Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. —Henry David Thoreau
I was struck by a remark in an earlier comment thread which basically suggested that Trump is a narcissistic boor and con man and a few other things, but that, at least so far, the accusations of collusion with Russia to get a leg up in the election, along with other malfeasance concerning money laundering and mob connections are not supported by the evidence at hand, and for that needle to be moved significantly it will be necessary for Mueller’s investigation to come up with something incontrovertible.
Even a moderate effort toward fair-mindedness and adherence to the principle of innocent until proven guilty must result in an acknowledgment of that. But that does not mean the evidence already available is trivial or unpersuasive.
Yes, it’s circumstantial, but when all that evidence is documented in one place, as a timeline, it’s extremely difficult to propose scenarios which align with that evidence and don’t involve both illegalities and seriously deep financial entanglements with Russian oligarchs. And nobody in their right mind believes that it’s possible to be entangled with Russian oligarchs without being entangled with Vladimir Putin and the Russian state.
Happily, Steven Harper over at Bill Moyers’ place has done exactly that with a constantly updated timeline of All Things Trump going back to 1979 when he first met Roger Stone right up to the present day.
It’s a big piece of work, but fascinating reading. Trump’s history with Russia dealings goes back a long way, especially for someone who insisted throughout his campaign and to the present day that “he has nothing to do with Russia”. Here’s a brief cherry-picked single narrative thread from Harper’s piece. It’s just one among many, many others;
1984: David Bogatin, a 38-year-old former Soviet Army pilot and Russian émigré who arrived in America seven years earlier with just $3 in his pocket, pays $6 million for five condominium units in a luxurious new Manhattan high-rise, Trump Tower. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end US real estate as a way to launder money from their criminal enterprises. Three years later, Bogatin — eventually revealed to be a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York — pleads guilty to a money laundering scheme. According to prosecutors, the scheme involved a network of Russian and Eastern European immigrants acting with Michael Franzese, an admitted captain of the Colombo organized-crime family. (In 1986, Franzese pleads guilty and receives a 10-year sentence for the scheme.) In 2003, Bogatin’s brother, Jacob, is indicted for allegedly running a $150 million stock scam and money-laundering scheme with Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBIconsiders the “boss of bosses” of Russian organized crime.
August 1998:Russia defaults on its debt and its stock market collapses. As the value of the ruble plummets, Russian millionaires scramble to get money out of their country and into New York City, where real estate provides a safe haven for overseas investors.
October 1998: Demolition of a vacant office building near the United Nations headquarters is making way for Trump World Tower. Donald Trump begins selling units in the skyscraper, which is scheduled to open in 2001 and becomes a prominent depository of Russian money. By 2004, one-third of the units sold on the 76th through 83rd floors of Trump World Tower involve people or limited liability companies connected to Russia or neighboring states. Assisting Trump’s sales effort is Ukrainian immigrant Semyon “Sam” Kislin, who issues mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar Trump World Tower apartments. In the late 1970s, Kislin had co-owned an appliance store with Georgian immigrant Tamir Sapir, and they had sold 200 television sets to Donald Trump on credit. By the early 1990s, Kislin had become a wealthy commodities trader and campaign fundraiser for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1996 appoints him to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Meanwhile, Sapir makes a fortune as a New York City real estate developer.
2002: Efforts to sell Russians apartments in Trump World Tower, Trump’s West Side condominiums, and Trump’s building on Columbus Circle expand with presentations in Moscow involving Sotheby’s International Realty and a Russian realty firm. In addition to buying units in Trump World Tower, Russians and Russian-Americans flood into another Trump-backed project in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. In South Florida alone, members of the Russian elite invest more than $98 million in seven Trump-branded luxury towers.
July 2008: As the Florida real estate market began to crash, Trump sells a Florida residence to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, believed to be the biggest single-family home sale in US history. The Russian oligarch never lived in the house and, since then, it has been demolished. Three years earlier, Trump had bought the home at auction for $41 million.
Read the piece, it’s meticulously researched and when all the details are presented as a timeline—details like the Kushners’ visit to Moscow and being squired around, upon Donald Trump’s request, by people he later claimed “not to know, not really”—it comes together in a way which induces fair-mindedness to wonder if we’re not just dealing with a trout in the milk, but an entire school of fish.
One last comment about fair-mindedness. Trump and people like him don’t respect fair-mindedness and they don’t regard it as an essential ingredient, or even a valuable ingredient, in a civil society. They regard it as a weakness to be exploited.