Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Russian Scion Squeals

The son of a Russian oligarch named in the Steele Dossier, Alex van der Zwaan, 33, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russian Connection investigation. That is a felony offense; van der Zwaan is a lawyer and Dutch citizen. He admitted lying in federal court on Tuesday about his discussions with then campaign official Rick Gates shortly before the 2016 election. He also admitted to deleting emails sought by investigators. His plea puts pressure on the former campaign officials, Gates and Manafort, to 'come clean' concerning their dealings with high-level Russians seeking to influence the election outcome on behalf of Trump¹. Both of those gentlemen have pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other crimes related to their influence peddling for a Ukrainian political party². Van der Zwann worked for the powerful Washington, DC law firm of Skadden, Arps before he was fired last year.

In another investigation development, former Trump advisor Sam Nunberg is expected to meet with the Special Counsel's office tomorrow. Nunberg received his fifteen minutes of fame for his quotes in the Michael Wolff expose of the Trump administration. There he is quoted as calling the President an "idiot", and recalling difficulty explaining the Constitution to the deranged occupant of the Room Without Corners: “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head," Wolff writes of Nunberg's recollection.

¹Jeffery Toobin writes at the New Yorker: "To date, the most direct evidence that they did [collude with Russians to influence the election] is a result of connections forged in the lead-up to the 2013 Miss Universe contest. On June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, Emin Agalarov’s [Russian pop star] publicist, e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr., replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.” Six days later, Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, the candidate’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, then the chairman of the campaign, welcomed a group of visitors to Trump Tower led by a Russian attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya. In July, 2017, the Times informed the White House that it was working on a story about that meeting. The President and his advisers, who were returning from a trip to Europe aboard Air Force One, prepared a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, asserting that it had been a harmless discussion of adoption policy."  

Trump's wanting to get close to Russian moneyed interests was primarily for financial reasons. He had been attempting to break into the real estate game in Moscow for at least a decade prior to the election of 2016. He was shunned by conventional western sources of financing due to his string of bankruptcies in the 90's and his failed "Trump Vodka" licensing deal in '07. The 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow was his opportunity to make a connection with billionaire Moscow real estate developer Aras Agalarov. His son, Emin performed at the Pageant, and the Agalarovs hosted the world televised event. One of the attendees was Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, a notorious Russian businessman accused of running a money laundering operation from an apartment in Manhattan's Trump Tower. Trump's desire to build in Russia continued during his run for pubic office. In 2015, Felix Sater, a Trump business partner and stock defrauder made a proposal for a potential office tower in Moscow. Trump signed a non-binding letter of intent to license the Trump name to the project. In an e-mail sent at the time to lawyer Michael Cohen, once known as "Trump's pit bull", Sater wrote, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this.” Braggadocio from a shady businessman? You decide. Before you do, take note Trumpty has yet to enact sanctions against the Kremlin, which Congress overwhelmingly approved last year.

² Manafort had one of the usual motivations to parlay his Russian & Ukrainian connections to the benefit of the political  campaign he was managing: money.  He was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, for a $18.9m investment gone bad.    His private life was also in shambles as revealed in a host of messages to his adult daughter hacked by irate Ukrainians that posted them on the "dark web".  His daughter wrote at one point, “My dad is in the middle of a massive emotional breakdown.” Manafort, according to emails to a colleague saw the Trump campaign as a way of "getting whole".  He joined Trump's campaign in March 2016.  His history as a "hustler" and corrupter of the system, however, goes back to the 70s.  See the details here.