Category: Donald Trump

Mueller Said to Be Looking into 2008 Palm Beach Mansion Sale

Bloomberg reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has decided that Trump’s sale of his Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire is worth a deeper look.

As readers of this site know, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian fertilizer king, bought the future president’s Palm Beach mansion in 2008 for $50 million more than Trump paid for it just a few years earlier. The mansion, called Maison de l’Aimitie (House of Friendship), was in such bad shape that Rybolovlev got permission to tear it down and sell off the land beneath it.

Dmitry Rybolovlev

I’ve written how this transaction has the marks of a bribery case I followed here in San Diego.

Not long after the mansion sold, Trump was approaching default on loan from Deutsche Bank. And the $50 million Trump pocketed on the mansion sale was enough to cover the $40 million he had personally guaranteed to the German lender.

Here’s a bit more detail: The Palm Beach mansion sold in July 2008. That fall, Trump was desperately trying to get Deutsche Bank to extend a senior construction loan for the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. The Chicago project was already facing weak sales before the 2008 financial meltdown hit.

Unlike many other Trump Organization projects, the Donald was personally on the hook in Chicago.  He hadn’t licensed his name. He had no partners. He arranged all the financing himself: He put $77 million of his own equity into the tower and had given Deutsche Bank a $40 million personal guarantee.  (See “In Chicago, Trump Hits Headwinds,” The Wall Street Journal, 29 Oct. 2008.)

Trump’s Deutsche Bank loan came due Nov. 7, 2008 with an outstanding principal balance of $334 million, plus $251 million in interest. Not only did Trump not pay, but with his usual bombast, he sued Deutsche Bank to force them to extend the loan. Deutsche Bank countersued, and demanded Trump cough up his $40 million guarantee. Deutsche Bank ultimately extended the loan for five years and eventually Trump paid it.

There are a lot of dogs sniffing around this tree. The personal guarantees Trump made for his Deutsche Bank loans are also of interest to New York State regulators looking at the president’s relationship with the German lender’s wealth management division: according to The New York Times:

Additionally, the New York regulators recently requested information related to the hundreds of millions in loans Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management division provided Mr. Trump, one of the people said, paying particular attention to personal guarantees he made to obtain the loans. Those guarantees have declined as the loans were paid down and the property values increased, but it remains a source of interest to the regulators.

For those who want even more detail, I’ve embedded Trump’s Deutsche Bank personal guarantee at the end of this post. If anyone with some expertise in these matters finds anything interesting in there, please let me know.

Mueller’s team are also said to be interested in dealings involving the Bank of Cyprus. Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s Palm Beach mansion, became the bank’s largest shareholder in 2010 when he purchased a 9.7 percent stake through his British Virgin Islands holding firm, Odella Resources. (Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, invested in the bank in 2014.)

The shady mansion sale is just one of the things FBI investigators and others are examining:

It seems that Mueller’s team is looking for evidence of a payment disguised as a real estate transaction, fee or gift that would give Russians what the intelligence community likes to call “levers of pressure” that could be used against the US president.

Trump’s Personal Guarantee

Who Is Sam Clovis?

In September 2016, a longtime GOP operative launched a campaign to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails from hackers.

The operative’s name was Peter W. Smith. According to a pair of blockbuster articles (here and here) by The Wall Street Journal, Smith “implied” that he had a connection to retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s national security advisor until he was ousted for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

Flynn’s name is mentioned in a recruitment document Smith passed around last year:

Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for President Donald Trump; Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor; Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign and now a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was a campaign adviser and briefly was national security adviser in the Trump administration.

A name people might not recognize on this list is that of Sam Clovis, a porcine former college professor from Iowa better known as host of the radio talk show “Impact with Sam Clovis.” We don’t know how Clovis’ name wound up on the list but I have a feeling we may hearing more about Clovis in coming weeks or months.

Clovis was an early backer of Trump in Iowa, where Clovis is something of a conservative power broker. It earned him a spot in the campaign as senior policy adviser and co-chairman.

Trump finished second in Iowa, but he soon ran the table in ensuing primaries, and, as the Trump train gathered momentum, Clovis took leave from his position as a professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa to devote himself to the campaign. FEC records show he was paid more than $198,000 during the 16 months he worked on the Trump campaign.

The FEC filings say Clovis was paid for “communications consulting.” He described his role on the campaign to his hometown newspaper, the Sioux City Journal, as a “utility infielder.” His job was to appear on TV as a Trump surrogate, write talking points for speeches and “help find key people who can inform Trump’s developing policies on economics, immigration and foreign affairs”

Clovis told Bloomberg he led a two-person policy team that worked with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to connect Trump to experts and former officials constantly.

In other words, Clovis was something of a gatekeeper for Trump.  If you wanted to work on the campaign in a policy role or as a subject matter expert you went through Clovis.

“This whole notion that he is devoid of advisers is wrong. We have a lot of smart guys around us and a lot of smart people helping us,” Clovis said in January 2016.

One of the “smart people” whose name crossed Clovis’ desk was Carter Page, the head of an energy investment firm and a former banker with Merrill Lynch in Moscow. Clovis employed what The Washington Post described as the campaign’s “go-to vetting process” — a quick Google search — to check him out. Clovis gave Page his OK.

Page, we know now, was a disastrous choice. During his time as a Trump advisor, Page was the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant, meaning that a US judge found probable cause to suspect that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. He reportedly was one of the Trump advisors Russian intelligence tried to use to infiltrate the Trump campaign.

Foreign diplomats trying to figure out Trump also realized that Clovis was the man to see. He was one of the few Trump campaign officials authorized to speak on behalf of his boss.

Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, was one who called on Clovis. Hockey hosted Clovis and Stephen Miller, in March 2016 at his private residence. (See “Deep ties to keep relations on track,” The Australian, 11 Nov. 2016) It was the first of several meetings on defense, trade and immigration.

In April, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who described Trump as a “hate preacher,” sent his state secretary, Markus Ederer, to meet with Clovis. The two men met discreetly at a cafe in Washington where Ederer struggled to understand what a Trump victory would mean for German-American relations. According to a report in Der Spiegel, “The Iowa Republican sought to ease the German’s concern about a possible Trump victory. But whenever Ederer probed deeper, Clovis was unable to provide satisfactory answers.” (See “Merkel Anticipates Frosty Relations with U.S.,” Spiegel, 4 January 2017) Clovis also met with Germany’s US ambassador, Peter Wittig, as did Jared Kushner.

It remains to be seen what meetings, if any, Clovis had with Russian diplomats.

Meanwhile, Clovis’ formerly hardline views on Russia were evolving. During his long career in the U.S. Air Force, Clovis had trained and planned for combat with the Soviet Union.  In 2014, when Clovis ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in Iowa, he advocated a “containment” policy against Russia. “I think we need to also make it very clear to Russia … that any incursions outside of Crimea, the Ukraine, would be met with great vigor,” Clovis told Radio Iowa.

Two years later during the Republican convention in Cleveland, however, Clovis angrily defended the  campaign’s decision to remove language from the GOP platform that called for providing lethal defensive weaponry to Ukraine. It was too expensive, Clovis felt.

“It’s okay to go out here and load your mouth up and say stuff and say, ‘Yeah we are going to come to your aid, we’re going to provide you arms, we’re going to come out and do all these things. But nobody has taken the time to think this through to its logical conclusion,’” Clovis said. “What are the costs going to be to the United States, not just in Ukraine but also in NATO and also around the world?”

Although he doesn’t look the part, Samuel H. Clovis Jr. is a former fighter pilot. He grew up in rural Kansas and attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Clovis spent 25 years with the U.S. Air Force from 1971 to 1996.

His career included command of the 70th Fighter Squadron, at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. In the mid 1980s, he served on the staff of  the Pentagon’s Project CHECKMATE, where he assessed the performance of the Air Force in a hypothetical war with the Soviet Union. Clovis also served as chief of the office of military cooperation at the embassy in Bahrain. (He considers himself an expert on the Middle East.) He retired as the Inspector General of NORAD and the United States Space Command with the rank of colonel.

After leaving the military, Clovis worked at Logicon, an Alabama-based subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp. Then, he entered academia, which led him to Iowa and eventually to his position at Morningside College.

Today, Clovis is Trump’s nominee to be the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist.  Clovis is not a scientist. What he is is a hardcore Trump loyalist. He once described Trump as “one of the greatest men to ever walk the face of this earth.”

But his feelings for Trump weren’t always so favorable. Before he joined forces with Trump in August 2015, Clovis had signed on as Iowa state chairman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Emails leaked by the Perry campaign revealed Clovis as an opportunist who was scornful of Trump before switching sides. Trump’s remarks disparaging Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero  particularly galled Clovis, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force.

“I was offended by a man who sought and gained four student deferments to avoid the draft and who has never served this nation a day — not a day — in any fashion or way,” he wrote.

What Was Michael Cohen’s Role at the Trump Organization?

Michael Cohen

Michael D. Cohen

The New York Times is out with a front-page story today on Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere and personal attorney.

The article makes the point that Cohen has been sidelined because he’s been caught up in the Russia inquiry. He apparently was expecting to land a senior administration post in the White House, but nothing ever came of it.

But the article raises another point: What did Michael Cohen do at the Trump Organization?

He has declined to discuss the details of what he did at the company, and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. Some people who worked with him also declined to describe Mr. Cohen’s tenure, with several of them saying they feared being sued.

Whatever Cohen did, he wasn’t just reviewing contracts and documents. If you fear being sued for discussing Cohen’s job at the Trump Organization, something else was going on.

From May 2007 to the present, Cohen served as an executive vice president and special counsel to the Trump Organization, according to his LinkedIn profile.  He was and is unquestioningly loyal to his boss. Despite the attention he attracts from the Russia inquiry, Cohen remains Trump’s personal attorney.

Cohen is slated to appear before the House intelligence committee in its investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. Cohen’s name appeared in a dossier prepared by former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele. The dossier stated that Cohen served as an intermediary between Trump and Russian operatives and Kremlin officials. Cohen has denied these links.

While the dossier may have gotten the details of Cohen’s meetings in Prague wrong, it may have struck upon a deeper truth: namely, that Cohen did serve as an intermediary between Trump and the unsavory characters the Donald encountered in his business.

Before joining forces with Trump, Cohen was involved in the New York City taxi business, set up businesses in the Ukraine, invested in a gambling cruise with a pair of Ukrainians, and he once deposited a $350,000 check from a Russian hockey player that he can’t explain and doesn’t remember receiving.

These ventures, reported by Buzzfeed’s Anthony Cormier who has been doggedly investigating Cohen, all have an unsavory element. When asked about them, Cohen  offers blanket denials, which he walks back when confronted with documents. But the unsavory elements in Cohen’s past obviously did not prevent him from getting a job with Trump; instead they may have helped him land it.

Every Mafia family has a consigliere. He (and it’s always a he) is a counselor to the boss, advising him on political relationships. He is traditionally not a member of the family and his role as an outsider is seen as allowing him to provide objective advice. Cohen may have played a similar role in the Trump Organization.

A search of news archives shows that Cohen appears mostly in the press as a Trump spokesman. In the 2012 campaign, Cohen launched a “Should Donald Run?” campaign. He later defended Trump in the press  from charges that he had fraudulently bilked students out of thousands of dollars in the scam known as Trump University. He is known for threatening reporters with lawsuits.

A few instances, however, offer a clue as to what Cohen’s job involved.

After he joined up with Trump, Cohen’s name first surfaced in a batch of articles about EnCap, a plan to build a golf course on New Jersey landfill. One article about an EnCap contractor arrested on money laundering charges references Cohen trying to get an attorney removed from the project.  (See “EnCap contractor hauled away; Arrested in unrelated money-laundering case,” The Record, 26 January 2008)

Nothing ever came of EnCap. The state pulled the plug on the project and EnCap filed for bankruptcy the next day. Trump kept a hand in the project, nevertheless.

The U.S. Attorney’s office, then led by future New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, subpoenaed EnCap’s records. Cohen told a reporter the Trump Organization had not received a subpoena but he seemed to have insight into what exactly what interested investigators. (See “Feds Subpoena EnCap; Billing Records Sought,” The Record, 19 June 2008)

Cohen said those investigators appear to be focusing, in part, on the critical time frame from 2000 to 2005, when he said many key decisions were being negotiated.

“That’s when all the deals were cut,” he said, referring in part to the favorable loans from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Infrastructure Trust.

Another set of articles involve Cohen’s 2010 visit to Adjara in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. “Cohen has come to Adjara as he is interested in the investment climate in the region,” an article in the Black Sea Press. “Namely, Michael Cohen paid his attention to the ‘Project of Future’ which envisaged construction of comfortable hotels, entertaining complexes, modern buildings in Batumi.”

Trump signed up for a $250 million deal to build a 47-story residential tower in the Georgian Black Sea resort of Batumi, Work halted when Georgia’s then President Mikheil Saakashvili was ousted and fled in exile. His successor, Bidzina Ivanishvili, told reporters, “Trump did not invest in Georgia. It was kind of like a trick. They gave him money and they both played along, Saakashvili and Trump.” Construction eventually resumed, but Trump formally pulled out of the project shortly after his election to avoid what the Trump Organization said were conflicts of interest.

Trump pursued these kinds of deals with shady characters, whether in New Jersey or further away in places like Georgia or Azerbaijan. The potential rewards were huge. So were the risks.  He needed a tough, loyal outsider like Cohen to figure out who the players were, what were the risks, and how exposed Trump would be if the whole thing went sideways.

That’s a consigliere.

 

 

Jared Kushner’s Shady Real Estate Deal?

Readers of this site will recall that in 2008 Donald Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. As we now know, Rybolovlev grossly overpaid.

This sale is remarkably similar to a real estate deal at the heart of a bribery scandal involving Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, who sold his home to a defense contractor for much more than it was worth. Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes and in 2006 was sentenced to prison.

Well, there are two ways this bribery-scam-disguised-as-a-real-estate-transaction can work. You can overpay for an asset. Or you can sell an asset for much less than it’s worth.

Buried in The Washington Post’s recent story about Jared Kushner’s loans from Deutsche Bank, Trump’s favorite bank are interesting details about a real estate transaction that should invite scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, who is said to be investigating Kushner’s finances.

Kushner, it turns out, purchased four floors of a New York City office building for $296 million in October 2015. Fast forward 12 months and — presto! — Kushner’s office space was appraised at $470 million.

That’s a 59 percent increase in a year.  Not quite as impressive as Trump’s 231 percent markup on the Palm Beach mansion he sold to the Russian billionaire, but still. Not bad.

What was Kushner’s secret?

An executive at Kushner Cos. told The Washington Post that the company had a “vision for the property when we purchased it that no one else had, and are proud to say that we executed on it.”

Translation: Kushner Cos. leased the space. When the four floors in the former New York Times building near Times Square were purchased, the offices were only been 25 percent occupied.

A great business move. Or …

Is there another explanation?  Indeed, there may be.

The firm that sold Kushner Cos. the space in The New York Times building was Africa Israel USA, part of the conglomerate owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Leviev keeps a framed photo of Vladimir Putin on a shelf in his office.  In a 2007 profile in The New York Times, Leviev described Putin as a “true friend.”

Did Leviev give Kushner a — wink, wink — good deal as a favor from friends overseas?

Kushner isn’t Leviev’s only connection to Trump’s inner circle. He has tried to do business in Moscow with the man himself.

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Trump and Leviev

AFI Development, another subsidiary of Leviev’s Israeli conglomerate, develops real estate in Russia. In May 2008, he invited Trump to his Madison Avenue store.

Leviev wanted to work with the Trump Organization on developing two hotels in Russia, according to Kommersant, the respected Russian business daily.

Astute readers of this site will recall that back in the 1990s, a corrupt Moscow city official named Vladimir Resin (aka The Russian with the Million-Dollar Watch) offered Trump the opportunity to develop a pair of decrepit hotels in Moscow, the Hotel Rossiya, just off Red Square, and the rundown Hotel Moskva.

During Trump’s meeting with Leviev, the Israeli billionaire offered Trump the chance to develop the very same hotels, the Rossiya and the Moskva, according to Kommersant.

hotelrossia

The Rossiya

The Moskva was a small, venerable Moscow hotel that is now run by the Four Seasons. The Rossiya was a 3,000 room concrete box that was plagued with vermin and organized crime. The hotel’s general director was shot dead in a December 1997 contract killing. The hotel has been demolished.

(I’m beginning to wonder whether the Rossiya and Moskva are some sort of code words, given how often they come up in Trump’s life.)

Nothing came of this meeting with Leviev. In a statement, Leviev said that he and Trump “never had any business dealings with one another, contrary to speculation.” [Trump sold his Palm Beach mansion to the Russian billionaire in July, a few months later after meting Leviev.]

Another coincidence overlooked by reporters:  Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP represented Leviev’s firm Africa-Israel USA in the sale of the former New York Times building. The lawyer representing Trump in the Russia probe is Marc E. Kasowitz, a name partner at the firm.

Rotem Rosen, described as Leviev’s “right-hand man” in this press release for a circumcision ceremony or bris is a former chief executive of Africa-Israel USA and CEO of the Sapir Organization. The Sapir Organization jointly developed the troubled Trump SoHo, a 46-story Manhattan luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010.

Trump hosted Rosen’s wedding to Sapir’s daughter, Zina, at Mar-a-Lago in December 2007. Both Trump and Kushner attended the aforementioned 2008 bris.

It’s these interlocking links that must be driving Mueller’s office nuts. What is coincidence and what isn’t?

Maybe Kushner’s big gain on the old New York Times building is just savvy business. After all, when Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments purchased the building in June 2007 for $530 million. Just three years earlier, the newspaper had sold the property for $175 million, prompting this observation from the Donald:

More on Robert Mueller and Mogilevich…

Mueller Hungary 2005

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, speaking in Budapest in 2005

Special Counsel Robert Mueller isn’t playing.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mueller has brought on board attorney Lisa Caroline Page who worked on the FBI Task Force in Budapest that investigated Russian Mob kingpin Semion Mogilevich.

By adding Page, Mueller may be sending a signal that he’s going after links between Trump and Russian organized crime, and perhaps zeroing in on Mogilevich ties.

Catching Mogilevich was an important part of Mueller’s 12-year tenure as head of the bureau and big reason why the FBI put the Mob boss on its 10 Most Wanted List in 2009.

Here’s what Mueller himself had to say in 2005 during a visit to Budapest for the 10th anniversary of the International Law Enforcement Academy:

And the FBI/­Hungarian National Police Organized Crime Task Force has been up and running for five years, working to dismantle organized crime groups. Just last month, we obtained approval to have FBI agents permanently stationed here in Budapest to work on the Task Force.

The Task Force has had a number of successes. Right here in Budapest , Ukranian-­born Semion Mogilevich established the headquarters of his powerful organized crime enterprise. The group engaged in drug and weapons trafficking, prostitution, and money laundering, and organized stock fraud in the United States and Canada in which investors lost over $150 million.

As soon as the Task Force began investigating his activities, Mogilevich realized he could no longer use Budapest as his base of operations. He immediately fled the country, and is now hiding in Moscow. Working closely with Hungarian authorities, United States prosecutors obtained a 45-­count indictment against Mogilevich and three other criminals, charging them with money laundering, securities fraud, and racketeering.

Mueller’s biographer, Garrett Graff, called the Budapest task force “perhaps the most unique FBI force in the world.” Hungary was the only country outside Afghanistan and Iraq where agents were permanently stationed.

The Budapest task force assembled a global picture of Mogilevich’s operation. According to a Dec. 22, 2006 report in The Wall Street Journal, FBI agents in Budapest got help from authorities in Israel, another of Mr. Mogilevich’s suspected bases of operations, and Cyprus, an offshore banking center used by many Russians.

So elusive was Mogilevich, however, that agents in Budapest were chasing smoke, sometimes even in their own backyard. Graff’s book, The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI and the War on Global Terror, contains this tantalizing piece of information:

The full extent of Mogilevich’s US ties are still unknown. Although banned from entering the country because of his alleged criminal ties, Mogilevich has visited Boston, Philadelphia, and Miami under aliases to meet with U.S. associates, and the FBI photographed at least one of his aides attending a Republican Party fundraiser in Texas.

Mogilevich was arrested in Moscow in 2008 and then subsequently released him the following year. He lives more or less openly in Russia today. While US eventually caught up with Osama bin Laden, Mogilevich was the one who got away.

Mueller’s role as special counsel for Trump’s Russia links may be a second chance of sorts. By probing Trump’s links to Mogilevich, Mueller may be able to snare an even bigger fish.

No wonder he’s driving Trump crazy.

Is Robert Mueller Examining Trump’s Links to Mogilevich?

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Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) and Dmitry Firtash (right)

As we noted earlier here and here, among the many dictators, despots, and shady foreigners who called Trump Tower home were members of the Russian Mafia with connections to Semion Mogilevich, said to be the most dangerous Mobster in the world.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate Trump’s links to Russia, may also be taking an interest in Trump’s ties to Mogilevich, a man the FBI says is involved in weapons trafficking, contract murders, extortion, drug trafficking, and prostitution on an international scale.

As described in Wired, among the prosecutors and investigators hired by Mueller, is one Lisa Page:

Also, while the Special Counsel’s office has yet to make any formal announcements about Mueller’s team, it appears he has recruited an experienced Justice Department trial attorney, Lisa Page, a little-known figure outside the halls of Main Justice but one whose résumé boasts intriguing hints about where Mueller’s Russia investigation might lead. Page has deep experience with money laundering and organized crime cases, including investigations where she’s partnered with an FBI task force in Budapest, Hungary, that focuses on eastern European organized crime. That Budapest task force helped put together the still-unfolding money laundering case against Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash…

The hiring of Page, which was confirmed by a Mueller spokesman in The New York Times, gives the special counsel a team member with knowledge of not only Dmitry Firtash, but of the man who is believed to stand behind him: Semion Mogilevich.

Full disclosure: Firtash hired the Washington law firm Akin Gump to clear him of links to Mogilevich. I profiled Akin Gump partner Mark MacDougall in this 2008 piece.

Firtash, pictured above, made his fortune in the 2000s in the natural gas sector. In 2004, Firtash and a minority partner emerged with 50 percent ownership of a murky Swiss company called RosUkrEnergo (RUE). RUE extracts gas from Central Asia and acts an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine for the delivery of gas.  The other half of RUE is held by Gazprom, the gas giant controlled by the Russian government, which shows that Firtash has close ties with the Kremlin.

Billions of dollars flowed through RUE and some of that money was allegedly siphoned off by Semion Mogilevich, who U.S. government officials say (see here) is the man behind the curtain at the gas company. One of the few willing to say this publicly was Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, a political enemy of Firtash, who got thrown in jail for her troubles. Notably, Firtash’s stake in RUE remained a secret for two years.

Intelligence Online, a Paris-based news organization with deep sources in the spy world, published this handy chart of the Firtash/Mogilevich connections, under the headline “The Tip of the Mogilevich Iceberg:”

Mog:RUE

Firtash admitted to William Taylor, the US ambassador to the Ukraine, that he has had dealings with Mogilevich, according to a 2008 State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks:

(S) The Ambassador asked Firtash to address his alleged ties to Russian organized crime bosses like Semyon Mogilievich. Firtash answered that many Westerners do not understand what Ukraine was like after the break up of the Soviet Union, adding that when a government cannot rule effectively, the country is ruled by “the laws of the streets.” He noted that it was impossible to approach a government official for any reason without also meeting with an organized crime member at the same time. Firtash acknowledged that he needed, and received, permission from Mogilievich when he established various businesses, but he denied any close relationship to him.

And in this October 2009 press release, the FBI took note of Mogilevich’s control of natural gas supplies. “Through his extensive international criminal network, Mogilevich controls extensive natural gas pipelines in Eastern Europe,” the bureau wrote in a veiled reference to RUE.

The question is what is the nature of the relationship between Firtash and Mogilevich. Is it a thing of the past, as Firtash insists? Or is Firtash a front man for Mogilevich?

Presumably, the FBI — and, by extension, Lisa Page — knows the answer. The bureau has been investigating Firtash since 2006, according to The New York Times. A year before that, the FBI passed their counterparts in the Austrian police a confidential report naming Firtash as a “senior member” of the Semion Mogilevich Organization, according to a  2008 report by Roman Kupchinsky, an analyst with Radio Free Europe.

Page’s work in Budapest involved her deeply in the Firtash/Mogilevich world. The Wired article suggests she worked on the case that led to Firtash’s arrest in Vienna in 2014. Firtash was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago on charges of plotting a bribery scheme to set up a $500 million titanium business in India. He remains free after a Russian billionaire friend posted bail of $174 million but cannot leave Austria.

And Budapest is also a home of sorts for Mogilevich. He resided in Budapest when he ran a pump-and-dump scheme through a publicly traded front company called YBM Magnex Inc. Mogilevich was indicted in 2003 on charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering in YBM Magnex.

So, what does this have to do with President Trump?

Firtash was a business partner of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was deeply involved in Ukrainian politics. Manafort advised Viktor Yanukovych on his successful 2010 campaign for the presidency of Ukraine. He resigned from the Trump campaign after The New York Times found a handwritten ledger showing that Yanukovych paid Manfort $12.7 million in cash.

While he was assisting Yanukovych, Manafort became business partners with Firtash. The two men explored developing a 65-floor tower on the site of the Drake Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

A 2011 lawsuit filed in New York by Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, called this partnership between Firtash and Manafort a means of laundering the proceeds of gas deals between the Ukraine and Russia. Firtash says that the lawsuit was full of lies, but he confirmed to Bloomberg Businessweek that he did put $25 million in an escrow account for the developers of the Drake project that Manafort helped him set up. The deal collapsed and the tower was never built.

It’s a good bet to say that we only know a little of this story, which is buried in the files of the FBI and the US intelligence community. But Trump Tower’s role as a home away from home for Russian mobsters with Mogilevich and his unhinged, self-destructive reactions to anyone probing into Russia suggests that there is more, much more to come. Stay tuned.

Carter Page Mystery Solved?

Ed Cox

The Washington Post is reporting that Carter Page was introduced to the Trump campaign by Nixon’s son-in-law, NY GOP Chair Ed Cox.

This may be the answer to one of the ongoing mysteries of the Trump-Russia affair: How did Page wind up working for Trump?

Edward Finch Cox is a retired partner formerly with the firm of Patterson Belnkap Webb & Tyler, LLP.  He is chairman of the New York Republican State Committee. Cox is married to Nixon’s daughter Trish. The two were married in a White House ceremony in 1971.

How did Cox meet Page?

Their paths may have intersected in a couple of ays: Cox’s has served as a director of Noble Energy, Inc. for more than two decades. Page, you’ll recall, was an energy industry analyst. In addition Cox has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 1993. Page served a fellowship at the CFR.

One person tweeting about this is Roger Stone, a former Nixon aide and GOP political operative, who is himself under investigation for his links to Russia:

This is interesting. Cox and Stone both worked together in the Nixon administration (where Stone was involved in the dirty tricks operation), and it seems there’s no love lost between them:

Then again, as someone on Twitter pointed out, here’s Carter Page attending one of Stone’s speeches:

Stone Pence