The Gathering Storm
It’s all over but the shouting and the presidency of Donald J. Trump is upon us. In nine days, Mr. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Billionaire businessman, celebrity, tweetmaster, Mr. Trump has changed American politics even before taking office, rewriting the political playbook and sending shock waves through Washington.
Fasten seat belts, it’s looking like a rough ride. On the Russian front, in particular, several recent developments point to a gathering storm for the Trump presidency.
The blockbuster was last week’s “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in the Recent U.S. Elections,” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It is short and you should read it here, but in case you’ve been living in a cave, the main conclusion was that Russian President Vladimir Putin executed a sweeping “influence campaign” aimed at the 2016 election, which morphed from an effort to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton into an aspiration to “help” Mr. Trump. Russian military intelligence was a key player in the effort, which “reflected years of investment” by the Kremlin. The Russians stole emails and other data from “both major U.S. political parties” and passed it on to WikiLeaks and other sources.
Mr. Trump’s team has been swinging hard against any notion that the Russians tilted the election. (The IC report did not go there, stating that it “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”) After a classified briefing on the Russian activities, Mr. Trump released a statement saying “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
From London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange echoed the Trump pushback. He denied the leaked documents came from “a state party” (Russia) and called the IC report “a political attack” against Mr. Trump and an effort to “delegitimize the election.”
Mr. Assange has a starring role in an important new book just out from legendary investigative writer Edward Jay Epstein, “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, The Man and the Theft.” A sweeping chronicle of espionage and betrayal in the Putin era, Mr. Epstein’s book should be required reading at the Trump White House.
Mr. Epstein nails Mr. Assange as a tool of Moscow. After Mr. Snowden stole huge amounts of the National Security Agency’s most sensitive secrets and fled to Hong Kong, Mr. Assange “counseled Snowden to go directly to Russia,” Mr. Epstein writes. In an excerpt of the book published in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Epstein notes that Mr. Putin “personally authorized” assistance to Mr. Snowden in his escape from Hong Kong and WikiLeaks provided “a smokescreen” by booking diversionary flight reservations to other destinations.
Other Russian connections are emerging as well. Earlier this week, the influential national security writer John Schindler, tweeting as @20committee, launched a tweet storm charging that the Trump Organization’s ties to Russian organized crime “are well known in certain circles,” including U.S. intelligence.
Schindler tweeted that the footprints of alleged Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich “are all over the Trump [Organization] since early 1990s.” A Mogilevich capo, Vyacheslav Ivankov, later murdered in Moscow, for three years was “dividing his time between Trump Tower and [Trump’s] Taj Mahal Casino,” until the FBI caught up with him, Schindler reports. “Mogilevich has a very cozy relationship with Putin and his special services, going back to KGB days,” Schindler says.
Schindler is not alone on the Russian mob story, but he is lonely. Most of the media, he says, are taking a pass, bewildered by the complexity of the Russian underworld and a murky money trail, wary of the litigious master of Trump Tower and nervous about the story because, well, the Russian mafia “kill people.” At the American Interest, James Henry has a lengthy piece connecting some dots. And rumor has it that the FT is digging deep into the Trump World money trail. In October, the FT published a report, “Dirty Money: Trump and the Kazakh Connection.”
The Trump Organization has said any suggestion of improper behavior is pure fiction. “[T]his narrative,” Trump special counsel Michael Cohen told the FT, “is both misleading and fabricated. Perpetuation of this false connection…or any connection with Russia altogether—is yet another example of the press’s liberal bias toward Mr. Trump.”
In a sign of things to come—information wars and rumors of wars—yesterday the Russian saga took a sensational twist with the publication by BuzzFeed of a purported intelligence dossier containing allegations of payoffs, secret meetings and sexual misconduct by Mr. Trump and his associates. The allegations are “totally fake, totally inaccurate,” Mr. Cohen told the Atlantic. Mr. Trump was more emphatic. “FAKE NEWS,” he tweeted. “A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: [email protected]
Investigative Bulletin is published weekly by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: [email protected]