Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Is Trump’s Russia Scandal Becoming a Corruption Scandal?

If one has followed the career of Donald Trump and to a lesser extent the family of hs son-in-law, Jared Kushner, there is a predominate thread: a obsession with money and a willingness to enter into dealings with whoever can aid in the quest to amass more and more money.   Trump has not blinked an eye in dealing with the Mafia, the Russian mob, and others if it furthers his unquenchable greed. A piece in New York Magazine suggests that Russiagate may also involve financial corruption, not just Trump's egomaniac thirst for power.  With more block buster disclosures yesterday by former CIA director John Brennan, this greed and financial corruption may have first opened the door for Russian influence in subverting the 2016 presidential election,  Let's not forget that Trump was unable to secure funding from American banks and was increasingly desperate for foreign funding sources after Deutsche Bank froze making further loans to Trump.  Here are article highlights. 
It may not have made “sense” for Donald Trump to fire James Comey, let alone for him to proceed to confess — in a public interview with Lester Holt, and then a putatively private meeting with Russian diplomats — that he did so in order to stop the Russia investigation. But the flurry of new reports over the last few days has given the puzzling sequence of events a more coherent shape. Within the warped internal logic of the Trump presidency — where it is taken as a given by essentially everybody around him that the president is impulsive and grotesquely ignorant — his shocking actions and statements have a more understandable basis.
A week ago, it appeared that the probe would center around the activities of a handful of figures who are now marginal within Trumpworld: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and deposed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That has changed. The Washington Post reported Friday that investigators have identified a current White House official as a person of interest in its financial probe. (The story hinted, and New York Magazine contributor Yashar Ali confirmed, that the person is Jared Kushner.)
Ominously for Trump, the Post reports that the FBI is “determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president.” While Kushner’s public persona differs wildly from that of the president in the functioning of his real-estate work, he is a kind of mini Trump. Inheriting an empire from his father, he has operated in gray areas of the world economy and positioned himself to gain handsomely from Trump’s election. Kushner has met with the head of a Russian bank functionally controlled by Vladimir Putin. He appears to be eager to use his proximity to Trump to make a buck; his family business is exploiting the familial connection to sell visas in China. Trump himself has a long, nontransparent history of business dealings with organs of the Russian state. (Last week, The Wall Street Journal dug up another case.)
All this implies that the probe is scrutinizing the financial aspects of Trump’s business, which is a family operation. While some Trump advisers opposed the firing of Comey, Kushner reportedly advocated for it. That fact may seem strange if one thinks of Kushner as a voice of pragmatism. But it is easier to understand if you think of him as a figure sitting near the heart of a financial scandal, who harbors a strong interest in suppressing the investigation.
Another thing that has changed over the last week is the centrality of Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser. While his tenure was extremely brief, Flynn turns out to have been both far more corrupt and far closer to Trump than previously understood.  . . . During his brief tenure, Flynn engaged in breathtaking corruption of his official duties. As national security adviser, Flynn ordered a delay in a key assault on ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. The delay comported with the desires of the Turkish government, which had paid Flynn more than half a million dollars. While largely blotted out by the shock of daily revelations about Trump, in a normal news environment this revelation would have mushroomed into a first-tier scandal of its own. It is hard to think of a historical case in which a major American military action has been influenced so corruptly by a foreign power.
And while the broad contours of Flynn’s relations with Turkey and, especially, Russia have been known, the depths have not. One report found Russians boasting privately that they believed they could use Flynn to manipulate Trump. 
What do these new revelations tell us? Flynn’s legal risk, and Trump’s personal investment in him, are both much higher than we understood. And we are seeing that financial corruption is playing a more central role in the scandal.
From Trump’s campaign to ensure the loyalty of his FBI director, to his subsequent firing of him, to his tweet-rages against the special prosecutor as an unfair witch hunt — all of this indicates high levels of panic in the Oval Office. Trump has almost certainly engaged in obstruction of justice for the simple reason that there is a lot of justice to obstruct.

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