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.
Why is Trump getting hysterical over the Mueller’s probe if “there was no collusion”?
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.
The Trump-Russia Investigation and the Mafia State
many of us who write about Russia professionally, or who are Russian, have struggled to square what we know with the emerging narrative. In this story, Russia waged a sophisticated and audacious operation to subvert American elections and install a President of its choice—it pulled off a coup. Tell that to your average American liberal, and you’ll get a nod of recognition. Tell it to your average Russian liberal (admittedly a much smaller category), and you’ll get uproarious laughter. Russians know that their state lacks the competence to mount a sophisticated sabotage effort, that the Kremlin was even more surprised by Trump’s election than was the candidate himself, and that Russian-American relations are at their most dysfunctional since the height of the Cold War. And yet the indictments keep coming.
.. I mean that I’ve figured out how to think about what we know and not go crazy. The answer lies in the concept of the Mafia state. (And, no, I’m not invoking the Mob because Stone encouraged an associate to behave like a character from “The Godfather Part II,” as detailed in his indictment.)
As journalists who usually cover American politics have connected the dots of the story of Russian interference, those of us who normally write about Russia have cringed. Early on, it was common to point out that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, who is now under arrest, worked for Viktor Yanukovych, who is often characterized as the “pro-Russian President of Ukraine.” In fact, there was no love lost between Putin and Yanukovych. After he was run out of town, during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Yanukovych did seek refuge in Russia, but during his tenure as President he was an unreliable partner for Putin at best. Perhaps more to the point, he’s a crook and a brute. He served time for robbery and assault before he became a politician, and he is wanted in Ukraine for treason, mass murder, and embezzlement. A visitor to Ukraine can take a tour of Yanukovych’s palace, famous for its marble, crystal, immense scale, and a life-size solid-gold sculpture of a loaf of bread. Manafort made a career of working for the corrupt and the crooked. That in itself tells us little about Russia or its role in the 2016 campaign.
.. In media coverage, her e-mailing with a lawyer in the Russian prosecutor’s office was portrayed as evidence of a direct line to Putin, suggesting that she met with Trump’s campaign officials as his emissary. To me, it read as a lot of bluster on the part of a minor operator. From all the available evidence, and contrary to her sales pitch, Veselnitskaya did not have any dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton. To the extent that Veselnitskaya had established connections to high-level Russian officials, they were the kind that are necessary for a lawyer to be at all effective in a corrupt system.
.. We cringed at the characterization of the Russian online influence campaign as “sophisticated” and “vast”: Russian reporting on the matter—the best available—convincingly portrayed the troll operation as small-time and ridiculous. It was, it seems, fraudulent in every way imaginable: it perpetrated fraud on American social networks, creating fake accounts and events and spreading falsehoods, but it was also fraudulent in its relationship to whoever was funding it, because surely crudely designed pictures depicting Hillary Clinton as Satan could not deliver anyone’s money’s worth.
What we are observing is not most accurately described as the subversion of American democracy by a hostile power. Instead, it is an attempt at state capture by an international crime syndicate. What unites Yanukovych, Veselnitskaya, Manafort, Stone, WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, the Russian troll factory, the Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos and his partners in crime, the “Professor” (whose academic credentials are in doubt), and the “Female Russian National” (who appears to have fraudulently presented herself as Putin’s niece) is that they are all crooks and frauds. This is not a moral assessment, or an attempt to downplay their importance. It is an attempt to stop talking in terms of states and geopolitics and begin looking at Mafias and profits.
The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who created the concept of the “post-Communist mafia state,” has just finished editing a new collection of articles called “Stubborn Structures: Reconceptualizing Post-Communist Regimes” (to be published by C.E.U. Press early this year). In one of his own pieces in the collection, using Russia as an example, Magyar describes the Mafia state as one run by a “patron” and his “court”—put another way, the boss and his clan—who appropriate public resources and the institutions of the state for their private use and profit. When I talked to Magyar on the phone on Monday, he told me that Trump is “like a Mafia boss without a Mafia. Trump cannot transform the United States into a Mafia state, of course, but he still acts like a Mafia boss.” Putin, on the other hand, “is a Mafia boss with a real Mafia, which has turned the whole state into a criminal state.” Still, he said, “the behavior at the top is the same.”
The Mafia state is efficient in its own way. It does not take over all state institutions, but absorbs only the ones necessary for extracting profit. Some structures therefore continue to work as though they were part of a normal state. This may explain why we saw the official Russian foreign-policy establishment preparing, in the lead-up to the 2016 election, for a working relationship with the presumed Hillary Clinton Administration.
When we think about a normal state, Magyar told me, “the assumption is that the state acts in the public interest, and if that doesn’t happen, that’s a deviation.” That is true of how we think about democracies but also, to a large extent, of how we think about dictatorships as well: the dictator positions himself as the arbiter and sole representative of the national interest. A Mafia state, on the other hand, acts only in the personal profit-seeking interests of the clan. “That’s not a deviation,” Magyar said. “It’s a substantive, structural characteristic of the state. The state itself, at the top, works as a criminal organization.”
When members of the American media cover the story of Russian meddling, they implicitly portray Russia as a normal state, and the influence operation as an undertaking of the state aimed at furthering Russia’s national interests. This strikes Russians as absurd. By the measure of national interest, the Trump Presidency has been disappointing for Russia. Most of what Trump has given the Russian state has come through inaction:
- he has barely reacted to continued Russian aggression in Ukraine;
- he has failed to support nato; and
- he has said that the U.S. will withdraw from Syria, although it looks like the withdrawal is unlikely to be fast or total.
At the same time, diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. have deteriorated to the point of near-total dysfunction, and, despite considerable foot-dragging by the White House, the U.S. has continued to impose new sanctions on Russia.
By the metrics of a Mafia state, though, the Trump Presidency has yielded great results for Russia. A Mafia boss craves respect, loyalty, and perceived power. Trump’s deference to Putin and the widespread public perception of Putin’s influence over Trump have lifted Putin’s stature beyond what I suspect could have been his wildest dreams. As happens in a Mafia state, most of the benefit accrues to the patron personally. But some of the profit goes to the clan. Over the weekend, we learned that the Treasury Department has lifted sanctions on companies that belong to Oleg Deripaska, a member of Putin’s “court” who once lent millions of dollars to Manafort. If a ragtag team employed by or otherwise connected to the Russian Mafia state tried to aid a similar collection of crooks and frauds to elect Trump—as it increasingly looks like they did—then the Deripaska news helps explain their motivations. The story is not that Putin is masterminding a vast and brilliant attack on Western democracy. The story, it appears, is that the Russian Mafia state is cultivating profit-yielding relationships with the aspiring Mafia boss of the U.S. and his band of crooks, subverting democratic institutions in the process.
Trump calls for unity, stands firm on wall, leaves Socialist Dems on defensive at State of Union
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” Trump said, in an apparent reference to Democratic congressional probes of his administration and possibly to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
At the same time, the president did not back down from his insistence that Congress fund a border wall, which was at the center of a 35-day government shutdown that ended only a few weeks ago and could fuel another shutdown on Feb. 15. Tolerance for illegal immigration, Trump said, is “not compassionate,” but “cruel.” “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump said. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.” However, top Democrats signaled that Trump’s State of the Union address did little to convince them that a legislative compromise to construct his proposed border wall is possible.
Read: Trump’s State of the Union speech
TRUMP AND AOC FEELING ‘SOCIAL’: President Trump vowed during his State of the Union address on Tuesday that “America will never be a socialist country,” in an apparent rebuke to self-described Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders that drew loud cheers and a standing ovation from Republicans in the House chamber — as well as supportive applause from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi … In response, after the speech, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News: “I thought it was great. I think he’s scared.”
The progressive firebrand pointedly did not applaud as Trump condemned human trafficking and illegal immigration in his address. In an interview later Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez said she was asking herself, “Is this a campaign stop or is this a State of the Union?” She is set to unveil a massive “Green New Deal” with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey next week.
Peggy Noonan: AOC had ‘rare bad night’ – and the rookie lawmaker responds