Is the Kremlin meddling in US presidential politics? Yes, here and now

There is more than a dollop of irony in the release yesterday by Dmitri Peskov, press secretary to Vladimir Putin, of two email letters addressed to himself and to the Russian presidential administration back in January 2016 requesting assistance with the projected residential skyscraper, Trump Tower Moscow, that the Trump Organization was then negotiating with its business partners in the Russian capital. They were in need of land rights and building permits.

There is every reason to believe that what we are now seeing is the Kremlin turning on Trump and facilitating his removal from office.  This is suggested by the timing of Peskov’s release of documents and comments on what further transpired. Peskov’s speaking out follows closely the admission by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen that he had lied to Congress over the project in Russia. At issue is the timing of Cohen’s solicitations in Moscow on Trump’s behalf.

Cohen had previously testified that the project died in January 2016. Now it is clear he pursued the presidential administration in Moscow well into the spring, during the American primaries, and perhaps as late as June, 2016, when Trump was already the Republican candidate. Though not confirmed by Peskov, there are suggestions circulating in social media that Trump’s minions intended to proposition Putin with a free penthouse atop the Trump Tower in exchange for land and permits.

Regrettably, the whole story of Cohen and the tower project in Moscow rings true, right down to the plans to bribe the Russian President.  Donald Trump’s multibillion dollar real estate empire was managed by an inner circle of long-time associates whose main value to the boss was personal loyalty not competence.

The story also rings true to the “transactional approach” to government business that Trump’s critics have decried.  The deal allegedly on offer to Putin betrays deep cynicism, the conviction that Donald’s interlocutors are as corrupt as he himself appears to be.

But there is still more in the bones of this scandal in formation to pick over.

Another feature of Donald Trump’s business life that is highly relevant to our understanding of what happened is the way he always has been surrounded by fortune seekers.  That comes with his being a wealthy private entrepreneur rather than a corporate executive of a publicly listed company. Some of these opportunists have come to him with product ideas that were later branded as “Trump” and brought him incremental wealth.  Others were no more than braggards and phonies who have only brought him trouble.  It would appear that one such adventurer is Felix Sater, who was involved in this and prior attempts to sell Trump in Russia and who now is spreading the story of the 50 million inducement to Putin in 2016 for help with the residential building.

There can be little doubt that the outreach to “Russian oligarchs” whom such people alleged were close to Putin and “fix” a deal was empty of content. Hence the failure of the project to gain traction on the Russian side.

In a number of ways the failure of the 2016 bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow brings back memories of Trump’s hopes for a real estate deal in Moscow back in 1996. Though mainstream reporting claims that Trump was for 30 years seeking to build a residential tower, my own inside information from a friend who was at the time in Trump’s entourage, tells a different story. In 1996, they flew into Moscow in his private jet hoping to cut a deal. However, it was not residential in nature: rather it was to convert the then derelict building opposite the Kremlin into a casino and hotel. Trump had dinner with one of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s celebrity friends, the sculptor Tseretelli. Tseretelli was supposed to be the intermediary to the Kremlin decision-makers. That was all just a tall story by people seeking to ingratiate themselves with Trump. On the spot, in Moscow, Trump understood he had been tricked by his fixers. And he left Moscow, not to come back until the Miss Universe pageant. The building in question is now home to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

It is quite astonishing that Trump did not understand in 2016 that he could no longer afford to work with and through shady opportunists when he shifted gears from private businessman to candidate for the U.S. presidency. That, all by itself, points to a stunning lack of judgment.

The most charitable interpretation for Trump that one can put on the whole affair is that it demonstrates his own disbelief  in possible victory in the November elections. His team was allowed to fish in Russian waters for economic advantage to the Organization that would come when he returned to private life.

The case surrounding Michael Cohen stands the arguments of the Russia-gate accusers on their head, though American mainstream media seem not to follow the dotted lines where they inevitably lead. What we have here is the minions of a US presidential candidate trying to take in hand a Russian president and also incidentally exposing the Russian to potential black-mail over bribe-taking. It is mind-boggling.

Quite possibly the Kremlin now wants to sink Trump. If Special Prosecutor Mueller can extract from Cohen and others the critical details that are now hearsay, meaning the supposed trade-off of a penthouse for land and building permit, then Trump will go down. For attempted collusion.

I think Moscow understands that apart from the lunatic Hillary, Donald is now the worst man for them as occupant of the White House. Trump is in it up to his neck and is acquiescing to all the wish list of the Russia haters on the Hill.

Does Russia actually control who sits in the White House?  We may find out in the coming days.


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018