Russia Overview

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Trump's deep affection for the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin has been a matter of intense national scrutiny since the latter stages of the 2016 Presidential campaign. This story has been gathering speed since Trump's inauguration and is now the subject of numerous investigations. RAGEPATH is pursuing its own investigation into Trump's Russian ties. We will keep you updated as conclusive evidence becomes available.

We strongly recommend the ongoing public investigation maintained by the office of Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.[1] We also strongly recommend Talking Points Memo as an excellent source for current and comprehensive information on investigations into Trump's ties with Russia. [2]

RAGEPATH Speculation on Trump and Russia

    Warning: This section contains unproven speculation. It represents major "working hypotheses" that shape RAGEPATH's investigative efforts. We will update our readers if we find evidence that conclusively disconfirms elements of these hypotheses.
  • We suspect that Trump has been an "asset" of Soviet and Russian intelligence services since the 1980s. Contemporary news accounts characterized Trump's relations with Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin as a "courtship."[3] In 1985, Trump advocated for a nuclear arms agreement between the US and Soviet Union that contemporary news accounts described as "both superpowers against a Third World country which gains nuclear capability."[4] Trump traveled to Moscow in 1987 to discuss a business partnership with the Soviet government that would have created a hotel adjacent to the Kremlin.[5] Trump took out full page newspaper ads in 1987 calling on the United States to violate its alliances unless our partners paid us money for their protection.[6] Other known early contacts between Trump and Soviet representatives include a 1984 party on Malcolm Forbes' yacht[7] and a 1987 State Department luncheon with Gorbachev attended by Trump.[8] Trump was publicly embarrassed when he announced plans to give Gorbachev a tour of Trump Tower,[9] only to have Soviet officials cancel the visit to Trump.[10] Trump caused a scene when he and his bodyguards were fooled by a Gorbachev impersonator who visited Trump Tower instead.[11]

  • We suspect that Trump was first introduced to Soviet intelligence agents by Roy Cohn, a close Trump confidante who once served as an attorney for Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee. At the very least, Trump credited Cohn with his bizarre 1984 effort to strike an arms accord with the Soviet Union.[12] Roger Stone has claimed he was introduced to Trump by Roy Cohn.[13] Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were lobbyists for Trump as early as 1988.[14]

  • We suspect that Trump's relationship with Soviet intelligence agents was likely transformed by the twin turmoils of Trump's bankruptcy in the early 90s and the Soviet Union's collapse. Our current suspicion is that Trump may have committed bank fraud or securities fraud in 1990, embezzling borrowed money that was transferred overseas through the Trump family's elaborate network of shell corporations. It is possible that some amount of that money was invested in the purchase of formerly state-owned assets following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • We suspect that Trump's relationship with Russian intelligence services deepened in the mid-90s, as Trump began to explore the development of a Trump Tower East[15] in Russia. Russian officials rejected a plan submitted by Trump to build a casino[16] on the site of an Orthodox Cathedral that had been demolished by Stalin.[17]

  • We suspect that CIA informant Felix Sater joined the Trump Organization because Trump was already involved with Russian intelligence assets of interest to the CIA.[18] We suspect Sater was sent to Trump to cultivate Trump's connections.[19] Sater worked to promote several Trump-branded projects under development from 2003 to 2007.[20] Sater continued to work for Trump after 2007,[21] After Trump's inauguration, Sater relayed a pro-Russian peace plan for the Ukraine to a Trump Organization attorney that was late delivered to former Trump appointee Michael Flynn.[22]

  • We suspect that Trump's business ties with Russian intelligence agents informed his highly public antipathy towards Russia's democratically-elected President Boris Yeltsin. During Trump's abortive 2000 Presidential campaign, he claimed Russia was "out of control" and that Yeltsin was a "disaster." Trump called for canceling U.S. aid to Russia until the nation "straightened out their act."[23]

  • We suspect that Putin's ascension from the Russian intelligence service to the presidency of Russia was a boon for Trump. While we don't think Trump and Putin knew one another personally, many of Trump's associates in the Russian intelligence services would have substantially enhanced their influence following Putin's rise to power.

  • We believe that Russians would have considered Trump an "asset," not an "agent" - a useful but unpredictable source of vital intelligence. For his part, Trump may have traded information for information - not cash.

  • We suspect that Trump's 2004 role on "The Apprentice" raised his international profile, leading the Russian regime to see Trump as a potential PR asset. Many people around the world came to see Trump as the embodiment of American business following the international success of his television show. This perception would not have been lost on Russian agents or officials who had been collaborating with Trump's business enterprises for years. We believe that Trump hosted the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow to deflect Western criticism of the Russian regime's legislation restricting the rights of gays and lesbians in Russia. Laws restricting the rights of gays and lesbians were enacted in the summer of 2013 and prompted calls in the Western world for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. We suspect there is some Russian connection to Trump's high-profile deals in former Soviet Republics.

  • We suspect that Russian intelligence officials saw an opportunity to cultivate a closer relationship with Trump by providing him with financial support. Trump was overexposed to the U.S. real estate market as the Great Recession hit in 2008. We suspect covert Russian support explains how Trump averted a second financial collapse. Donald Trump Jr. boasted in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets."[24]

  • We believe Russian officials would have avoided direct financial transactions with Trump, as they would have tarnished his credibility as an American "validator" of their regime. We have identified a set of criteria for suspicious transactions that may have stemmed from Moscow:
    1. Transactions involving intermediaries who are removed by two or more degrees from the Russian regime. Many of the intermediaries may have been out of favor with the Russian regime and directed money to Trump either (a) as a way to cultivate favor with Moscow or (b) in response to pressure from Moscow. Other counter-parties in Trump transactions may have had broad financial interests linked to Russia that would allow them to take a loss in one transaction that could be offset by an equivalent gain in a separate and apparently unrelated transaction.
    2. Transactions suspiciously lop-sided in favor of Trump. Such deals would bolster Trump's image as a consummate deal maker while creating "plausible deniability" that the transaction was in fact meant as a payment to Trump.
    3. Transactions involving parties who have conducted other big deals with prominent Western supporters of Russia. Trump is presumably not unique as an international asset, and his counter-parties in transactions may have been involved in similar business deals with Western figures who have been supportive of Russian political interests.
    4. Transactions taking place entirely overseas. Trump has direct ownership of few international assets. Trump's overseas assets are clustered in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Entirely foreign transactions may have been designed to prevent tainted money from "touching shores" with the United States.
    5. Transactions utilizing known money-laundering shelters. Many real estate transactions in the United States and abroad allow for substantial sums of money to exchange hands without identifying the true source of the cash involved. Large deals between Trump and shadowy companies lacking any other business history should raise red flags.

  • We suspect that Trump would have sought to avoid receiving payments from the Russian regime that he would have been required to report on his financial disclosure statements. Trump's first financial disclosure was released in July of 2015 and covered the previous year. Trump first began taking active measures to campaign for President in the summer of 2013. It is possible that Trump and Russia had a "settling of accounts" during the period from summer of 2013 to summer of 2014, in which he struck a cluster of deals in order to "close the books" with his Russian contacts without having to reveal the transactions.

  • We suspect that Trump's affinity for Russia's autocratic regime stems from his long-standing ties to the Russian intelligence services and his sense of loyalty to business partners. No direct conspiracy between Trump and Putin is required to account for the public behavior we have witnessed. The same cannot necessarily be said for junior figures in either man's orbit. People affiliated with Trump have clearly taken payments from agents associated with the Russian regime in order to advance specific goals. On the Russian side, some of the suspicious activity we have witnessed may have originated with subordinates of Putin conducting operations on their own authority in the hopes of advancing their personal standing with the regime.

Recommended Reading

If you want to plumb deeper into this story, we heartily endorse Josh Marshall's articles on Talking Points Memo.

"Why FBI Can't Tell All on Trump, Russia", Who.What.Why., March 27, 2017

"The Gravity Is Strong Part 2", Talking Points Memo, March 28, 2017

"Donald Trump, Goodfellas Edition", Talking Points Memo, March 21, 2017

"Follow the Money, Donald Trump Edition", Talking Points Memo, March 16, 2017 - "The smoke is the story! Or to put it differently, the deep business ties provide a compelling explanation and I think likely sufficient explanation of Trump's persistent coziness and affection with top figures in Russia and Russian geopolitical interests."

"Putting the Picture Together", Talking Points Memo, March 6, 2017

"The Innocent Explanation, Part #2: The Mailer Standard", Talking Points Memo, March 5, 2017

"The Innocent Explanation, Part #1", Talking Points Memo, March 3, 2017

"The March Meeting", Talking Points Memo, March 3, 2017

"The Gravity Is Strong", Talking Points Memo, March 2, 2017

"What the CIA and FBI Knew About Trump Before 2016", Talking Points Memo, March 2, 2017

"'Says Who?' - The Michael Cohen Story"", Talking Points Memo, March 1, 2017

"Learning Eye-Popping Details About Mr Sater, Talking Points Memo, February 19, 2017

"A Big Shoe Just Dropped", Talking Points Memo, February 19, 2017

"Of Course there’s Evidence Trump Colluded with Russian Intelligence", Lawfare, April 7, 2016

"Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Closed", New York Times, April 5, 2016

"Russian Elite Invested Nearly $100 Million in Trump Buildings", Reuters, March 17, 2017

"Russian mafia boss still at large after FBI wiretap at Trump Tower", ABC News, March 21, 2017

"Behind Trump’s Russia Romance, There’s a Tower Full of Oligarchs", Bloomberg News, March 16, 2017

"Russian Mafia: KGB Steers Criminal to U.S. Careers", Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1988

"The KGB's Middle East Files: Leaking thousands of documents", Y Net News, October 28, 2016

"How two Russian defectors helped the FBI nab European mobsters then wound up stranded in Oregon", Newsweek, November 10, 2016

Under Development

Russia Timeline

Trump Park Avenue - 502 Park Avenue

Maison de L'Amitie - Palm Beach

Footnotes and Citations

  3. The fact is, the billionaire developer (casino czar, bestselling author, nouveau yachtsman, etc.) has been making overtures to Moscow for some time. The Soviets seem interested in him, too. [...] The courtship began in 1986, when Trump was seated next to Ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a luncheon given by Leonard Lauder, who runs his mother Este'e's cosmetics business. Turned out that Dubinin's daughter knew all about the Trump Tower, with its six-story-high atrium of apricot marble and blinding brass where a $2 million, 80-foot-high waterfall sloshes down one wall. As Trump recounts the conversation in his 1987 book, "one thing led to another, and now I'm talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin." The plan was to build in partnership with the Soviet government. (Washington Post, December 3, 1988)
  4. Trump has said he would like to be the U.S. negotiator in arms talks with the Soviets. "Some people have an ability to negotiate," he says. "It's an art you're basically born with. Either you have it or you don't. "I feel for the first time in many years we're in a position to negotiate a really good treaty. I've been involved in studying the issue for years. I feel very knowledgable about the issues." And the issue, he says, is not so much the United States vs. the Soviet Union as it is both superpowers against a Third World country which gains nuclear capability. "I've never actually recommended myself as a negotiator," Trump says, "but I think what we need is someone who really knows the issues and knows how to negotiate." (Associated Press, February 24, 1985)
  5. Mr. Trump also said he would leave Friday for Moscow to pursue an invitation to build a hotel across from the Kremlin. […] Of the Moscow project, Mr. Trump said he did not know how large the hotel would be. He plans to be in Moscow for six days as a guest of the Government to examine the site and look into details. He said it would be his first trip to the Soviet Union. The New York developer said the Soviet Government wanted a hotel "with the feel of Trump Tower." (New York Times, July 3, 1987)
  6. Donald Trump recently published an impassioned full-page newspaper ad that reported that our friends around the world were "laughing" at us and that the time had come for them to "pay for the protection we extend as allies." (Washington Post, Editorial, October 8, 1987)
  7. Fireworks over the East River have always been a magnet for Malcolm S. Forbes and his sumptuous 126-foot yacht, the Highlander. The tradition continued Wednesday night, when Mr. Forbes treated 111 guests, including a group of visiting Soviet journalists, to a cruise around lower Manhattan and ringside seats for the annual July 4 sky show. [...] Among the guests, who boarded the yacht to the sound of "Yankee Doodle" played on a bagpipe, were [...] Donald and Ivana Trump, and three generations of Forbeses. [...] The Soviet journalists, who had been invited here by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, seemed more interested in the scene along the dock at 23d Street and the East River, where the Highlander tied up for the fireworks. Noting the contrast between the well-dressed guests on the yacht and the masses of ordinary New Yorkers lining the dock, Vitaly Kobysh, a columnist for the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta, took out his camera and said, "This is the best shot of the trip: the two worlds." (New York Times, July 6, 1984)
  8. That quick meet yesterday at a State Department luncheon in Gorbachev's honor was just one of the almost surreal encounters in the Soviet leader's all-out attempt to reach beyond official Washington to the country at large. [...] The guests included industrialists H. Ross Perot and Donald Trump, ABC journalist Barbara Walters, artist Andrew Wyeth (who sat next to Raisa Gorbachev), Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), Dobrynin and House Majority Leader Tom Foley (D-Wash.). (Washington Post, December 10, 1987)
  9. Mikhail S. Gorbachev is tentatively scheduled to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Trump Tower during his trip to New York next week, the Soviet Mission to the United Nations said yesterday, and Donald Trump plans to show Mr. Gorbachev a swimming pool inside a $19 million apartment. (New York Times, December 1, 1988)
  10. Academician Georgi Arbatov, who is a member of Gorbachev's delegation to New York and of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, told a news conference that the appeal for new momentum will be the theme of Gorbachev's speech, which is expected to be his major public statement during a three-day visit that begins with his arrival at Kennedy International Airport at 3 p.m. Tuesday. [...] Arbatov said that Gorbachev has no plans to visit the lavish Trump Tower headquarters of New York real estate developer Donald J. Trump. "I think that's a misunderstanding," said Arbatov. "I don't think that was on the program." (Washington Post, December 6, 1988)
  11. Donald Trump, hearing that Mr. Gorbachev was in front of Trump Tower, rushed down from his office to see if the Communist leader had changed his mind back about viewing the Manhattan billionaire's lush capitalist empire. Mr. Trump and his bodyguards wedged their way through the crowd and shook hands with the man who was a dead ringer for Mr. Gorbachev - right down to the distinctive mark on his scalp. As it turned out, it was not the Soviet leader at all, but an actor named Ronald V. Knapp, the winner of a Gorbachev look-alike contest. Mr. Knapp was meandering around New York, from Fifth Avenue to the Soviet Mission to Bloomingdale's, being filmed by television crews from Channel 5. (New York Times, December 7, 1988)
  12. In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, Trump credited Cohn with his ambition to negotiate an arms treaty with the Soviet Union.
    This morning, Trump has a new idea. He wants to talk about the threat of nuclear war. He wants to talk about how the United States should negotiate with the Soviets. He wants to be the negotiator. He says he has never acted on his nuclear concern. But he says that his good friend Roy Cohn, the flamboyant Republican lawyer, has told him this interview is a perfect time to start. [...] He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says. "It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles ... I think I know most of it anyway. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation ... You know who really wants me to do this? Roy ... I'd do it in a second." (Washington Post, November 15, 1984)
  13. Roger Stone, a political operative who met Trump through Cohn, said their association was grounded in business, but he also described the lawyer as "like a cultural guide to Manhattan" for Trump into the worlds of celebrity and power. "Roy was more than his personal lawyer," Stone told The Post. "And, of course, Trump was a trophy client for Roy." (Washington Post, June 19, 2016)
  14. For the founding partners of Black Manafort Stone & Kelly [...] 1988 was a year to invest in their future. Two of the partners, Charles Black and Roger Stone, spent most of last year as senior campaign strategists, first with Jack Kemp, then with George Bush. A third partner, Paul J. Manafort, ran the Republican National Convention in New Orleans for Bush. [...] Manafort is now a central figure in the congressional inquiry into fees paid to Republican consultants to win approval of housing subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. [...] To a list of clients that by 1988 already included Allied Signal, Donald Trump, Aetna Life and Casualty, Bethlehem Steel, Johnson & Johnson, Trans World Airlines and Union Pacific, the firm has added in 1989 the Mortgage Insurance Cos. of America, the Large Public Power Council, the Air Transport Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the Circle K Corp. (Washington Post, August 12, 1989)
  15. After five years of a weird, distorted shuffle toward the free market, much of Russia wallows in an economic morass. Like the country's civil society, its new capitalist institutions have only barely taken hold. But in many ways, Moscow 1996 is a boomtown. [...] Donald Trump has swooped into town to explore the possibilities for a Trump Tower East. (Washington Post, December 27, 1996)
  16. The decision to build a cathedral, not Trump's casino, was announced in September by Patriarch Alexei II, head of the Russian Orthodox church, and Yuri Luzhkhov, the mayor who rules over Moscow with the kind of majesty associated with mayors of Chicago. (Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1994)
  17. The Christ the Saviour Cathedral will be an exact replica of one demolished by Stalin, who dreamed of erecting a monolithic Palace of the Soviets in its place. [...] With the collapse of communism in 1991 came the revival of the Orthodox church, but rebuilding the cathedral was not the only proposal to cross the mayor's desk. Donald Trump, the American millionaire, proposed a 30-storey skyscraper complete with casinos, luxury apartments, boutiques and even "worship facilities". (Sunday Times (London), September 11, 1994)
  18. Mr. Trump was foggy on how he first came to do business with Bayrock, a small development company whose offices were in Trump Tower in Midtown. In a deposition a few years ago, he said it might have been a Bayrock associate, Felix H. Sater, who first approached him in the early 2000s. (New York Times, April 5, 2016)
  19. According to Sater's Linkedin profile, Sater joined up with Bayrock in 1999 - in other words, shortly after he became involved with the FBI and CIA. (The Times article says he started up with Bayrock in 2003.) In a deposition, Trump said he first came into contact with Sater and Bayrock in the early 2000s. The Trump SoHo project was announced in 2006 and broke ground in November of that year. In other words, Sater's involvement with Bayrock started soon after he started working with the FBI and (allegedly) the CIA. Almost the entire period of his work with Trump took place during this period when he was working for the federal government as at least an informant and had his eventual sentencing hanging over his head. (Talking Points Memo, February 19, 2017
  20. Mr. Sater - who now goes by the name Satter - has been jetting to Denver, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and elsewhere since 2003, promoting potential projects in partnership with Mr. Trump and others. In New York, the company Mr. Sater works for, Bayrock Group, is a partner in the Trump SoHo, a sleek, 46-story glass tower condominium hotel under construction on a newly fashionable section of Spring Street. (New York Times, December 17, 2007)
  21. Mr. Sater left Bayrock after the news of his criminal background was reported. But even after that, his association with Mr. Trump did not end. The Trump Organization later gave him a business card identifying him as a “senior advisor” to Mr. Trump, as well an office. Mr. Garten, the general counsel for the organization, said that Mr. Sater was never an employee, but that he had worked independently to steer potential deals to Mr. Trump. (New York Times, April 6, 2016)
  22. Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort. [...] “Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said. He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office. New York Times, February 19, 2017
  23. Donald Trump said yesterday he would not rule out a U.S. military first strike to stem North Korea's missile production. The potential Reform Party presidential candidate also called Russian President Boris Yeltsin "a disaster." [...] Trump complained that Russia is "out of control" with a leader who is "a disaster." He said U.S. aid "would probably stop if it were me, until they straightened out their act." He contends Russia is using the aid "on developing more nuclear" weapons. (Washington Post, November 29, 1999)
  24. The executive vice president of Development and Acquisitions for the Trump Organization, Donald Trump Jr., is the eldest child and son of famed real estate developer Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana Trump. [...] "And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There's indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble," he said. (eTN Global Travel Industry News, September 15, 2008)