MAY 24, 2017
Many years ago, at the prompting of Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Robert Bartley, I visited Harry Albright, seeking insights into the corrupt, Saudi-dominated Bank of Credit & Commerce International. The former New York state banking superintendent had just been appointed trustee to oversee the sale of First American Bankshares, a BCCI-connected bank holding company. We met at his downtown office, the North Tower of the World Trade Center framed in his window on a sparkling sunny day.
“Think of the hydraulic power of money,” Albright cheerfully told me, spreading his hands, conjuring rivers of cash. BCCI was a multi-billion-dollar international criminal enterprise. It spread money far and wide, enriching insiders with bogus loans, purchasing the friendship of American politicians, buying up banks, extending letters of credit to arms dealers, tax evaders and racketeers, opening secret accounts for dictators, terrorists, drug dealers and spies, and providing a financial conduit for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. With front men from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabian interests dominated the bank through major stakeholders such as Khalid bin Mahfouz, Ghaith Pharaon, and Kamal Adham, the head of the Saudi intelligence service.
Albright was giving me a lesson in influence peddling at the highest level of the global game. “All that money is out there in different pools,” he said, “it’s liquid, it flows from place to place. But as in hydraulics, you can exert tremendous pressure by drawing it through a narrow pipeline when you need to—by focusing the intense hydraulic force of that money on a particular person or institution.”
BCCI showed the sinister side of Saudi influence. With its secret purchase of First American—a prominent Washington bank—BCCI bought entry into the top tier of the U.S. power system. It installed a Democratic Party icon, Clark Clifford, as First American’s chairman. Loans and favors flowed to Democrats and Republicans alike. When BCCI started to unravel, the hydraulic force of all that money caused official Washington to drag its feet on investigating. It took crusading Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the Journal’s Bob Bartley to prod the feds, and the world, into action.
I thought of Harry Albright and BCCI while following the kerfuffle over the pledge by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to donate $100 million to Ivanka Trump’s proposed Women Entrepreneurs Fund, to be administered by the World Bank. News flashed around the world about “Ivanka’s Fund” and the Trumpian hypocrisy in a pay-to-play move so similar to the Clinton Foundation, swiftly followed by a Twitter outburst decrying “fake news”—because, after all, the enterprise would be run by the World Bank, not the Trumps.
Or maybe not. It’s worth noting that there is no Women Entrepreneurs Fund. The World Bank website makes no mention of it. It’s simply an idea Ms. Trump raised with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently. Mr. Kim steers a ship riven by controversy, even crisis. So any port in a storm and who knows whether Ms. Trump will feel compelled to “rescue” the fund.
The Saudis don’t care. The notion that the deeply patriarchal state has developed a sudden love for women’s entrepreneurship is ludicrous. This is a classic Saudi influence play aimed at America’s ruling family. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s a little exercise in the hydraulic power of money. If you’re an oil-rich monarchy sitting on top of a restive region, you never know when you’re going to need to call in a favor. The best way to ensure favorable treatment is to spread around a lot of money.
In a joint investigation with the Washington Examiner, Judicial Watch outlined the Clintons’ long association with Saudi money. In 1992, while Bill Clinton was running for president, the Saudis gave $3.5 million to the University of Arkansas, a donation brokered by close Clinton friend, David Edwards. After Mr. Clinton was inaugurated president, the Saudis added another $20 million to the pot.
The Clinton Foundation received staggering sums from Saudi Arabia. According to our reporting, Saudi benefactors bestowed between $18 million and $50 million on the enterprise. (Foundation donations were reported in ranges, not specific numbers.)
While Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state, Mr. Clinton received $600,000 for speeches to Saudi-linked groups. The UAE, which marches in lockstep with Saudi policy, paid Mr. Clinton $1.1 million for four speeches. UAE-linked entities donated between $2.7 million and $11.5 million to the Clinton Foundation.
Both the Clinton and Bush families had connections to BCCI figures and to the House of Saud. In those days, it was hard not to—and that may be the most important point.
BCCI is long gone, busted in a global crackdown in 1991. But it looks like the Putin kleptocracy has replaced it.
John McCain has repeatedly called Vladimir Putin “a murderer and a thug,” and not without reason. The list of Mr. Putin’s crimes is long, from consolidating power by launching terror attacks against his own people to killing opponents, jailing dissidents, invading the Ukraine, meddling in Western elections and masterminding the takeover of key Russian business sectors—stealing untold wealth and creating an oligarchic strongman state beholden only to him.
Mr. Putin certainly understands the hydraulic power of money. And this may be where Donald Trump got himself into a world of trouble. We know that U.S. officials fined the Trump Taj Mahal Casino for money laundering violations and that there are credible allegations that Russian mobsters frequented the casino and Trump Tower in New York. We know that Russian oligarchs purchased Trump properties. We know that Mr. Trump partnered with a Russian organized crime figure, Felix Sater, in real estate deals and that a civil lawsuit alleges Mr. Sater’s company engaged in “a conspiracy to launder as much as $250 million on Trump projects.” We know that Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump traveled to Moscow in 2006 with Mr. Sater in pursuit of business deals. We know that a secret ledger uncovered in an anti-corruption probe in the Ukraine lists $12 million in payments from 2007 to 2012 from a pro-Russian political party for Paul Manafort, who later became Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign manager. We know that in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” We know that a prominent sports writer, James Dodson, reported that in 2014, Mr. Trump told him he “had access to $100 million” and Eric Trump told him that “we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” We know that the controversial Russian dossier claims that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page tried to insert himself into an $11 billion Russian oil deal led by Putin crony Igor Sechin. Read more from Judicial Watch on all this here, here, here and here.
Now, let’s be clear: there is no evidence that Donald Trump was running a corrupt criminal enterprise. But there’s plenty of evidence that Russia is. So the central question of the Russian connection probes becomes whether Mr. Trump was caught up, wittingly or not, in the powerful hydraulic forces of Russia’s dirty money.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigative Bulletin is published weekly by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: email@example.com.