in cash during the financial crisis and in the years leading up to and including his Presidency. As I have written in the past, it is notable that Trump began spending this money at the same time that he befriended several oligarchs in the former Soviet Union, notably the Mammadov family, of Azerbaijan, and the Agalarovs, originally from Azerbaijan but now based in Moscow. Both families are likely money launderers with a penchant for spending fortunes on money-losing golf courses. We know that Trump was paid millions by both families for a failed 2012 luxury apartment building and for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow—and that he and his children stayed in close contact with them for years afterward.
There was a hope—perhaps held in vain—that Mueller would recognize that it would not be possible to draw conclusions about the President’s relationship with Russia without understanding how Trump made so much money in recent years—and, most important, how much, if any, of that business came from oligarchs from the Soviet Union. The investigation into the President’s businesses will now be the work of Congress and of local, state, and federal prosecutors. The President will accuse them of being sore losers, of ignoring the seeming vindication described in Mueller’s report. They will be told that they are politicizing the Presidency. But a simple fact remains: we have no idea who gave our President hundreds of millions of dollars and what he might owe in return. We have a right to know.
For decades Donald Trump sought a deal in Russia, a country he once reportedly heralded as “one of the hottest places in the world for investment.” A new filing from special counsel Robert Mueller suggests just how lucrative a move into Moscow might have been for the Trump Organization.
“If the project was completed,” Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, wrote in a court filing released Friday, “the company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”
The deal never came to fruition. But hundreds of millions would have been a massive haul, even for a man worth an estimated $3.1 billion. Most of Trump’s wealth is tied up in skyscrapers, golf courses and other real estate projects that are hard to sell. Forbes estimates that the president only has about $150 million worth of cash and other liquid assets.
Trump Tower, the president’s most famous building, is worth an estimated $323 million before debt. It took in an estimated $33 million in revenue in 2017. But running a building means paying for taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance. So Trump Tower’s 2017 profits, measured in net operating income, were just $13.9 million.
The president’s licensing business, however, does not have the same big overhead expenses, meaning a new tower in Moscow could have presumably been a cash cow. Sure, striking such a deal might require a few flights and some legal fees, but there don’t seem to be many hard costs to letting someone else use your name. The proposed deal, the details of which remain unclear, could theoretically have also included an agreement for Trump to manage the property or given him a cut of condo sales in the building, potentially worth millions of dollars.
If Mueller is right, and the deal could have yielded “hundreds of millions,” that would mean a single Moscow deal may have brought in more money than the president’s entire annual rent roll, which generates an estimated $175 million for the Trump Organization. And it would certainly seem to be enough to cover the $66 million Trump personally put into his 2016 presidential campaign.
I’m going to suggest another, non-exclusive motive. It comes from living in NYC with Trump’s showboating since the late 1970s. We NYers have followed Trump’s trainwreck career for decades. He’s such a media hound that it was impossible not to. I even interviewed for an IT job at Trump Organization in the early 90s and met him briefly in the elevator on the way out. He wore way too much cologne.
Trump will be tough for Mueller to nail on conspiracy because he never has his fingerprints on any of the shady stuff. He has others do the jobs for him while he pleads ignorance. Trump is like a mafia godfather insofar as he has capos and soldiers do his dirty work and report back while he keeps clean hands. That was the role of sleazeballs like Michael Cohen and Felix Sater. They’re the ones who are exposed. It explains why Mueller has leaned so heavily on Cohen, Stone, Manafort, et al. But they’re just the latest in a line of such “fixers”.
During the Trump Tower-to-early Atlantic City days it was John Cody and Daniel Sullivan (Google them), both with strong connections to the Genovese and Gambino crime families through the construction unions. As those old mafia families were dismantled by DOJ, Trump cozied up to the growing Russian mob in NYC. Cohen and Sater were perfectly placed for that through the old El Caribe club, the US headquarters for Simion Mogilevich, the boss of all Russian bosses. Cohen’s family owned that club.
Trump is hysterical because Mueller, and by extension the NY AG, Tish James, have an all-access pass to Trump’s past — 35 years of questionable business dealings, curious partnerships and cash and potential illegal activities that have already cost Trump tens of millions in fines. Most of it is protected by the statute of limitations but a lot of it isn’t, fraud being the main one. Fraud includes money laundering: years and billions in illicit Russian cash flowing through Trump, his company and his holdings. I believe this is where Trump is most vulnerable. For that matter, so does Steve Bannon, who said as much. I also believe that’s why he won’t release his tax returns.
If Mueller can build a case of long-term, organized fraud, guess what? He has a RICO predicate. The evidence doesn’t even have to point at Trump directly… not anymore than it did Fat Tony Salerno of the Genovese family, Tony Ducks Corallo of the Lucchese family and Carmine Persico of the Colombo family, all of whom got in excess of a hundred years each. It just has to show that he profited from it, controlled it and had some knowledge of it.
Trump’s lapdog DOJ director won’t sign off on the RICO predicate? Doesn’t matter. NY state has its own RICO laws that are just as draconian.
IOW, I think Trump is less worried about Russian “collusion”, where he believes he’s provided plenty of denial room for himself, than he is a RICO case targeting Trump Org.
I also think it’s very possible that there was no actual collusion on Trump’s part to influence the 2016 election. It could well be that Putin decided unilaterally to get Trump elected because it was in his best interests and the interests of his oligarch friends to have Trump in the White House to protect the gravy train. It’s curious that Felix Sater’s name never comes up in the course of Mueller’s investigation. He would be the logical point man for any organized money laundering with Russia and the mob. Perhaps he was the first to willingly flip? Another felony conviction would be Strike Three for him and a very long prison sentence. He’s already flipped to the government once before so it’s definitely in his genes.