To understand the Trump-Russia scandal, I believe it is necessary to step way back and take the very long view. I’m not talking about going back to early 2016, or even the year before. Much farther.
I’m not going to make a claim in this post as to what happened and who did what. Rather, I’d like to present a hypothesis, a single interpretation of events, that may or may not be correct, but that is based on this long view.
Whatever did actually happen, it did involve, or somehow exclude, Donald Trump and a number of individuals with whom he has had long term relationships, and Vladimir Putin and individuals with whom he has had long term relationships, and of course, an overlapping set of individuals who fit in both categories.
The Trump real estate business, centered mainly on Donald Trump itself, involved Roger Stone, Paul Manafort,and others. There are allegations of connections between Trump and the mob, sufficient to get at least one project denied in 1987. Manafort and Stone had long time connections with Russian interests and individuals, going way back in time, and there were numerous Trump-family-Russian deals over a long period of time, not just recently.
Deutche Bank, which apparently has served as a Russian Oligarch money laundering facility, took on Trump’s business as far back as 1998, when Trump started to run out of places to borrow money. Subsequently, the Russian state owned bank, Putin’s personal facility bailed the troubled Trump enterprise out of at least one financial hole.
Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, and several others are relative newcomers to the drama, and because their involvement and possible activities is both recent and confused, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.
The short version is this. According to this entirely hypothetical model, Trump was involved with a wide range of shady characters doing shady deals for decades. Putin and his Oligarch friends were involved with a wide range of shady characters doing shady deals for decades. There was significant overlap between the two groups.
Somewhere along the way, Putin, with Manafort’s help, started to become increasingly engaged in messing with the politics of other countries, and at some point developed, or came upon, a method of using emerging social media to hack elections. It was probably not difficult for Putin to make the shift from collecting American billionaires to using one of them specifically, Trump, to develop a US presidential campaign, on the off chance that this could disrupt American politics, back around 2015. It was then not too difficult to take the next step, realizing that Trump might actually win, to hack the election and put a man he had worked with, indirectly and possibly directly, and on whom (we hypothesize) he held considerable Kompromat, in the white house.
While these latter moves are perhaps the most important, and most urgent, they are small steps from what seems to have been going on all along, constituting minor adjustments in a larger over-arching program of money making, money laundering, and manipulation oligarch style.
And the engine that drove this process, the methodology by which Putin ultimately came to own several American operatives including, according to this model,Trump, was something out of a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel. In order to understand that engine, I offer a parable.
The Parable of Mark
Imagine an evil drug dealer named Alexey. He has a customer named Mark. Mark doesn’t think he is an addict, but he is, and that gets worse for him over time. Mark likes to buy 10 bags of product, then he marks them up and sells eight to his friends so that he can do two bags and use the profit on the other eight to cover his costs of each buy. Most of the time. Sometimes he parties with friends Nastia and Sasha, and they go through three or four bags. But that’s OK, because his other friend, Dima always loans Mark money when he needs it, so he can get more drugs from Alexey. And Alexey always has product.
Over time, if Mark was more smart and less obsessed with meeting his own desires to party and get stoned, he could have kept himself in drugs and made a steady profit over time. After a few years, Mark did manage to stash away about $500 bucks, but not the few thousand bucks he might have made had he made the right moves.
Meanehile,Mark became deeper and deeper in debt to Dima, and by the way, also to Alexey, who also helped Mark out now and then when he was down on cash. There was also that time when Mark got busted because someone claimed to see him dealing on a street corner, and Alexey provided an alibi for him. That court case was still pending, and Mark was hoping Alexey would remember to show up and give his alibi to the judge next month. Oh, and by the way, Nastia and Sasha also loaned Mark some money now and then. Oh, and the person who dropped the dime on Mark? Mark does not know it, but it was Sasha.
So, after a few years, Mark had that 500 bucks stashed away, had been having plenty of fun, and just barely, stayed out of trouble.
But, he also owes Dima about $42,000, and another 15,000 or so to the others. He is in trouble with the law and reliant on Alexey to help him out, and lately Sasha and Nastia had been snubbing him.
Turns out that Dima, Mark’s banker, was Alexey’s brother. Sasha and Nastia were Alexey’s cousins. The judge in that open court case was Alexey’s father. And, they were all members of the same organized criminal gang with Alexey in charge.
Putting this another way, Mark was in the business of buying and selling a product, and financing the deals, and staying out of trouble, by interacting with the same exact person at every level and in every direction. Over time, with every transaction, instead of Mark having the opportunity to make a little money here, and a little product there, and to develop a reasonable if unsavory business model, at every juncture of events, Alexey turned the screw and brought Mark deeper and deeper into debt and dependency. Everybody was in on it, and Mark was the unwitting mark. As it were.
What is to be learned from this parable?
This is what Vladimir Putin and a handful of his associates, according to this hypothetical model, may have done to Donald Trump. Early on, Paul Manafort developed a relationship with Trump, and not long after, with Putin’s gang. His business with Russia was to develop ways for Putin to influence foreign governments, and eventually, elections. As early as 2000, Trump was being looked at by American conservatives as a potential presidential candidate. Over time Trump engaged in a considerable amount of Obama bashing, which served his white supremacist tendencies. Putin must have seen Trump as a potential asset, with the added bonus that they shared a racist view of life.
During this entire time multiple seemingly independent Russian entities engaged in business with Trump and his family, including a wide range of “Trump Tower” like projects, and other land deals. This also included banking and loaning money. Trump and his family were fully engaged in a money making machine much like the fictional Mark’s, buying and selling and borrowing and having fun, and Putin and his oligarch associates, using Manafort and other Americans as professional manipulators, were behind most of it, possibly all of it. Trump was buying and selling and borrowing, and meeting various prurient needs, all with the same guy, Puppet Master Putin. Or, so the theory goes.
So, when mid 2016 came along, Trump looked like a viable candidate. Republicans started to manage their role in the possible Trump presidency. Putin turned on his machine, manufactured and modeled out by Manafort and others, with the hope of electing Trump as President, and even before the election, manipulated the Republican platform. Members of the Trump Team were generally in contact with Russian agents, and various members of Washington’s Republican political elite, including multiple elected officials, became first transition advisers, then cabinet members or senior white house advisers after the election, and were brought into Club Russia to varying degrees. .
Much of the news that has developed over the last several months has focused on this period, from mid 2016 to the present. It has been difficult to understand what it all means. But if one steps back and starts by examining Trump and his associates in the 1980s, and Putin and his associates, some of which were already long time Trump associates, in the 2000’s, much of that confusion seems to melt away. Putin and Trump have both been playing a sort of long game, but with Putin much more in charge and, I would guess, with the much larger vision.
Trump looks like a chump through much of this, and he probably is. But he has had his own objectives mainly having to do with making money and being a bully, which Putin was able to garner into deep debt and probably blackmail. According to this hypothesis.
So in sum, three elements make up the model:
1) Trump plus American mob plus Russian mob plus Real Estate
2) Putin plus foreign political hacking and eventually election hacking
3) Decades old overlap between these two groups.
And, not entirely by chance but with a little luck for Putin, Trump rides the racist post Obama wave and becomes a viable candidate, then Putin puts him in.
If you want to go into the weeds on this, and you should, aside from watching every edition of the Rachel Maddow show for the last year or so, check out this handy dandy timeline.