America Is Married to the Mob

By Ronald Horvath | Aug 30, 2018

Forget all the arcane theories about Russian collusion. It’s simpler than that: Donald Trump is a mobster.

"Now that the Trump regime is beginning to crack and crumble — one piece at a time, and without the satisfying, cathartic crash so many people have longed for since the fall of 2016 — it looks a lot like something more familiar: a second-rate mob drama.

There’s nothing original about this metaphor, which quite likely isn’t even a metaphor. It’s been there all along: Pulitzer-winning reporter David Cay Johnston, who has followed Donald Trump’s career for four decades, has written extensively about Trump’s longtime connections to organized crime, as have numerous other journalists, including Salon's Heather Digby Parton. Those connections clearly go back to Trump’s early days of doing shifty deals in the bottomed-out market of 1970s Manhattan real estate, where the only way to build anything, buy anything or make anything happen was to work with the made men and their allies."

Investigative reporter Craig Unger’s new book "House of Trump, House of Putin," which does indeed allege a sinister relationship between the Russian president and our own (and endorses the theory that embarrassing sexual kompromat plays a role), largely traces the link through Trump’s byzantine business empire and his dealings with the Russian mob. Unger’s case is complicated and a lot of it is circumstantial; he believes, for example, that Trump was a person of interest to Russian intelligence clear back to the Soviet period. His contention that the Russian crime lords and oligarchs who began arriving in New York in the ‘80s used real estate in Trump Tower and other Trump properties as vehicles for money-laundering, and that this arrangement was more than mere coincidence or convenience, is pretty convincing.

Of course the mob-boss analogy exploded back into the headlines this week, after Paul Manafort’s conviction on eight charges of financial fraud (entirely unrelated to his work for Trump, in fairness) and Michael Cohen’s plea-bargain admission that he had orchestrated payments to the president’s alleged former lovers (or two of them, anyway), in a blatant end-around of campaign finance laws. As the New York Times observed in a front-page article — as usual, after everyone else had said the same thing — Trump’s embittered responses about who had been a “rat” and who hadn’t, and whether “flipping” to cooperate with prosecutors ought to be illegal, seemed straight out of the mobbed-up New York of 1980s Hollywood movies."

"It’s worth noting that Robert Mueller and several members of his team have considerable experience in tracking and cracking both organized crime and white-collar crime (which are highly similar in structural terms, albeit with more broken bones and dead bodies attached to the former). They’ve been trying to find a way into the criminal edifice of the Trump empire, which is guarded by mist, shadows and dragons, and now they’ve got one: The blatantly stupid mishandling of some payoffs to old girlfriends, which probably happened that way because nobody involved even understood they were illegal. As Donald Trump undoubtedly knows, Al Capone was probably responsible for dozens of murders. He was never even charged with any of them, but wound up in federal prison for tax evasion."

"This may well be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, although its endgame could take a long while yet. I have a further prediction, which is that we will probably never know for sure what happened between Donald Trump and the Russians, or exactly what kind of leverage Vladimir Putin has over Trump. That will be endlessly disappointing to those who want the real world to have the plot points of a miniseries (which, in fairness, is almost everyone), but it doesn’t mean Trump will get off scot-free."

Comments (4)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Sep 05, 2018 15:38

"President Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, whose Iowa meatpacking plant was the target of a huge immigration raid in 2008, and whose 27-year prison sentence angered many Orthodox Jews.

Mr. Rubashkin made national headlines nine years ago after federal agents arrived by helicopter at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, and detained nearly 400 undocumented immigrants, including several children, who were working there. Mr. Rubashkin was the company’s chief executive, and the plant had been the largest kosher meatpacking operation in the country. He was later convicted of bank fraud in federal court."


Pardons for pay?

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Sep 01, 2018 17:38

"Some level of corruption is an inescapable part of political life in general, and certainly Democrats are not (and never have been) immune to it. But it has been especially chronic in the modern Republican Party, whose last experience with control of government ended in a series of corruption scandals so blatant they provoked widespread soul-searching on the right as to how the party and the conservative movement could so easily open itself up to grifters. (Remember Jack Abramoff? Bob Ney? Tom DeLay? Grover Norquist?) The temptation to use government as a vehicle for self-enrichment is especially strong in a party dedicated to a credal skepticism about the possibility government can do good.

But the Trump administration has, even in its embryonic stage, already brought it all to a new level. Several possible explanations present themselves. Trump appears to select for greed and dishonesty in his cronies. (Collins does not work in the administration, but was Trump’s first endorser in Congress.) The sorts of people Trump admires are rich and brash and disdainful of professional norms, and seem unlikely to rat on him. The sorts of people who are apt to work for Trump seem to be those who lack much in the way of scruples.

The administration is understaffed and disorganized to the point of virtual anarchy, opening up promising avenues for insiders to escape accountability. Trump’s public ethos, despite his professions during the campaign that he could “drain the swamp” and impose a series of stringent ethics reforms, runs toward relativism — he famously tolerates anybody who supports him, regardless of criminal history or other disqualifications, defining their goodness entirely in terms of personal loyalty. And above all there is the simple fact that Trump himself is a wildly unethical businessman who has stiffed his counterparties and contractors, and worked closely with mobsters, his entire career. A president who is continuing to profit personally from his office is hardly in any position to demand his subordinates refrain from following suit.

It has been frequently noted that the president is molding the party in his nationalist, populist, authoritarian image. He is likewise molding its governing class after his own personal business ethos.”

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Aug 31, 2018 18:11

"President Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked these FBI and Justice Department officials as dishonest “Democrats” engaged in a partisan “witch hunt” led by the special counsel determined to tie his campaign to Russia. But Trump’s attacks have also served to highlight another thread among these officials and others who have investigated his campaign: their extensive experience in probing money laundering and organized crime, particularly as they pertain to Russia.

As Trump praised and defended Russian President Vladimir Putin along the campaign trail, financial analysts and money-laundering experts questioned whether the real-estate mogul had any financial incentives—including business ties or outstanding debt—to seek better relations with Moscow. Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed in May 2017 to investigate a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, assembled a team with revealing expertise in fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and other financial crimes.

Trump’s latest obsession is with Bruce Ohr, a career Justice Department official who spent years investigating Russian organized crime and corruption—an expertise he shared with another Trump target named Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative who provided valuable intelligence on Russia to the State Department and the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force prior to authoring the Trump-Russia dossier in 2016. Ohr and Steele met in 2007, according to The New York Times, and stayed in touch as a result of their shared interests and mutual respect. Trump has tweeted about Ohr nearly a dozen times this month alone, complaining about his relationship with Steele and Ohr’s wife’s past work for Fusion GPS—the opposition-research firm that hired Steele in 2016 to research Trump’s Russia ties.

“How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department?” Trump wrote on Thursday. “Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”

Trump’s fixation with seeing Ohr ousted from the Justice Department could be perceived as yet another attempt to undermine the credibility of the people who have investigated him. It could also be interpreted as an attack on someone with deep knowledge of the shady characters Trump and his cohort have been linked to, including Semion Mogilevich, the Russian mob boss, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to Putin who did business with Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (Incidentally, another Manafort associate, the Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, admitted that he only managed to be in business because Mogilevich allowed him to be, according to a leaked 2008 State Department cable.) Ohr was involved in banning Deripaska from the U.S. in 2006, due to his alleged ties to organized crime and fear that he would try to launder money into American real estate.”

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Aug 31, 2018 09:27

Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth. Franklin Foer lays out impressive circumstantial evidence that Trump may well be a puppet of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump shares a web of financial ties that help explain their shared worldview. Whatever we might think of Clinton, we can be confident she is not controlled by the Kremlin. And the failures of disclosure or record-keeping in her operations pale beside Trump’s defiant refusal to disclose his tax returns.

It is altogether fair to condemn Clinton as a corrupt practitioner of the Washington cash-for-access culture. She and her husband are careless, susceptible to greed — normal politicians, in other words. Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale, and the notion that disdain for corruption would supply a rationale to elect him is nothing short of bizarre."

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