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Red Don, Russian mobsters and Putin's Playground
Well, I see the "Coup against The Donald" thread seems to be running out of steam. Maybe it isn't all just sour grapes on the part of the Clintons and the CIA after all. So I'm jumping back in for a while to document this unraveling mess.

"After returning to New York that November, Trump told Real Estate Weekly that he was in talks with Agalarov and three other groups about a Trump Tower in Moscow. "The Russian market is attracted to me," he said. "Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room."

Son Donald Trump Jr. in 2008: "And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Questions have also been raised about Roger Stone's cryptic tweets last August that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, would endure his "time in the barrel," which he posted after WikiLeaks began publishing other Democrats' hacked emails. The website posted thousands of emails it said were from Podesta's account in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Stone offers a "simple" explanation for his Podesta tweet: He was referring to "my own research" about Podesta and his family. He also says that tweet "does not in any way prove I was foreshadowing" the WikiLeaks release. And what of Stone's ominous tweet in early October, "Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks"? He tells CNN that is the result of information from a source he would not reveal.

[FONT=&amp]Nigel Farage, the former leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party and a close ally of President Donald Trump, visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which is currently the residence of WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange.
[FONT=&amp]Farage went to the embassy Thursday morning and stayed for roughly 40 minutes, leaving around noon, according to a report by BuzzFeed. When a reporter from the site confronted Farage, he claimed that he didn't remember why he had been at the embassy. After being asked if he had gone to meet with Assange, Farage replied "I never discuss where I go or who I see."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Assange has been voluntarily staying at the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 in order to avoid rape allegations in Sweden.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Although there is no known connection between Assange and Farage, the WikiLeaks founder has a long history of connections to Russia, which in turn has extensive links to Trump's business and political career. Because Farage campaigned with Trump during the 2016 presidential election and has maintained a close relationship with him since, his visit to the Ecuadorian embassy raises questions about whether he and Assange met, what they discussed, and whether there is any connection between their conversations and WikiLeaks' latest disclosures about the CIA earlier this week.

Meanwhile, as The Smoking Gun reported on Wednesday, Trump political consultant Roger Stone had been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, an online hacker that intelligence officials believe is manned by G.R.U (Russia's military intelligence service). In the months prior to Election Day, Guccifer 2.0 is believed to have been responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the account of campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone, who has referred to Guccifer 2.0 as his "hero," texted The Smoking Gun that he didn't recall whether he ever exchanged private Twitter messages with Guccifer 2.0. He later claimed that the "brief exchange was public" and that his "entire communication" with the organization could be read by the public.[/FONT]
There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.

But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama, and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money-laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower in New York.
The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world's most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the "Little Taiwanese," he was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.
Seven months after the April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a red notice for Tokhtakhounov, he appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Trump had sold the Russian rights for Miss Universe to a billionaire Russian shopping mall developer.
"He is a major player," said Mike Gaeta, the agent who led the 2013 FBI investigation of Tokhtakhounov and his alleged mafia money-laundering and gambling ring, in a 2014 interview with ABC News. "He is prominent. He has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries."
Gaeta, who ran the FBI's Eurasian organized crime unit in New York, told ABC News at the time that federal agents were closely tracking Tokhtakhounov, whose Russian ring was suspected of moving more than $50 million in illegal money into the United States.
"Because of his status, we have kept tabs on his activities and particularly as his activities truly enter New York City," Gaeta said. "Their money was ultimately laundered from Russia, Ukraine and other locations through Cyprus banks and shell companies based in Cyprus and then ultimately here to the United States."
The FBI investigation did not implicate Trump. But Trump Tower was under close watch. Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of unit 63A in the iconic skyscraper just three floors below Trump's penthouse residence running what prosecutors called an "international money-laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring."
The Trump building was home to one of the top men in the alleged ring, Vadim Trincher, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term. He is due to be released in July.
"Everything was moving in and out of there," said former FBI official Rich Frankel, now an ABC News consultant.
"He would have people come in and meet with them. He would use the phones. He would also communicate, whether it was through e-mail or other communications through there," Frankel said of Trincher. "His base of operations was in the Trump Tower."
In court papers, the FBI described two years of intercepts of phone conversations and text message exchanges of the key figures in the gambling ring.
"Mr. Vladim Trincher was on one occasion intercepted speaking with a customer of the gambling operation who owed a debt of $50,000," one court document stated. Trincher told the gambler about an enforcer who works with him named Maxin. On the recording, Trincher "threatens the customer that Maxin would come and find him, would come and find the money and that he should be careful, lest he be tortured and lest he wind up underground."
Last fall, a Trump Organization spokesman told ABC News that Russians did not make up a disproportionate share of residents in Trump properties. Federal agents confiscated four units in connection with the poker ring: two in New York and two in Sunny Isles, Florida.
ABC News conducted a review of hundreds of pages of property records and reported in September that Trump-branded developments catered to large numbers of Russian buyers, including several who had brushes with the law. Russian buyers were particularly drawn to Trump licensed condo towers in Hollywood, Florida, and Sunny Isles. Local real estate agents credited the Russian migration for turning the coastal Miami-area community into what they called Little Moscow.
Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told ABC News at the time that the firm did not track the nationality of buyers and that the company rarely plays a role in recruiting buyers a job typically left to developers that buy rights to use the Trump name. Neither Garten nor Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller responded this week to questions from ABC News about the 2013 poker raid.
Nor did they respond to questions about Tokhtakhounov, who, despite Interpol's international red notice, is regularly seen in Moscow at popular restaurants and other public places. The poker case was not the first to target Tokhtakhounov. He was indicted years earlier in the United States, accused of paying bribes to Olympic judges so that Russian figure skaters would win gold medals.

On the 78th floor: a Russian who once was accused of mob ties and extortion by an oligarch. On the 79th, an Uzbek jeweler investigated for money laundering who was eventually executed on the street in Manhattan. And four floors higher, a pro-Moscow Ukrainian politician whose party hired a Donald Trump adviser.
When Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza began construction two decades ago as the tallest residential building in the country (90 stories), its most expensive floors attracted wealthy people getting their money out of what had been the Soviet Union. Trump needed the big spenders. He was renegotiating $1.8 billion in junk bonds for his Atlantic City resorts, and the tower was built on a mountain of debt owed to German banks. As Trump wrote in The Art of the Comeback, "It crushed my ego, my pride, to go hat in hand to the bankers."
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Trump World Tower

Photographer: Ludovic/REA/Redux
Trump's soft spot for Russia is an ongoing mystery, and the large number of condominium sales he made to people with ties to former Soviet republics may offer clues. "We had big buyers from Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan," says Debra Stotts, a sales agent who filled up the tower. The very top floors went unsold for years, but a third of units sold on floors 76 through 83 by 2004 involved people or limited liability companies connected to Russia and neighboring states, a Bloomberg investigation shows. The reporting involved more than two dozen interviews and a review of hundreds of public records filed in New York.
The 1990s were a sobering period for Trump, and it's noteworthy that among those who helped him exit the decade are people to whom he's shown deep loyalty. Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer, bought units. Cohen got his Ukrainian in-laws to buy, too. Most of the units were bought before the tower was built, and prices weren't disclosed. Trump World Tower ended up as a model for future developmentswith money drawn from sales in Moscow.
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Photographer: Richard Drew/AP Photo
Two months before Trump broke ground in October 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in domestic debt, the ruble plummeted, and some of the biggest banks started to collapse. Millionaires scrambled to get their money out and into New York. Real estate provides a safe haven for overseas investors. It has few reporting requirements and is a preferred way to move cash of questionable provenance. Amid the turmoil, buyers found a dearth of available projects. Trump World Tower, opened in 2001, became a prominent depository of Russian money.
Sam Kislin, a Ukrainian immigrant, issued mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar apartments in World Tower. It's highly unusual for individuals to issue formal mortgages for U.S. luxury real estate, and the tower loans are the only ones Kislin ever made in New York, public records show.
Almost two decades earlier, Kislin had sold Trump about 200 televisions on credit. "I gave him 30 days, and in exactly 30 days he paid me back," says Kislin, now 82. "He never gave me any trouble." He says the televisions were for the Commodore Hotel, which Trump had bought in 1976 with Hyatt Corp.
Trump purchased the sets from an electronics store that Kislin had opened in New York with Tamir Sapir, an immigrant from Georgia. It was famous among Soviets who would buy VHS players and tape recorders to take back home. Sapir later grew rich trading Russian oil. He invested the proceeds in New York real estate, eventually becoming one of Trump's development partners in Trump SoHo, a frequent focal point in inquiries about Trump's financial ties to Russia and questionable Russian money. Sapir died in 2014.
Kislin became a fundraiser for Rudolph Giuliani's mayoral campaign, bringing in millions for the future Trump surrogate. Investigated by the FBI in the 1990s for allegations including mob ties and laundering money from Russia, Kislin was never charged, and he maintains his innocence.
At Trump World Tower, Kislin provided a mortgage to Vasily Salygin, a future official of the Ukrainian Party of Regions linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to buy an 83rd-floor apartment. Salygin's time in office overlapped with Paul Manafort's tenure as an adviser to the party. Manafort later served as Trump's campaign manager before his Russian links led to growing criticism and his resignation.
The push to sell units in Trump World Tower to Russians expanded in 2002, when Sotheby's International Realty teamed up with Kirsanova Realty, a Russian company. One reception at Moscow's swank Hotel Baltschug Kempinski pitched the tower alongside Trump's West Side condos and his building on Columbus Circle.
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Eduard Nektalov, an Uzbekistan-born diamond dealer, purchased a 79th-floor unit directly below Conway's for $1.6 million in July 2003. He was being investigated by federal agents for a money-laundering scheme, which involved smelting gold to make it appear like everyday objects that were then hauled to drug cartels in Colombia. Nektalov sold his unit a month after he bought it for a $500,000 profit. Less than a year later, Nektalov, rumored to have been cooperating with authorities, was gunned down on Manhattan's Sixth Avenue.
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Gil Dezer

Photographer: Rolando Diaz/Bloomberg
Simultaneous with when the tower was going up, developer Gil Dezer and his father, Michael, were building a Trump-backed condo project in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. "Russians love the Trump brand," he says, adding that Russians and Russian Americans bought some 200 of 2,000 units in Trump buildings he built. They flooded into Trump projects from 2001 to 2007, helping Trump weather the real estate collapse, he says.
"The Trump Organization is a global brand and much like every other real estate company has likely had purchasers from people of different backgrounds buy units within their properties," Amanda Miller, vice president for marketing at the organization, said in an email. "The press' continued fascination with creating a narrative that is simply not there is both misleading and fabricated."
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Trump building

Sales agent Stotts helped rent out apartments owned by those who invested in World Tower. Her very first job was filling Cohen's apartment after he moved to 502 Park Ave., another Trump building. Three months after the New York Post reported that Cohen and his Ukrainian in-laws had bought units in World Tower, Trump hired him.
In 2008, his oldest son, Donald Jr., said, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." What he was referring to has never been clarified, nor has its significance in explaining Trump's friendly attitude toward Moscow. But part of the answer may lie in the hundreds of millions of dollars that salvaged Trump's apartment buildings at a time of financial vulnerability.

In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that
Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.
As it turns out, that may have been an understatement. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose work in the region goes back to defending Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents, has gone through a series of studies by the Financial Times to show how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after yet another bankruptcy. The conclusions are stark.
Among the powerful facts that DNI missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decadethe period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ...
The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.
He was their man.
Yes, even that much seems fantastic, and the details include business agencies acting as a front for the GRU, billionaire mobsters, a vast network of propaganda sources, and an American candidate completely under the thumb of the Kremlin.
It reads like the a B-grade spy novel, a plot both too convolutedand too bluntly obviousfor John le Carré. The problem is it may not be a conspiracy theory. It may be a conspiracy.
Horton's analysis comes from piecing together information in three Financial Times "deep reports." One of these focused on Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US at the time of Trump Jr.'s "money pouring in from Russia" claim.
Mr Millian insists his Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) has nothing to do with the Russian government. He says it is funded by payments from its commercial members alone.
Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website.
Why was RACC's background filled with so many holes? The Financial Times quotes former Russian MP Konstantin Borovoi in tagging the chamber as a front for intelligence operations that dates back to Soviet times.
"The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network . . . Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this."

Millian helped arrange for Trump to visit Moscow in 2007, and had other outings with Trump in the states, including a visit to horse races in Miami. Millian claims that he had the right to market Trump properties in Russia.
"You could say I was their exclusive broker," he told Ria. "Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US." He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received "hundreds of millions of dollars" through deals with Russian businessmen.
Despite documents and photos showing Trump with Millian, Trump denied their association during the campaign.
Hope Hicks, Mr Trump's campaign spokeswoman, said Mr Trump had "met and spoke" with Mr Millian only "on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening".
The second Financial Times article puts Trump at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.
Among the dozens of companies the Almaty lawyers say the Khrapunov laundering network used were three called Soho 3310, Soho 3311 and Soho 3203. Each was a limited liability company, meaning their ownership could easily be concealed.
The companies were created in April 2013 in New York. A week later, property records show, they paid a total of $3.1m to buy the apartments that corresponded with their names in the Trump Soho, a 46-storey luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010 in a chic corner of Manhattan.
Why would Trump's organization make such a good means of laundering funds? Because real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it's even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account. And while some businesses require due diligence in looking at the source of funds, real estate is a bit more … flexible.
The laws regulating US real estate deals are scant, experts say. Provisions against terrorism financing in the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks, obliged mortgage lenders to conduct "know your customer" research. But money launderers pay in cash. Sales such as those of the Trump Soho apartments have passed through this loophole, which was partially closed only this year.
Converting funds stolen overseas into property in the US and cash in the account of an LLC represented a win for both the oligarchs and Trump. Best of all, Trump's sole requirement was that he pay scant attention to the dealsomething at which he was already a proven master. For example, the actual owners of the Trump Soho were another limited liability company, Bayrock. Trump was a partner in the LLC and Bayrock cut the checks Trump received when those apartments were sold. And yet ...

In a 2011 deposition, given in a dispute over the Fort Lauderdale project, Mr Trump said he had "never really understood who owned Bayrock". Jody Kriss, a former Bayrock finance director, has claimed in racketeering lawsuits against his former employer that Bayrock's backers included "hidden interests in Russia and Kazakhstan". Bayrock has denied Mr Kriss's allegations but declined to answer questions about the source of its funds and its relationship with the Khrapunovs.
The third article digs more deeply into the origins of Bayrock and its connection with Trump. That connection … was very close.
The Republican presidential nominee and Bayrock were both based in Trump Tower and they joined forces to pursue deals around the world from New York, Florida, Arizona and Colorado in the US to Turkey, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Their best-known collaboration Trump SoHo, a 46-storey hotel-condominium completed in 2010 was featured in Mr Trump's NBC television show The Apprentice.
This is the same group about which Trump said he "never really understood" the ownership.
"I don't know who owns Bayrock," Mr Trump said. "I never really understood who owned Bayrock. I know they're a developer that's done quite a bit of work. But I don't know how they have their ownership broken down."
At the very least, Trump confessed to partnering with, taking money from, and acting as a representative for a corporation whose ownership he didn't know, in deals that totaled hundreds of millions in countries around the world. However, it seems far more likely that Trump knowingly worked with oligarchs, groups associated with the Russian government, and plain old mobsters. Why? Because he was desperate.
By the 2000s, the property developer and casino owner with ready access to the capital markets and the biggest New York banks was no more. A series of corporate bankruptcies had limited his financing options. Mr Trump had become an entertainer who portrayed a tycoon on television and licensed his name to businesses looking for a brand, leading to fee-making opportunities as disparate as Trump University and Trump Vodka.
The Trump Organization was a hollow shell and Trump was bankrupt, but Donald Trump the public figure was a "successful businessman," a screen behind which criminal activity could be carried out on a massive scale. Throwing his name at every scheme in existence wasn't a strategy, it was a fire sale on Trump's respectability. Steaks? Water? Vodka? Fake real estate school? You pony up the cash, and Trump will slap his name on it. Because by the early 2000s, Trump wasn't just broke, he had nothing left to pawn. He wasn't a successful businessman, but he still played one on TV. His image had more value than his real estate portfolio.
But the apartments and buildings where Trump held some degree of ownership could be turned into value again. All it took was partnering with foreign crime bosses looking for a place to stash their cash. To inflate the value of his portfolio, Trump had to do nothing other than look away as the dirty money poured in from one LLC to the next. Citizens in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet states lost hundreds of millions, but Trump got a cut as looted funds flowed through offices and apartments in buildings that carried those critical gold letters.
Horton's evaluation of this material in coordination with the declassified DNI report is that Trump actively worked with and for Russian interests.

What these exposes showed, is that Trump pursued the projects hand in glove with Russian mobsters who worked closely with Putin's Kremlin ...
But based on the information in the Financial Times report, it appears that there are actually two possible answers. Trump may have been actively involved with and working for Russian sources. He might also have simply played the role of useful idiot, displaying his readiness to feign ignorance about any deal … so long as it generated some funds to float his sinking boat.
In the end, there's not a lot of difference in the outcome. Trump got money. Oligarchs cleaned their cash. Russia got their man.

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
Manafort's plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.
The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort's ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.
In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments," Manafort said. "My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia's political interests."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's critics in the Senate, called the disclosures about payments to Manafort from the Russian billionaire "very disturbing if true."
"That's basically taking money to stop the spread of democracy, and that would be very disturbing to me," he said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Democrats on the House intelligence committee said the new revelations will feature in the congressional investigations. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said on MSNBC on Wednesday that Manafort should appear before the committee, and he raised the specter of a subpoena should Manafort not appear on his own.
Another member of the intelligence committee, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the disclosure "undermines the groundless assertions that the administration has been making that there are no ties between President Trump and Russia. This is not a drip, drip, drip" situation, she said. "This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements."
Deripaska became one of Russia's wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin's interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad." In response to questions about Manafort's consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 at least three years after they began working together said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP's questions.
When asked Wednesday about Manafort's work for Deripaska, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "We do not feel it's appropriate to comment on someone who is not an employee at the White House," although Press Secretary Sean Spicer discussed Manafort earlier this week during a televised news briefing.
Manafort worked as Trump's unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August, a period that included the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump in July. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine's ruling pro-Russian political party.
The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin's interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort's work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of his work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.
Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump's associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation are confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort's activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.
FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort's name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House intelligence committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.
On Monday, Spicer had singled out Manafort when asked about possible campaign contacts with Russia. He said Manafort "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the campaign, even though as Trump's presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.
Manafort and his associates remain in Trump's orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort's former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump's inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.
Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort's firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska but was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort's firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump's presidential campaign.
Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine "at the highest levels of the U.S. government the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department," according to the documents. He also said he had hired a "leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client's interests," but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.
Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world's largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.
In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building "long term relationships" with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.
Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.
For the $10 million annual contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address as his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV's address was listed as Manafort's home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.
One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.
Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. "My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described," Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
Manafort's work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska's representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska's queries about how the funds had been used.
Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska's representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska's representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum, Eric Tucker, Julie Pace, Ted Bridis, Stephen Braun and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report in Washington; Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed from Moscow and Kiev, Ukraine; and Jake Pearson contributed from New York.
How Russia Weaponizes Fake News

Terrell Jermaine Starr
3/08/17 10:30amFiled to: PRAVDA

Russia gets a lot of attention over its ongoing aggression in Ukraine and other former Soviet states. What does not get a lot of attention is Russia's non-lethal methods of hybrid warfare to influence political outcomes in nations it considers adversarial. The tool for this at the Kremlin's disposal is state-funded propaganda disguised as legitimate newsand it has the vast resources to distort the facts in ways that can potentially sway public perception to Russia's favor.

In the U.S., "fake news" is an annoyance on your Facebook feed, or a charge lobbed at an outlet that reports something you may not agree with. In Russia, fake news is a weapon, and the guns that fire the bullets are its state news outlets like RT and Sputnik. RT doesn't generate remotely the same ratings as CNN or other news networks, but they serve their geopolitical purpose: to create some degree of legitimacy among enough Americans who don't believe in mainstream news.
This weekend, President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of ordering a wiretap on Trump Tower during the presidential election. Even though a president cannot legally order a wiretap and Obama denied the accusation, RT ran an article Sunday leading with White House's request to investigate whether Obama abused his powers in 2016.

The leading story for much of Sunday on Sputnik, the other arm of the Kremlin's two-pronged English propaganda machine, focused on how the "Russian Dossier" story was the American media's version of fake news. Neither outlet reported on how ridiculous these claims actually are, or the bipartisan concern that the White House is losing its kilter could be found on its pages this weekend. And there is no better time for RT than now, when the White House consistently accuses the major networks and print newsrooms of "spreading lies" about his administration.

Welcome to the information wars of the 21st century, a kind of warfare that is not new by any means but is being deployed in new ways.
And while many U.S. media outlets may run stories or narratives counter to the prevailing or "mainstream" ones, those outlets aren't directly funded by the Russian government.
(Both Sputnik and RT did not reply to requests for comment.)

Foxtrot Alpha has reported on how France, Germany and the Netherlands have all accused Russia of trying to influence its upcoming national elections with fake news stories that favor nationalist politicians fond of the Kremlin. And America's own intelligence community argued that RT waged a disinformation war to influence the election.
To be sure, research on how influential RT and Sputnik really are is limited for the moment, but it's not hard to critique their coverage and ascertain how they are being used by the Russian state.
"It's a way to insert an official Russian perspective into the public conversation in the United States and to provide arguments to people who are sympathetic to Russian policy goals."Throughout the year, Foxtrot Alpha will provide a weekly analysis of how Russian government-funded outlets like RT and Sputnik cover news here in the U.S. and how it contrasts to the American media narrative. We will also cover how other nations respond to fake news drives by Russia, and what that means for their national security. In the age of a commander-in-chief who has launched an unprecedented attack against the media and considers any non-positive coverage as "fake news," we find it essential to track the reporting of RT and other English-language Russian state-sponsored news sources to understand how it is exploiting the current political climate.
[B]The Kremlin's News Network[/B]

Founded in 2005, RT began as Russia Today, a government-funded outlet meant to be a "soft-power tool to improve Russia's image abroad, to counter the anti-Russian bias the Kremlin saw in the Western media," according the Columbia Journalism Review. Primarily a cable channel, it has invested resources in its website and social platforms, particularly YouTube.

One may argue that the BBC gets state funding too, so what's the difference? Well, for one, you don't hear of BBC reporters publicly rage-quitting their jobs, as they have at RT on several occasions, because they could no longer "do work for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin" or spread "lies" for the Russian state.
As for Sputnik, it's a radio network and website founded in 2014 to function similarly to the U.S.' Voice of America. Again, the difference is in its aims. You generally don't see any Watergate-level reporting from VOA, and it had a role countering communist propaganda abroad during the Cold War, it doesn't overtly operate as a government shill like RT.

Rather than being a true news service, RT is a well-funded Kremlin PR arm with political aims that cannot be measured by Western methods of success such as TV ratings, ad dollar attractiveness, web traffic and other monetary incentives that U.S. media executives live and die by.
Instead, RT in particular exists as a conduit to spread the Kremlin counter-narrative against American media that depict Russian politics in less than a favorable light. Russia has been perfecting this form of media for a very long time. PropOrNot, an organization that tracks RT and Sputnik, told Foxtrot Alpha that there isn't much research available that tracks their impact American audiences. The first mistake, though, is to rely solely on Nielsen ratings, which limit the appreciation of how powerful RT is.

"There are hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, bots, FB pages that do the same thing, though in subtle ways, a spokesman, who declined to give his name, said. "The thrust will be the same and use some text and act as repeaters for Russian media. To get a sense of effectiveness of the Russian bullshit firehouse, one must take into account all mechanisms through which their propaganda is delivered."
Richard Tempest, a professor of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois, told Foxtrot Alpha that the Kremlin has been practicing how to best create English language news for Western audiences since the beginning stages of the Soviet era. At first it was clunky and lacked the sophistication of its Western counterparts, but recently its approach has become more advanced and mirrors the formats of something like CNN or NBC.
[B]Numbers Don't Matter, Influence Does[/B]

To be sure, neither RT nor Sputnik score big ratings in America. The Daily Beast reported in 2015 that the television network often inflates its numbers and that, in 2012, it generated so few viewers that it didn't register on the Nielsen ratings that year. The Washington Post this year noted that it is hard to gauge RT's influence on American audiences.

While RT claims to reach hundreds of millions of people (including 10 million weekly viewers in the U.S.), Putin admitted during the network's 10th year anniversary, in 2015, that they had no idea how many people watched the network. Here is what RT claimed last year:
Europe is the region where RT has the largest audience, with 36 million people watching the channel weekly. Eleven million get their news from RT at least once a week in the Middle East and Africa. In India, Ipsos included only English-language viewers, who constitute about 10 percent of the country's population, and among them 7 million viewers watch RT weekly.
In the US, RT's weekly audience is above 8 million viewers, the study showed, which places the broadcaster among the top-5 international TV news channels.
"Thirty-five million people watch us daily, and we are successfully competing with long-established channels worldwide," said RT's Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan. "In 10 years we have truly succeeded in making our voice heard around the world."
Tempest said the number he's heard in the U.S. is around two million a weekstill a paltry number by any measurebut even then it really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

"An American media executive would say, Well, that's not very impressive.' But, from the Russian perspective, that's two million (weekly) people who are exposed to a particular narrative, a spin on events that they're interested in, be it Trump, Syria, the election before that, Ukraine," Tempest said. "It's a way to insert an official Russian perspective into the public conversation in the United States and to provide arguments to people who are sympathetic to Russian policy goals."
On the web side of things, RT's own website claimed 50 million unique visitors a month in February 2016. (To give you some context, the entire Gizmodo Media Group network of sites pulls in a combined 75 million unique visitors a month, per Quantcast.)

RT also has the advantage of timing. Given that many voters across the U.S. political spectrum have lost faith in the mainstream media, or do not trust what they perceive as negative coverage of the current administration, Tempest says the climate for an RT or Sputnik is better than ever.

"Somebody comes along and says, Here is an alternative (view) on facts you don't know about and explains things to you so they make sense," said Tempest, who has studied and observed Russian media for more than two decades. "That's very attractive."
It's also no great secret how badly the media missed the mark covering the last election. The coastal press corps failed to grasp the extent to which conservative voters and Trump supporters distrusted mainstream media, even when it engaged in nonpartisan fact-checking. Some audiences could find alternative viewpoints enticingeven if it is inaccurate. It's this distrust that allows fake news, and RT, to proliferate.
[B]How RT Spins[/B]

On March 1, RT ran a segment (you can watch the video below) called "Guilty By Association" that explored the media scrutiny Attorney General Jeff Sessions generated by not disclosing his meeting with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

Here in the U.S., the story wasn't that Sessions met with Kislyak. It was not illegal for him to do so, especially as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The problem was that, like Michael Flynn and other members of Trump's administration, Sessions appeared to try to hide his contact with Russian officials while testifying under oath at his confirmation hearing, fueling already deep suspicions that the White House has some kind of financial relationship with the Kremlin.
"The idea is that you put out so much information that you confuse some percentage of the audience into believing things that aren't true and, in doing so, you obfuscate the real story."But RT's coverage instead questioned the journalistic ethics of American news outlets, arguing, essentially, that neither Sessions, Flynn or anyone else did nothing wrong by trying to strengthen ties with Moscow.
Of course, that was never the point and RT knows that. Like PropOrNot said, the blurring of the truth was very subtle. Not so blatant that we can call it a lie, but just light-handed enough to twist the narrative to sympathize with the Kremlin. After all, Russia does not want to look like the bad guy here, like it has somehow co-opted the new administration.

When you think of things in that context, much of RT's coverage begins to make sense.

In a March 6 video satirizing the media's drilling of Sessions (below), RT completely skipped over the fact that he gave a misleading answer to the question of whether he knew members of Trump's campaign met with Russian officials or not.
If you're Russiaand you operate this network to promote your aimsthis report makes you look better. But then it's no longer news; it's counter-information warfare that doesn't even try to sell itself as a serious news alternative.

The spokesperson said while most estimates of RT's reach are around two million viewers per week, PropOrNot says its preliminary findings has that figure more around 15 million when you include social media. With more than 4.2 million followers on Facebook and close to 2.6 million on Twitter (which doesn't include sub or topic-specific pages), RT can deploy a robust information offensive.
"The idea is that you put out so much information that you confuse some percentage of the audience into believing things that aren't true and, in doing so, you obfuscate the real story," said Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization.

RT at least seems to aim for a pretense of legitimacy by attracting top talent. Larry King, a journalist who came an institute at CNN for decades, has his own show on RT. Ed Schultz, a former MSNBC host, started working for RT in January of 2016. And, as BuzzFeedreported in 2014, journalists fresh out of college are paid between $50,000 and $60,000 to start at RT, which is often better than your average local newspaper or TV station will pay entry-level reporters.
It is not a cheap operation, but because it doesn't depend on ad dollars, poor ratings will not determine its demise. Instead, it sits, conspicuously, in the American media ecosystem waiting to exploit any news angle it feels it can manipulate to Russia's favor.
Here's another example. On Monday former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Meet The Press to push back against Trump's assertion that Obama wiretapped him.

While Clapper admitted that no proof existed of Trump colluding with Russian leadership, RT muddled the exchange to suggest that Clapper wasn't confident that Russia influenced the election.

Here is the subtle fudging of the truth. Chuck Todd asked Clapper, "There was a conclusion that said it's clear the Russians interfered and did so in an attempt to help Donald Trump. Do you still believe that?"

Clapper: "Yes, I do."
Todd: "But, at this point, what's not proven is the idea of collusion?"

Clapper: "That is correct."
Neither Clapper nor the report ever argued that Trump colluded with Russia, as RT suggested in its story. Clapper and the intelligence community did say they had evidence (which could not be declassified) that the Kremlin worked to manipulate public opinion. And no spy organization will reveal its complete findings of such a major operation that would risk the lives of its agents, assets and sensitive materials that could be traced if made public.
And the story ends on this:
At the end of February, the House Intelligence Committee chief, Rep. Devin Nunes, told journalists that they "still haven't seen any evidence" of "any phone calls [between the Trump campaign and Russian officials]" but mysteriously added: "It doesn't mean they don't exist."
Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations of contact with the Trump campaign, with the Kremlin spokesman lamenting that it's become difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the US media.
"Those reports are not based on concrete facts," Dmitry Peskov said in mid-February, commenting on claims made by the New York Times and CNN, among others. Peskov noted that "there are five different sources in the story and none are named. So you see, really laughable stories are now given a go."
The point of that article was not to fairly report on the complications of whether to declassify intelligence reports; it was designed to shake our faith in America's top security institutions, and to help Russia wash its hands of this affair.

Watch video of the exchange yourself and compare it to RT's report.
Much of the reason why RT has the potential to do damage in today's media climate has to do with the changing of how Americans consume news. Katy Pearce, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington who studies media technologies in the former Soviet Union, said that social media has provided political entities like the Kremlin to manipulate news in ways that could not have been possible 15 years ago.
In 2017, social media algorithms direct news to the feeds consumers they prefer, giving them more power to share news items with their audiences regardless of whether it is completely accurate or not.

"Fifteen years ago, we had a much more simplistic media system and our news sources weren't getting social endorsements," Pearce said. "We generally trusted that the information that was coming to us through these mainstream sources were more or less verified. Sure, you could say there were voices that weren't heard or that it wasn't the entire side of a story, but nothing like the environment today."
There's the irony, though. That evolution of mediaas in, cutting out the gatekeepersisn't necessarily a bad thing. A prime example of social media serving as good a public service came in August of 2014 when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. The photo of Brown's body that circulated around the web spurred activists and independent media to jumpstart coverage on something the mainstream media struggled to document initially. And video streams of protests or other events from ordinary citizens on platforms like Facebook Live or Periscope can do what established news outlets can't, or won't.

As Pearce pointed out, the downside comes when entities that want to enter the ecosystem with news that's not only inaccurate but intended to blur the truth become players and prey on the ill-informedespecially when they're sponsored by a foreign government.
"It's a great time to be be RT or any sort of entity that wants to introduce information with a particular bias or bent into our system," Pearce said. "And it can do it very quickly, spread quickly, people are consuming it in different ways. Maybe it's the golden age of fake news."

Now that we've learned that Breitbart and Infowars have somehow figured into the FBI's counter-intelligence probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, I want to return to a topic we discussed late last summer and into the fall. At the time we saw a disconcerting pattern. Trump friends, associates and staffers would go on TV make some wild claim that no one had heard before. Then it would turn out that the only other place the story had appeared was on RT or SputnikNews or even some Russian language propaganda mill.

One example came in mid-August when campaign chief Paul Manafort went State of the Union with Jake Tapper told a story about how US troops at the NATO base at Incirlik, Turkey had been repeatedly attacked by terrorists. This was part of the campaign message of Obama weakness, which Trump could repair. The only problem was that nothing like this had happened. (This was relatively soon after the failed coup in Turkey.) So where had Manafort gotten this? It turned out that the only other publications which had reported anything remotely like this were RT and Sputnikness. Hayes Brown caught this at the time in Buzzfeed.

If you're of a conspiratorial mind you might say, wow, Russian disinformation and propaganda keeps ending in the mouths of top Trump staffers. That's kind of weird. Is Russia somehow supplying this disinformation directly to the Trump campaign? That seems a bit hard to figure. But as I explained in this post at the time, there was another explanation.
We know that at the time Donald Trump's Twitter feed, which was clearly where he got a lot of his information, was positively lousy with alt-right Twitter feeds, often of the harshest racist and neo-Nazi variety. The whole Trump crew, which was still fairly small at the time, was awash in this stuff. For whatever reason these streams were filled with stories from RT, Sputiknews and other rightist-European news sites which themselves often picked up stories.
Was rooted in ideological affinity? Were these streams being targeted by Russian propagandists? Or, important to consider, were these streams actually filled with "alt-right" Russian bots and sock-puppets presenting themselves feral Trumpers on Twitter? Who knows? But whatever the reason, if you spent a lot of time on alt-right Twitter (which we know Trump and his crew was) you'd see this stuff a lot.
Why were Trump surrogates always pitching Russian propaganda? Because it was filling their Twitter feeds. This was likely the main reason Trump kept getting in trouble for RT'ing tweets from notorious white supremacists.
The fact that these sites and their audiences were apparently targeted as vectors for spreading pro-Trump and anti-Hillary propaganda, although perhaps unwittingly, is probably the best explanation of why they're coming up in these probes.
But here's another thing to consider, something I knew nothing about at the time.
That Manafort interview above was on August 14th, 2016. We now know that only five days earlier top Trump foreign policy advisor Mike Flynn had signed a $500,000 deal to advocate for the Turkish government. He was actually retained by a Dutch firm, Inovo, owned by a Turkish-American business man Ekim Alptekin. But his job was to advocate for the Republic of Turkey, particularly its demand that the US extradite a Muslim cleric in exile in the US who the Erdogan government blamed for the coup.
I'd have to refresh my memory on all the ins and outs of that moment, whether this might have been something Flynn told Manafort, whether it might have seemed helpful to his advocacy. So this may have figured into this bizarre moment to. But the use of these far-right and alt-right sites as vectors for pro-Trump Russian propaganda was clear at the time. Little surprise that is being scrutinized today.

New documents released Thursday by the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee appear to show that ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn took money from three Russian companies, including the state-run RT news organization, prior to becoming an adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign.

Flynn, who spoke at RT's 10th anniversary gala in December 2015, told Yahoo News on July 18, 2016 that he had been paid for his appearance at the event by his speaker's bureau, Leading Authorities, Inc., and not by the Russian government.
In fact, according to documents provided to the House Oversight Committee and published by the ranking Democrat on that committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), RT paid the entirety of the $33,750 speaking fee to Flynn Intel Group, including additional travel expenses, in addition to a $11,250 commission for LAI, in November 2015. Additional documents show the speaker's bureau communicating directly, and coordinating payments with, a manager at RT.

A spokesperson for Flynn told the Wall Street Journal that he had notified the Defense Intelligence Agency of his RT appearance.
Cummings' documents also showed one $11,250 payment each to Flynn from Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, Inc. in July 2015.
Following the release of the documents, top Democrats on the House Oversight, Armed Services, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees called for an investigation of Flynn's compliance with the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
Retired military officers, they noted, are required to comply with the clause, which prohibits any person "holding an Office of Profit or Trust" from accepting without Congressional approval "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title" from a foreign leader or government. The letter also mentioned Flynn's recent declaration that he may have acted as a foreign agent, due to his employment by a Turkish-owned Dutch Company. Flynn said in his declaration that the work "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey."
The letter noted that a 2012 analysis from the CIA's Open Source Center said that RT was "created and financed by the Russian Government."
It said Volga-Dnepr was suspended as an approved United Nations vendor following "alleged inappropriate relationships" with a Russian official indicted for steering contracts in exchange for bribes. It quoted a Bloomberg Businessweek report that said Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, "was educated at a KGB-sponsored cryptography institute, then worked for military intelligence."
Its parent company, Kaspersky Lab, is the "top Russian cybersecurity company," and "the foremost researched uncovering Western government spyware for the past several years," according to the committee, quoting a Reuters report.

Heydar Aliyev Prospekti, a broad avenue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, connects the airport to the city. The road is meant to highlight Baku's recent modernization, and it is lined with sleek new buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Center, an undulating wave of concrete and glass, was designed by Zaha Hadid. The state oil company is housed in a twisting glass tower, and the headquarters of the state water company looks like a giant water droplet. "It's like Potemkin," my translator told me. "It's only the buildings right next to the road." Behind the gleaming structures stand decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, with clothes hanging out of windows and wallboards exposed by fallen brickwork.[/FONT]

[FONT=&amp]As you approach the city center, a tower at the end of the avenue looms in front of you. Thirty-three stories high and curved to resemble a sail, the building was clearly inspired by the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, but it is boxier and less elegant. When I visited Baku, in December, five enormous white letters glowed at the top of the tower: T-R-U-M-P.[/FONT]

[FONT=&amp]The building, a five-star hotel and residence called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, has never opened, though from the road it looks ready to welcome the public. Reaching the property is surprisingly difficult; the tower stands amid a welter of on-ramps, off-ramps, and overpasses. During the nine days I was in town, I went to the site half a dozen times, and on each occasion I had a comical exchange with a taxi-driver who had no idea which combination of turns would lead to the building's entrance.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The more time I spent in the neighborhood, the more I wondered how the hotel could have been imagined as a viable business. The development was conceived, in 2008, as a high-end apartment building. In 2012, after Donald Trump's company, the Trump Organization, signed multiple contracts with the Azerbaijani developers behind the project, plans were made to transform the tower into an "ultra-luxury property." According to a Trump Organization press release, a hotel with "expansive guest rooms" would occupy the first thirteen floors; higher stories would feature residences with "spectacular views of the city and Caspian Sea." For an expensive hotel, the Trump Tower Baku is in an oddly unglamorous location: the underdeveloped eastern end of downtown, which is dominated by train tracks and is miles from the main business district, on the west side of the city. Across the street from the hotel is a discount shopping center; the area is filled with narrow, dingy shops and hookah bars. Other hotels nearby are low-budget options: at the AYF Palace, most rooms are forty-two dollars a night. There are no upscale restaurants or shops. Any guests of the Trump Tower Baku would likely feel marooned.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The timing of the project was also curious. By 2014, when the Trump Organization publicly announced that it was helping to turn the tower into a hotel, a construction boom in Baku had ended, and the occupancy rate for luxury hotels in the city hovered around thirty-five per cent. Jan deRoos, of Cornell University, who is an expert in hotel finance, told me that the developer of a five-star hotel typically must demonstrate that the project will maintain an average occupancy rate of at least sixty per cent for ten years. There is a long-term master plan to develop the area around the Trump Tower Baku, but if it is implemented the hotel will be surrounded for years by noisy construction projects, making it even less appealing to travellers desiring a luxurious experienceespecially considering that there are many established hotels on the city's seaside promenade. There, an executive from ExxonMobil or the Israeli cell-phone industry can stay at the Four Seasons, which occupies a limestone building that evokes a French colonial palace, or at the J. W. Marriott Abershon Baku, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the water. Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, and Armani are among the dozens of companies that have boutiques along the promenade.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]A former top official in Azerbaijan's Ministry of Tourism says that, when he learned of the Trump hotel project, he asked himself, "Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country's wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world. Its President, Ilham Aliyev, the son of the former President Heydar Aliyev, recently appointed his wife to be Vice-President. Ziya Mammadov became the Transportation Minister in 2002, around the time that the regime began receiving enormous profits from government-owned oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. At the time of the hotel deal, Mammadov, a career government official, had a salary of about twelve thousand dollars, but he was a billionaire.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The Trump Tower Baku originally had a construction budget of a hundred and ninety-five million dollars, but it went through multiple revisions, and the cost ended up being much higher. The tower was designed by a local architect, and in its original incarnation it had an ungainly roof that suggested the spikes of a crown. A London-based architecture firm, Mixity, redesigned the building, softening its edges and eliminating the ornamental roof. By the time the Trump team officially joined the project, in May, 2012, many condominium residences had already been completed; at the insistence of Trump Organization staffers, most of the building's interior was gutted and rebuilt, and several elevators were added.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]After Donald Trump became a candidate for President, in 2015, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and other publications ran articles that raised questions about his involvement in the Baku project. These reports cited a series of cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009 and 2010, which were made public by WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, a U.S. diplomat described Ziya Mammadov as "notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan." The Trump Organization's chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told reporters that the Baku hotel project raised no ethical issues for Donald Trump, because his company had never engaged directly with Mammadov.[/FONT]
  • [*=center]
[FONT=&amp]According to Garten, Trump played a passive role in the development of the property: he was "merely a licensor" who allowed his famous name to be used by a company headed by Ziya Mammadov's son, Anar, a young entrepreneur. It's not clear how much money Trump made from the licensing agreement, although in his limited public filings he has reported receiving $2.8 million. (The Trump Organization shared documents that showed an additional payment of two and a half million dollars, in 2012, but declined to disclose any other payments.) Trump also had signed a contract to manage the hotel once it opened, for an undisclosed fee tied to the hotel's performance. The Washington Post published Garten's description of the deal, and reported that Donald Trump had "invested virtually no money in the project while selling the rights to use his name and holding the contract to manage the property."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]A month after Trump was elected President, Garten announced that the Trump Organization had severed its ties with the hotel project, describing the decision to CNN as little more than "housecleaning." I was in Baku at the time, and it had become clear that the Trump Organization's story of the hotel was incomplete and inaccurate. Trump's company had made the deal not just with Anar Mammadov but also with Ziya's brother Eltonan influential member of the Azerbaijani parliament. Elton signed the contracts, and in an interview he confirmed that he founded Baku XXI Century, the company that owns the Trump Tower Baku. When he was asked who owns Baku XXI Century, he called it a "commercial secret" but added that he "controlled all its operations" until 2015, when he cut ties to the company. Elton denied having used his political position for profit.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]An Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project revealed to me that the Trump Organization had not just licensed the family name; it also had signed a technical-services agreement in which it promised to help its partner meet Trump design standards. Technical-services agreements are often nominal addenda to licensing deals. Major hospitality brands compile exhaustive specifications for licensed hotels, and tend to approve design elements remotely; a foreign site is visited only occasionally. But in the case of Trump Tower Baku the oversight appears to have been extensive. The Azerbaijani lawyer told me, "We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organization. They approved the smallest details." He said that Trump staff visited Baku at least monthly to give the go-ahead for the next round of work orders. Trump designers went to Turkey to vet the furniture and fabrics acquired there. The hotel's main designer, Pierre Baillargeon, and several contractors told me that they had visited the Trump Organization headquarters, in New York, to secure approval for their plans.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Ivanka Trump was the most senior Trump Organization official on the Baku project. In October, 2014, she visited the city to tour the site and offer advice. An executive at Mace, the London-based construction firm that oversaw the tower's conversion to a hotel, met with Ivanka in Baku and New York. He told me, "She had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotellandscaping, everything." The Azerbaijani lawyer said, "Ivanka personally approved everything." A subcontractor noted that Ivanka's team was particular about wood panelling: it chose an expensive Macassar ebony, from Indonesia, for the ceiling of the lobby. The ballroom doors were to be made of book-matched panels of walnut. On her Web site, Ivanka posted a photograph of herself wearing a hard hat inside the half-completed hotel. A caption reads, "Ivanka has overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception, and she recently returned from a trip to the fascinating city in Azerbaijan to check in on the project's progress." (Ivanka Trump declined requests to discuss the Baku project.)[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Jan deRoos, the Cornell professor, developed branded-hotel properties before entering academia. He told me that the degree of the Trump Organization's involvement in the Baku property was atypical. "That's very, very intense," he said.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The sustained back-and-forth between the Trump Organization and the Mammadovs has legal significance. If parties involved in the Trump Tower Baku project participated in any illegal financial conduct, and if the Trump Organization exerted a degree of control over the project, the company could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. Tom Fox, a Houston lawyer who specializes in anti-corruption compliance, said, "It's a problem if you're making a profit off of someone else's corrupt conduct." Moreover, recent case law has established that licensors take on a greater legal burden when they assume roles normally reserved for developers. The Trump Organization's unusually deep engagement with Baku XXI Century suggests that it had the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor it for corruption.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Before signing a deal with a foreign partner, American companies, including major hotel chains, conduct risk assessments and background checks that take a close look at the country, the prospective partner, and the people involved. Countless accounting and law firms perform this service, as do many specialized investigation companies; a baseline report normally costs between ten thousand and twenty-five thousand dollars. A senior executive at one of the largest American hotel chains, who asked for anonymity because he feared reprisal from the Trump Administration, said, "We wouldn't look at due diligence as a burden. There certainly is a cost to doing it, especially in higher-risk places. But it's as much an investment in the protection of that brand. It's money well spent."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization had commissioned a risk assessment for the Baku deal, but declined to name the company that had performed it. The Washington Post article on the Baku project reported that, according to Garten, the Trump Organization had undertaken "extensive due diligence" before making the hotel deal and had not discovered "any red flags."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force. In 2008, the year that the tower was announced, Ziya Mammadov, in his role as Transportation Minister, awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company. Keyumars Darvishi, its chairman, fought in the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, he became the head of Raman, an Iranian construction firm that is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. government has regularly accused the Guard of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, sponsoring terrorism abroad, and money laundering. Reuters recently reported that the Trump Administration was poised to officially condemn the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]I asked Garten how deeply the Trump Organization had looked into the Mammadov family's political connections. Had it been concerned that Elton Mammadov, as a sitting member of parliament, might exploit his power to benefit the project? How much money had Ziya Mammadov invested in Elton's company? Garten noted that he didn't oversee the due-diligence process. "The people who did are no longer at the company," he said. "I can't tell you what was done in this situation." He would not identify the former employees. When I asked him to provide documentation of due diligence, he said that he couldn't share it with me, because "it's confidential and privileged."[/FONT]
[Image: 170313_r29543_rd-690.jpg]A 2014 Instagram post of Ivanka Trump at the Baku tower.[FONT=&amp]Photo Illustration by The New Yorker[/FONT][FONT=&amp]No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner's corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the "head in the sand" loophole.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]As a result, American companies must examine potential foreign partners very carefully before making deals with them. I recently spoke with Alexandra Wrage, who runs Trace International, a consortium of three hundred corporations that do business overseas. Trace helps these firms avoid violating the F.C.P.A., and it has a division that can be hired by individual clients to assess potential foreign partners. To comply with the law, Wrage noted, an American company must remain vigilant even after a contract is signed, monitoring its foreign partner to be sure that nobody involved is engaging in bribery or other improprieties.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Wrage pointed out that corrupt government leaders often use their children or their siblings to distance themselves from illicit projects. Such an official creates a company in the relative's name which appears to be independent but is controlled by the official. To lessen the likelihood of an F.C.P.A. violation when working with a company that is owned by a child or a sibling of a government minister, Wrage told me, "you'd need to show that the child has real expertise, real ability to do the work." Otherwise, Wrage said, "the assumption is that they are a partner entirely because of their ability to use their parent's power." Before Elton Mammadov became a member of parliament, in 2000, he was a maintenance engineer who had no experience in real-estate development. When the Trump Organization joined the Baku project, it barred a Mammadov-owned company from doing construction work, because it was deemed incompetent.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Wrage said that a U.S. company looking to make a deal with a foreign partner should be confident that the partner has a reasonable likelihood of making a profit from the venture. If the project seems almost guaranteed to lose money, it could well be a bribery scheme or some other criminal operation. The partner also should uphold modern accounting standards.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]"It's simple," she said. "Will money flow through this business because it offers a compelling product at a decent price, or will the money come because of an illicit relationship with someone who uses their power?"[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Wrage told me that, in 2009, an American entrepreneur was successfully prosecuted for his part in a corruption conspiracy in Azerbaijan. Frederic Bourke, the co-founder of Dooney & Bourke, the handbag company, had invested in a project in which a foreign partner paid bribes to Azerbaijani government officials and their family members. Bourke was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the F.C.P.A.; he appealed the conviction, claiming ignorance of the corruption. Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction, saying that, regardless of whether he had known about the bribes, "the testimony at trial demonstrated that Bourke was aware of how pervasive corruption was in Azerbaijan." The F.C.P.A., they said, also criminalized "conscious avoidance"a deliberate effort to remain in the dark about any transgressions a foreign partner might be involved in. After Bourke's conviction, Wrage said, U.S. companies were well aware of the dangers of making careless deals in Azerbaijan.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Even a cursory look at the Mammadovs suggests that they are not ideal partners for an American business. Four years before the Trump Organization announced the Baku deal, WikiLeaks released the U.S. diplomatic cables indicating that the family was corrupt; one cable mentioned the Mammadovs' link to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigated the Mammadov family's corruption and published well-documented exposés. Six months before the hotel announcement, Foreign Policy ran an article titled "The Corleones of the Caspian," which suggested that the Mammadovs had exploited Ziya's position as Transportation Minister to make their fortunes.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation revealed that Baku XXI Century, the company controlled by Elton, had at least two other stakeholders. One of them was a company called zqan, an acronym for the family members of the Transportation Minister: Ziya Mammadov; Qanira, his wife; Anar, his son; and Nigar, his daughter. Anar is the official head of zqan. Another stakeholder in Baku XXI Century was the Baghlan Group, a company run by an Azerbaijani businessman who is known to be close to Ziya Mammadov.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Baku XXI Century, zqan, and Baghlan have so many overlapping interests that they often seem to operate as a single concern. According to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation, the companies all prospered largely through contracts with the Transportation Ministry. The Trump Tower Baku complex was built partly on land controlled by the ministry. A Baghlan subsidiary received a contract from the ministry to import a thousand London-style cabs to Baku. Soon afterward, ministry inspectors began preventing competing taxi services from parking in the city center or at subway stops. Another new rule required all taxi owners to pay taxes and license fees at the Bank of Azerbaijan, a private entity that at the time was owned jointly by Anar Mammadov and Baghlan.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Anar's net worth has been estimated at a billion dollars, but he is not a self-made man. According to the Associated Press, zqan was founded in 2000, when he was in his late teens. He began studying in England that year, and remained there until 2005; during that period, the company that he ostensibly ran experienced explosive growth. Trump Organization officials, as well as others familiar with the Baku project, told me that during the tower's construction Anar was barely involved, and was often travelling abroad. (He flies on a Gulfstream G450 private jet.) An American who did business in Azerbaijan told me, "It's common knowledge there that Ziya Mammadov controls zqan."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]One of the cables sent in 2010 by the U.S. Embassy in Baku noted that, "with so much of the nation's oil wealth being poured into road construction," the Mammadovs had become disproportionately powerful in Azerbaijan. Another cable suggested that Ziya controlled zqan, the country's "largest commercial development company." This cable described Ziya as being the object of "many allegations from Azerbaijani contacts of creative corrupt practices."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Much of the land occupied by the Trump Tower Baku complex was once packed with houses. In 2011, residents received letters from the local government authority informing them that their homes were to be demolished to make way for a project of crucial government significance. Thirty families were evicted. One resident, Minaye Azizova, told me that the government gave her eighteen thousand dollars in compensation for a home that, by her estimation, was worth five times as much. After she discovered that her home had been condemned so that Baku XXI Century could build a luxury tower, she sued the government.[/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]Construction of the building began in 2008. I have spoken with more than a dozen contractors who worked on it. Some of them described behavior that seemed nakedly corrupt. Frank McDonald, an Englishman who has had a long career doing construction jobs in developing countries, performed extensive work on the building's interior. He told me that his firm was always paid in cash, and that he witnessed other contractors being paid in the same way. At the offices of Anar Mammadov's company, he said, "they would give us a giant pile of cash," adding, "I got a hundred and eighty thousand dollars one time, which I fit into my laptop bag, and two hundred thousand dollars another time." Once, a colleague of his picked up a payment of two million dollars. "He needed to bring a big duffelbag," McDonald recalled. The Azerbaijani lawyer confirmed that some contractors on the Baku tower were paid in cash.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Two people who worked on the Trump Tower Baku told me that bribes were paid. Much of the graft was routine: Azerbaijani tax officials, government inspectors, and customs officers showed up occasionally to pick up envelopes of cash.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The executive at Mace, the construction firm, told me that the Mammadovs handled payments and all interactions with the Azerbaijani government. "Were people bribed?" he said. "I don't know. Maybe. We didn't check." (A spokesman for Mace said that the firm was "not involved" in any corruption.)[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Pierre Baillargeon, the architect whom the Mammadovs hired to alter the tower's original design, is a Canadian who runs a studio in London. He has often worked in parts of the world known for corruption, including Sudan and Syria, and has done several projects in Azerbaijan. In a phone interview, Baillargeon said that he knew nothing about corruption and was "just a designer." I asked him why he thought the hotel had been built in such an inhospitable part of Baku. "Every project has detractors," he said. When I asked him if he had seen large payments being made in cash, he hung up. (He did not respond to later calls.)[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Alan Garten, the Trump Organization lawyer, did not deny that there was corruption involved in the project. "I'm not going to sit here and defend the Mammadovs," he said. But, from a legal standpoint, he argued, the Trump Organization was blameless. In his opinion, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act doesn't apply to the Baku deal, even if corruption occurred. "We didn't own it," he said of the hotel. "We had no equity. We didn't control the project. The flow of funds is in the wrong direction." He added, "We did not pay any money to anyone. Therefore, it could not be a violation of the F.C.P.A."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]"No, that's just wrong," Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in the F.C.P.A., said. "You can't go into business deals in Azerbaijan assuming that you are immune from the F.C.P.A." She added, "Nor can you escape liability by looking the other way. The entire Baku deal is a giant red flagthe direct involvement of foreign government officials and their relatives in Azerbaijan with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Tillipman explained that the F.C.P.A. defines corruption as "the payment of money or anything of value" to a foreign official. Last year, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay two hundred and sixty-four million dollars to settle charges that it had violated the F.C.P.A.; the bank had given jobs and internships to relatives and friends of government officials in Asia. Tillipman, along with several other F.C.P.A. experts, told me that the Trump Organization had clearly provided things of value in the Baku deal: its famous brand, its command of the luxury market, its extensive technical advice.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]In May, 2012, the month the Baku deal was finalized, the F.C.P.A. was evidently on Donald Trump's mind. In a phone-in appearance on CNBC, he expressed frustration with the law. "Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do," he said. "It's a horrible law and it should be changed." If American companies refused to give bribes, he said, "you'll do business nowhere." He continued, "There is one answergo to your room, close the door, go to sleep, and don't do any deals, because that's the only way. The only way you're going to do it is the other way."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]It is unclear how the Trump Administration plans to approach F.C.P.A. enforcement. Jay Clayton, Trump's choice to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, co-authored a paper in 2011 arguing that American companies were at a severe disadvantage because of the U.S. government's "singular strategy of zealous enforcement." But Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that he will continue to uphold the F.C.P.A.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]After 9/11, prosecuting financial corruption acquired new political importance. The C.I.A. and other intelligence services came to believe that preventing illicit money from flowing through the global financial system was a necessary tactic in preventing future terrorist attacks, and the U.S. led an international effort to enforce financial transparency. Banks and other financial entities were required to vet their clients aggressively and to report any suspicious activity. Prosecutions for money laundering, bribery, and other financial crimes rose significantly. In 2000, the government launched three prosecutions under the F.C.P.A. Last year, it initiated fifty-four.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Investigators of financial fraud like to say that government corruption, money laundering, and other illicit behavior often form a "nexus" with even more troubling activity, such as financing terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. This appears to be true in the Baku deal. As the Mammadovs were preparing to build the tower, the family patriarch, Ziya, was cementing his financial relationship with the Darvishis, the Iranian family with ties to the country's Revolutionary Guard.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]At least three Darvishisthe brothers Habil, Kamal, and Keyumarsappear to be associates of the Guard. In Farsi press accounts, Habil, who runs the Tehran Metro Company, is referred to as a sardar, a term for a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guard. A cable sent on March 6, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Baku described Kamal as having formerly run "an alleged Revolutionary Guard-controlled business in Iran." The company, called Nasr, developed and acquired instruments, guidance systems, and specialty metals needed to build ballistic missiles. In 2007, Nasr was sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in Iran's effort to develop nuclear missiles.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The cable said that Kamal and Keyumars were frequent visitors to Azerbaijan; Kamal had recently established "a close business relationship/friendship" with Ziya Mammadov, and, with Mammadov's assistance, had been awarded "at least eight major road construction and rehabilitation contracts, including contracts for construction of the Baku-Iranian Astara highway." (Keyumars also seems to have been involved in these deals.) The cable added, "We assume Mammedov [sic] is a silent partner in these contracts."[/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]Iran has two militaries. The Iranian Army is a conventional force whose mission is to protect the country. The Revolutionary Guard is an independent force of about a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, whose duty is to protect the country's Islamic system and to preserve the power of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard has its own air force and navy, and it has a unit known as the Quds Force, which the United States has identified as a major supporter of Hezbollah and other international terrorist groups. The Guard has developed a shadow economy within Iran to fund its activities and expand its power. It controls all official border crossings and runs several unofficial ports, solely for its own use. The Revolutionary Guard smuggles into the country everything from consumer goods blocked by sanctions to drugs. It also owns seemingly legitimate companies in construction, energy, telecommunications, auto manufacturing, and banking. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Guard is linked "to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of companies that appear to be private in nature but are run by [Revolutionary Guard] veterans."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]J. Matthew McInnis, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who served as a consultant to Michael Flynn when Flynn was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told me that owners of Revolutionary Guard-related businesses often become rich. But there is a catch: from time to time, they should expect to be asked to serve the needs of the Guard. "When the Revolutionary Guard says, We need to move some illicit stuff,' or We need new parts for our missiles,' they reach out to these guys," McInnis explained. "It's a soft network that can do all sorts of things that are very hard to trace."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Keyumars Darvishi once ran Raman, a construction firm that is owned by the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation. According to the United Nations, the foundation is a major financial arm of the Revolutionary Guard. Keyumars left Raman to run Azarpassillo, the putatively independent construction company that received multiple road contracts in Azerbaijan. According to Azarpassillo's Web site, it was incorporated in 2008. In recent years, Keyumars has also served as the acting director of the Tehran Metro Company, filling in for his brother Habil.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a political scientist at Syracuse University, who studies the political, economic, and military élite of Iran, said, "It looks like Azarpassillo is a front organization for the Revolutionary Guard." He found it inconceivable that Keyumars Darvishi, after working for years in a company controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, would quit, raise large amounts of capital on his own, and then become the head of a fully independent company that competed against Revolutionary Guard fronts for contracts. Khatam Al-Anbia, an Iranian construction giant that is controlled by the Guard and is under U.S. sanctions, has subcontracted Azarpassillo on at least two major infrastructure projects in Iran. The Tehran Metro Company is also involved in both projects. McInnis told me, "If you see a connection with Khatam Al-Anbia, you would assume the connections to the Revolutionary Guard are there. The suspicion of Azarpassillo being a front company is certainly worth investigating. It would fit a normal pattern."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization checks to see if potential Trump partners are on "watch lists and sanctions lists," and that the company knew nothing of Ziya Mammadov's relationship to the Darvishis until 2015, when it learned that "certain principals associated with the developer may have had some association with some problematic entities." And yet, by that point, the U.S. Embassy cables had been online for four years. Garten insisted that the Trump Organization still has no idea if the association between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis is real, or if it's simply an allegation "spread by the media." I recently spoke with Allison Melia, who until 2015 was one of the C.I.A.'s lead analysts of Iran's economy; she now works for the Crumpton Group, a strategic advisory firm whose services include conducting due diligence for companies. She told me that her team could have compiled a dossier on the Mammadovs and their connection to the Revolutionary Guard in "a couple of days." She said that any reputable investigative firm conducting a risk assessment would have advised a U.S. company to avoid a deal with a family connected to the Revolutionary Guard.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The U.S. has imposed various sanctions on Iran since the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. In recent years, U.S. and international efforts have focussed on isolating Iran from the global financial system, in order to prevent it from funding terrorist groups and contributing to worldwide instability. In 2015, the U.N., spurred by the Obama Administration, reached an agreement with Iran, and lifted some sanctions in return for a slowdown of the country's nuclear program. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, many sanctions against Iran remain in effect, because of the country's "support for terrorism, its human-rights abuses, its interference in specified countries in the region, and its missile and advanced-conventional-weapons programs." In December, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives imposed additional sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and its associated businesses.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]American companies must insure that they are not receiving funds that originated with any sanctioned entity. Ignorance is not a defense, especially if there is ample warning that a foreign partner could have a link to such an entity. Most firms, upon hearing of even a slight chance of Iranian involvement, conduct due diligence that is much more extensive than what is typical for F.C.P.A. compliance. Erich Ferrari, an attorney who specializes in sanctions-related legal cases, said that before the Trump Organization cashed any checks it should have been certain of "the source of the funds""not only the bank it was remitted from but how the Mammadovs actually earned the money they paid." He said of the Baku deal, "It takes a lot to shock a lawyer, but I've had very few clients do so little due diligence."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The nexus between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis suggests both opportunism and desperation. Ziya Mammadov is sixty-four, and in recent years the family's position in Azerbaijan has begun to weaken. President Aliyev has systematically isolated, and then fired, longtime members of the regime in order to make way for his own cronies. From 2008 to 2014, Ziya Mammadov, perhaps fearing his ejection from political office, vastly increased his personal wealth.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]During the same period, mounting international sanctions made it far more difficult for Iran to sell oil abroad, receive foreign funds, and import products. International banks became increasingly reluctant to accept funds from businesses owned by the Revolutionary Guard, severely limiting its ability to support allies such as Hezbollah and the Syrian government. At a moment when Iran was struggling to find ways to send money outside the country, Keyumars Darvishi joined Azarpassillo and began making one deal after another in Azerbaijan.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Ziya Mammadov apparently had complete discretion with regard to Azarpassillo's projects. On April 6, 2007, Anne Derse, then the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, wrote in a cable that Charles Redman, at the time a senior vice-president for the American construction firm Bechtel, had recently met with Ziya Mammadov. Redman was looking for business, and knew that Azerbaijan was planning several major new roads. Bechtel could build them, he said, at an average cost of six million dollars per kilometre. Mammadov complained to him that this was too expensive. Bechtel ended up building nothing. Instead, much of the roadwork was done by Azarpassilloat a much higher cost. According to a 2012 report by Azerbaijan's Center for Economic and Social Development, an independent think tank, road construction during Mammadov's tenure was "the most expensive in the world," costing an average of eighteen million dollars per kilometre. (Derse declined to comment; Redman did not respond to e-mails.)[/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]The available evidence strongly suggests that Ziya Mammadov conspired with an agent of the Revolutionary Guard to make overpriced deals that would enrich them both while allowing them to flout prohibitions against money laundering and to circumvent sanctions against Iran. Based on Ziya Mammadov's past, it seems reasonable to assume that his main motive was profit. Like most Azerbaijanis, he is a secular Shiite Muslim, and he has no known ties to hard-line factions in Iran. Why did the Darvishis want to work with the Mammadovs? It might have caught their attention that the Mammadovs had their own private bankone that had unfettered access to the global financial system.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]While Azarpassillo was making deals with the Transportation Ministry, the Mammadovs were investing heavily in a series of large construction projects. Money launderers love construction projects. They attract legitimate funds from governments and private investors, and they require frequent payouts to legitimate subcontractors: cement factories, lumberyards, glass manufacturers, craftsmen. In the Trump Tower Baku project, money was going in and out of the U.S., the United Kingdom, Turkey, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries. With such projects, it can be exceedingly difficult to detect the spread of illicit funds.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]At the same time, the Mammadovs' money was flowing through holding companies in offshore banking centers. According to leaked documents in the Panama Papers, companies controlled by the family have opened accounts in such places as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and Panama. The shell companies that list Mammadovs as beneficiaries or officers have bland names such as Trans-European Leasing Group and 1st Rate Investment, and many of them are owned by other shell companies.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]In 2009, a year after Baku XXI Century began building the tower, the company opened the Baku International Bus Terminal, an enormous station that includes a shopping mall and a hotel. During this period, the Mammadov family also began building a hotel, a golf course, and a spa in the mountains north of Baku.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Meanwhile, the Mammadovs spent lavishly on themselves. Ziya built a mansion in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Baku, and, on the beach, a villa whose walls are decorated to resemble ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs. Elton's son, Aynar, became famous for having a collection of expensive cars, including a Ferrari, a Maserati, and a Lamborghini. Anar began using the Gulfstream G450, which typically costs forty-one million dollars, and bought a seven-bedroom home in London. He also spent millions of dollars on an effort to promote Azerbaijan in Washington, D.C., hosting galas for members of Congress and other powerful figures. A former associate of the Trump Organization told me that in 2012, on one of Anar's trips to America, he visited Trump Tower, in New York, to meet with Donald Trump and company executives. (The Trump Organization would not confirm the visit.) Around this time, the contracts for the Baku project were issued.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Between 2004 and 2014, Mammadov family businesses spent more than half a billion dollars on large construction projects. They also poured money into a major construction-materials company, an insurance firm, and a new headquarters. It's not clear how the Mammadovs funded such enormous investments while spending so much on themselves. They may have received loans, or secretly owned profitable businesses that supported the flurry of spending. Another explanation is that some of the investment money came from the Revolutionary Guard, through Azarpassillo.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Calls and e-mails to Azarpassillo, the Iranian Mission to the U.N., and the Azerbaijani government were not returned. Ziya and Anar Mammadov did not respond to requests for comment. Donald Trump has not addressed the Baku deal since becoming President. A Department of Justice spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of its investigating the Trump Tower Baku deal. The White House declined to comment.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]If, as Alan Garten told me, the Trump Organization learned in 2015 about "the possibility" that the Mammadovs had ties to the Revolutionary Guard, it is striking that the company did not end the Baku deal until December, 2016. During this period, Garten told me, the Trump Organization never asked its Azerbaijani partners about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but it did send several default notices for late payments.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Throughout the Presidential campaign, Trump was in business with someone that his company knew was likely a partner with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In a March, 2016, speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said that his "No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." Calling Iran the "biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world," he promised, "We will work to dismantle that reachbelieve me, believe me." In the speech, Trump lamented that Iran had been allowed to develop new long-range ballistic missiles. According to Iran Watch, an organization that monitors Iran's military capabilities, much of the technology to make the missiles was provided by Nasr, the company once run by Kamal Darvishi.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]I asked Garten why the Trump Organization hadn't cancelled the Baku contract in 2015. He said that there was "no rush," because "the project had already stalled and was showing no signs of moving forward." The Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project has seen the hotel's interior, and told me that it is almost finished. In an interview with the magazine Baku, published in April, 2015, Ivanka Trump said that she was eager to enjoy the hotel's "huge spa area," and promised that the hotel would open "in June."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Moreover, Garten said, the Trump Organization had signed binding contracts with the Mammadovs and couldn't simply abandon its agreements. But Jessica Tillipman, the law-school assistant dean, told me, "You can't violate sanctions just because you have a contract with someone." According to Erich Ferrari, the lawyer who specializes in sanctions, companies that learn of a possible sanctions violation typically commission a "look-back" investigation that "reviews all payments you received, to make sure they didn't originate with a sanctioned entity." He added, "All the big four accounting companies do them routinely." The Trump Organization did not commission a look-back.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The Baku deal appears to be the second time that the Trump Organization has turned a blind eye to U.S. efforts to sanction Iran. In 1998, when Donald Trump purchased the General Motors Building, in Manhattan, he inherited as a tenant Iran's Bank Melli. The following year, the Treasury Department listed Bank Melli as an institution that was "owned or controlled" by the government of Iran and that was covered by U.S. sanctions. (The department later labelled Bank Melli one of the primary financial institutions through which Iran was funnelling money to finance terrorism and to develop weapons of mass destruction.) The Trump Organization kept Bank Melli as a tenant for four more years before terminating the lease.[/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]The Baku project is hardly the only instance in which the Trump Organization has been associated with a controversial deal. The Trump Taj Mahal casino, which opened in Atlantic City in 1990, was repeatedly fined for violating anti-money-laundering laws, up until its collapse, late last year. According to ProPublica, Trump projects in India, Uruguay, Georgia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have involved government officials or people with close ties to powerful political figures. A few years ago, the Trump Organization abandoned a project in Beijing after its Chinese partner became embroiled in a corruption scandal. In December, the Trump Organization withdrew from a hotel project in Rio de Janeiro after it was revealed to be part of a major bribery investigation. Ricardo Ayres, a Brazilian state legislator, told Bloomberg, "It's curious that the Trumps didn't seem to know that their biggest deal in Brazil was bankrolled by shady investors." But, given the Trump Organization's track record, it seems reasonable to ask whether one of the things it was selling to foreign partners was a willingness to ignore signs of corruption.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]To this day, the Trump Organization has not provided satisfying answers to the most basic questions about the Baku deal: who owns Baku XXI Century, the company with which they signed the contracts; the origin of the funds with which Baku XXI Century paid the Trump Organization; whether the Mammadovs used their political power to benefit themselves and the Trump Organization; and whether the Mammadovs used money obtained from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to fund the Trump Tower Baku.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]At one point, Garten allowed me to review the Trump Organization's original contract with the Mammadovs. It authorizes the company to order an independent audit of Baku XXI Century's financial records at any timea provision likely included to insure that the Mammadovs didn't hide profits that were supposed to be shared with the Trump Organization. Such an audit could well have exposed illicit activity. Garten refused to say if an audit had been conducted.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]In dealing with the Mammadovs, the Trump Organization seems to have taken them entirely at their word. Garten pointed me to a provision in one contract in which Anar Mammadov represented himself as the sole owner of Baku XXI Century. Given that Elton Mammadov told me that he controlled the company, and that its ownership was a "commercial secret," what proof did the Trump Organization have that Anar's claim was true? Garten could not say.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Garten has been the company's chief legal officer only since January. His predecessor was Jason Greenblatt, whose name appeared on the contract I reviewed. Greenblatt was in charge of the Trump Organization's due diligence and contracting work. He is now employed at the White House, as the President's special representative for international negotiations. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]In recent months, American officials have expressed concern that Trump Administration figures might be blackmailed by foreign entities. U.S. law-enforcement investigators and congressional staffers have probed claims that Russian government officials possess compromising information about President Trump, which might be used to blackmail him. (The President maintains that there is no such information.) In January, the Department of Justice informed the White House that Michael Flynnthen the national-security adviserwas vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians because he had lied about having spoken with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn subsequently resigned.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]In Azerbaijan, the power and the influence of the Mammadovs has declined sharply. Elton lost his seat in parliament in 2015. In February, Ziya was abruptly removed from his ministry. Anar has settled in London, an associate of his told me, and is living on a fraction of his former wealth. Meanwhile, in Iran, government officials are likely facing additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If the Mammadovs or powerful Iranians have evidence that the Trump Organization broke laws, they might be tempted to exploit it.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]The best way to determine if a crime was committed in the Baku deal would be a federal investigation, which could use the power of subpoena and international legal tools to obtain access to the contracts, the due diligence, internal e-mails, and financial documents. The Department of Justice routinely sends investigators to other countries to pursue possible F.C.P.A. and sanctions violations.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, said, in an e-mail, that a federal investigation was warranted: "The Trump Organization's Baku project shows the lack of extreme vetting' Mr. Trump applied to his own business dealings in corruption-plagued regimes around the globe. . . . Congressand the Trump Administration itselfhas a duty to examine whether the President or his family is exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, money laundering, and other imprudent associations through their business holdings and connections."[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization's seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he laughed. "No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached," he said. ♦[/FONT]
72 Paths to Putin

I started writing this because I thought it was important to have a clear understand of what the hell is going on with the Trump Russia connections. Some of these are just rumors or probably mean nothing (1, 22, 25, 31) but the sheer number of Russian mobsters who have lived at Trump tower and the fact that 4 people have had to resign over connections to Putin is alarming.
Honestly the discovery that surprised me the most is the Abramoff connection. I'm beginning to think that the Russians partnered with the Republican party in the 1990s to build an alliance for reasons not yet known.

  1. His son in Law is Jared Kushner, the former owner of the Observer. The Observer received the DNC hacks from Guccifer 2.0 who is rumored to be a Russian agent.
  2. Jared Kushner's parents were friends with Netanyahu. He has forged an alliance with Putin.
  3. His Chief Strategist is Steve Bannon. Bannon is the CEO of Breitbart, with the Mercer family having majority ownership. The Mercers, along with Bannon are heavily involved in Cambridge Analytica a data gathering firm. Cambridge Analytica's parent company is SCL Group, which lists Dmitry Firtash as a board member. Breitbart and Bannon have extensive ties to the far right movement in Europe which is also funded by Putin.
  4. His second campaign manager is Paul Manafort. He had to resign in August due to having questionable Russian ties like Dmitry Firtash and the former Ukrainian President. Manafort lives in Trump tower, along with Kellyanne Conway and her husband.
  5. Mike McSherry, former Delegate strategist for the Trump campaign also lobbied for the same Ukrainian presidential candidate as Paul Manafort.
  6. Rick Gates, Manaforts top aide also lobbied for Pro-Putin Ukrainian candidate.
  7. Per Politico, Manafort met with Konstantin Kilimnik multiple times during the campaign. The first time appears to be in April, maybe when Trump gave that speech? Kilimnik is thought to be part of Russian intelligence.
  8. They worked Oleg Deripaska on investment funds in Ukraine.
  9. Firtash worked with Russian Mob Semion Moglivech boss to help Gazprom oversee Natural Gas distribution to Ukraine.
  10. Trump advisor J.D. Gordon is claiming that he was the advisor who had the Ukraine language softened at the Republican National Convention, at the request of Donald Trump
  11. Kellyanne Conway's husband has business dealings with the Russian government and deleted tweets about it once Conway was chosen. (Conway, Bannon, and the Mercers are part of the "Council on National Policy" a secretive far right think tank group.
  12. Trump sold his condo to Dmitry Rybolovev, whose private plane keeps showing up where Trump is. Rybolovev is a Russian billionaire with ties to Putin.
  13. There is a Pro-Russian Think tank called the Center for the National Interest (CNI). CNI Board Member Henry Kissinger, former US Diplomat and current Putin confidante, has gotten close to Trump.
  14. Kissinger suggested both Tillerson and KT McFarland to Trump.
  15. Secretary of State Tillerson has many Russian business dealings through Exxon with Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft.
  16. The Dossier Christopher Steele created said that Igor Sechin along with Oleg Orovinkin were working on a deal to sell 19.5% of Rosneft to Trump in exchange for dropping sanctions. This deal relied on Carter Page, who resigned as a Trump advisor in September. After the election, a 19.5% deal went through, Oleg Orovkin was found dead in his car and the guy behind the Russian Hacking was arrested for treason in Russia.Ca
  17. The Rosneft deal is linked to Trump through a vast network of holding companies. The 19.5% was through a Singapore company using Caymans offshore accounts. QHG shares was the holding company of the 19.5% sale. QHG's disclosure form stated that it used to be called CATALPO PTE, but no such company existed. Perhaps they did that to confuse people. Anyways, a company with the same information called CATALPA PTE did exist though. Catalpa shared an address with the Intertrust Group. Intertrust's filing shows an affiliation with Walkers Global which is the affiliation used to incorporate QHG. Intertrust is owned by the Blackstone Group. If that name seems familiar, it is because Blackstone CEO is Stephen Schwarzman, one of Trump's senior economic advisors. Uncovered thanks to this amazing Twitter user
  18. The Blackstone Group was cofounded by Stephen Schwarzman and CNI Board Member Peter Peterson.
  19. The Dossier also claims Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to meet with Russians, which he denied. Recently, it came out that he was working with Felix Sater to broker a Ukrainian-Russia peace deal. Cohen, Sater, and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andreii Artemenko sat down for dinner to discuss Ukraine, Russia, and sanctions.
  20. Alex Oronov, working with Cohen and Artemenko, developed the plan which they planned on leaving on Michael Flynn's desk until he had to resign. Oronov mysteriously died at the beginning of March.
  21. Felix Sater claimed to be a Senior Advisor to Trump , which Trump claimed not to remember. Sater had his own office in Trump Tower. Sater has been connected to organized crime and his father is in the Russian Mafia
  22. To finance Trump SoHo, the Bayrock Group formed a tax evading partnership with Icelandic FL-Group. Trump had to sign off on this deal.
  23. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross invested 500 million in the Bank of Cyprus and is on the board of directors. This is where Putin launders his money. Dmitry Rybolovev (7) is the largest shareholder at this bank, and another Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg is the second largest shareholder.
  24. Deutsche Bank, under Ackerman was the only bank willing to loan money to Trump after he declared bankruptcy four times. Josef Ackerman left Deutche Bank to join the Bank of Cyprus after Wilber Ross engineered his takeover.
  25. Putin's propaganda news station Russia Today has frequently had Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Sebastian Gorka on it.
  26. Carter Page was named as a foreign policy advisor because Jeff sessions Chief of Staff, Rick Dearborn found him.
  27. Stephen Miller is Jeff Sessions former aide and is friends with Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. Spencer has ties to European far right groups and was married to a Russian Propaganda mouthpiece with ties to Stephen Bannon.
  28. Trump friend Roger Stone is in contact with Julian Assange who runs WikiLeaks, who also hacked the DNC and provided leaks to Russia today. Stone is also partner in a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort
  29. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is the sister of mercenary Erik Prince. Erik Prince is running all over the world helping dictators suppress Muslims. He is a Breitbart contributor, a Pence supporter and a Trump advisor.
  30. Prince also used to work for House Rep Dana Rohrabacker, also known as Putin's Favorite Congressman and one time considered to be Trumps secretary of State.
  31. Prince is connected to John Ashcroft through Constellis Holdings, as Constellis owns Princes old company, Blackwater. Ashcroft has defended Lord of War Victor Bout, a Russian connected to Igor Sechin.
  32. Vadim Trincher, who lived in Trump tower ran a gambling ring out of Trump tower on behalf of Russian mafia don Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov.
  33. Preet Bhahara was fired by the President yesterday, along with the other U.S. Attorneys in what is a common move when a new party take power. The odd thing is that Trump had previously asked him stay on. Bhahara is the Attorney responsible for putting Victor Bout and the Russian gambling ring in jail. He also prosecuted one Russian for drug trafficking, a dozen Russian spies, and a Russian Banker. 3 days before being fired, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington requested that he investigate Trump Tower.
  34. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn violated the Logan Act by discussing lifting sanctions with The Russian Ambassador pre-inauguration. He also met with Austrian Neo-Nazis working with Putin.
  35. Trump Tower housed an office of Alfa Bank which had a private server communicating with companies like Spectrum Health, which lists members of the Devos Family as Board Members.
  36. Richard Burt, a Republican Lobbyist and CNI Board Member sat on the board of Alfa Bank. He worked for the Trump Campaign while lobbying for Russian State owned Gazprom
  37. In recent years, Gazprom has hired the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs to lobby for it. Lobbyist and Trump supporter Jack Kingston visited Russia the same week as former Gazprom lobbyist Carter page. Totally a coincidence.
  38. Trump threw Miss Universe with Putin-Connected Oligarch Aras Agalorov and had Alex Sapir/Rotem Rosen as guests
  39. Alex Sapir is the son of Tamir Sapir, and they own condos in Trump tower. Sapir and his organization partnered with Bayrock on plenty of Trump condo projects. Alex's sister married Rotem Rosen, a former lieutenant for Lev Leviev
  40. The Bayrock Group was founded by Tevfik Araf, and housed in Trump Tower. Araf hired Felix Sater as his C.O.O.
  41. Michael Caputo, who helped run Trump's NY primary, lived in Russia in the 90's and was Contracted by Gazprom to improve Russia's image in the United States.
  42. Michael Caputo works for Trump apologist Chris Collins now, and learned everything he knew from Roger Stone.
  43. Ivanka Trump is close friends with Putin's rumored girlfriend Wendi Deng.
  44. Ivanka is also close with Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich and his wife. Here is a photo of them together (also with Wendi Deng) Abramovich owns the steel company building the pipelines recently approved
  45. The Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin died on 2/20. He invited Trump to Russia in 1986.
  46. Lev Leviev is a Putin friend. Not only has he had multiple business dealings with Jared Kushner and the Bayrock group (Felix Sater and Tamir Kapir) but he also works with Netanyahu on settlements.
  47. Russian-Canadian Alex Shnaider partnered with Trump on a building project in Toronto. Shnaider partnered with Ukrainian Billionaire Eduard Shifrin to form a holding company called the Midland Group. Shiftin was recently given Russian Citizenship by a Putin presidential decree. Alex's father in law Boris Birshtein is associated with the Russian Mafia.
  48. Semion Mogilevich is the head of the Russian mafia. In the 1990's, he started a fake company with Jacob Bogatin as the CEO. Jacob's brother David owned 5 separate condos in Trump tower at one point and is well known as part of Mogilevich's key members.
  49. Mogilevich key lieutenant Vyacheslav Ivankov also lived at Trump tower.
  50. Jack Abramoff may be where it all starts. Russian Oil and Gas company NAFTAsib formed a shell company called Chelsea Commercial, which only listed Abramoff and Patrick Pizzella as lobbyists when it was created. The purpose of Chelsea was to promote Russian oil and trade interests in the United States. It also underwrote the trip Tom Delay and Ed Buckham made to Russia with Abramoff. Pizzella also happens to work for Trump. Buckham formed the Alexander Strategy Group to help the US Family Network funnel its money received from Naftasib. The US Family network was primarily a vehicle consisting of Buckham, Delay, Ralph Reed, CNI Board Member Grover Norquist and Abramoff. These people have been members of the Council on National Policy over the years.
  51. In November 1998, Jack Abramoff organized a meeting between Sergei Kiriyenko and Republican lawmakers. Kiriyenko is the former prime minister, and is also featured in the Dossier as part of the Trump scandal.
  52. Don McGahn, White House Counsel defended Tom Delay on charges of a Russian Pay . Delay, along with Jack Abramoff, Buckham, and Ney met with Viktor Chernomyrdin, former head of Gazprom in the 1990s.
  53. Mcgahn also happened to start working for Squire Patton Boggs, the lobbyists representing Gazprom in 2013. SPB, he moved on to Jones Day.
  54. Jones Day opened a Moscow office in 2013 after it successfully worked with AlfaBank (MIkhail Fridman) and Renova Group (Viktor Vekselberg) to create an oil producer with BP, called TNK-BP. It has since been bought out by Rosneft. From there, Mcgahn signed on to work for the Trump Presidential Campaign.
  55. Former Senator Conrad Burns was also taken down by the Abramoff Scandal, and he had positive things to say about Putin. Burns passed away weeks before Trump announced his presidential run.
  56. Patrick Pizzella was recently named Acting President of the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
  57. Pizzella and Abramoff organized many trips for conservatives to the Marianas. During one trip, Pizzella had Kellyanne Conway show up . If that is not enough, Conway and Pizzela are both on the Center for National Policy board
  58. Alexander Strategy Group's main lobbyist was Paul Behrends, former National Security Advisor to Dana Rohrabacker and family friend of Erik Prince. He is the Current Staff Director for the House Foreign Affairs committee.
  59. Abramoff partnered with Charlie Black (of the lobbying firm Black, (Paul) Manafort and (Roger) Stone) in the 80s to work with brutal African dictators.
  60. Sebastian Gorka worked for Viktor Orban, a Hungarian authoritarian leader close to Putin, before moving to the United States to work for the Republicans. Now he works for the Trump White House.
  61. Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, widely regarded as Russia's top spy, was revealed to have met with Attorney General Sessions twice last year in his capacity as a Senator. He also met with Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn in December. Also, when the Republicans removed anti-Russia language from the Platform at the convention? It was because Trump advisors Carter Page and JD Gordon met with Kislyak.
  62. Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani lobbied for Rosneft
  63. Jim Baker lobbied Trump to nominate Tillerson as Secretary of State, possibly because of the fact that his firm represents both Exxon and Gazprom/Rosneft
  64. The Former head of Yukos is a Trump backer and campaign donor.
  65. CNI Board Member David McCormick is an executive at Bridgewater Associates where James Comey served as General Counsel prior to joining the FBI. They also both worked in the Bush administration, albeit in different cabinet departments.
  66. CNI Board Member Jon Huntsman was tapped to be ambassador to Russia.
  67. CNI Board Members Dmitri K. Simes and Paul Saunders have hosted events Trump has spoken at, and Simes has been referred to by Putin as his American Friend
  68. Donald Trump met with Ambassador Kislyak during the Presidential Campaign, which looks like nothing until you remember he had previously denied any such meetings.
  69. Trump ally David Clarke visited Moscow the same week as Michael Flynn. His trip was paid for by a Russian gun rights group headed by Maria Butina and included several NRA heads. Butina is close with long time Republican strategist Paul Erickson
  70. Sergei Millian, a Russian born real estate developer has close ties to Trump and to Michael Cohen. It is also said that he may have been behind some of the dirty claims in the dossier.
  71. Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn is a Russian born Pro-Putin immigrant, who has spent a lot of time talking about Crimea on television
  72. Mark Burnett helped remake Trumps image into a successful reality star, ran his inauguration festivities and has worked with Putin on reality television. Grant Stern does a fantastic job laying out the case that Burnett could have been the guy in the middle of all of this.

"A former National Security Agency (NSA) counterintelligence officer says US agents have "considerable intelligence" of high-level Russians discussing collusion with Donald Trump's election team. John Schindler, a security expert specialised in espionage and terrorism, tweeted : "Ahem: US IC has considerable SIGINT featuring high-level Russians talking about their collusion with Team Trump." The former agent said that intelligence has been gathered from the NSA and its partners from intercepted electronic and communication signals. The messages, called "reflections" in the realm of spies, are reportedly readouts from conversations about current operations. Mr Schindler said that taken one by one these conversations were "not all that persuasive" but that collectively "they demonstrate collusion". Later, he added: "I'm confident that any serious investigation of #TrumpRussia will find enough intel to end Trump's admin and send people to jail.""
Glad to see you're back, TR. Looking forward to reading your articles.

EDIT: I also presume this thread is up basically to troll David. I would hope you would try to look for nuance in your posts in the thread.
"We'll know our disinformation campaign is complete when everything the American public believes is false." --William J. Casey, D.C.I

"We will lead every revolution against us." --Theodore Herzl
Tracy, it would be helpful for all if you put up one post that summarizes your position. I doubt the Coup thread is all that cooled off, just quieter for now. If you favored us with that kind of post, I would be less inclined to think you are starting up this thread to pick a scab. Maybe that's not fair to you, but it does feel a little that way to me.
"We'll know our disinformation campaign is complete when everything the American public believes is false." --William J. Casey, D.C.I

"We will lead every revolution against us." --Theodore Herzl

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