Friday Reads: The End Game Cometh

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

It’s been evident this week that the Mueller election silent period is over and that indictments are coming. (Yay for no more silent nights from him!!!) This week has been an internicine cage fight between all the creeps in the Trump Family Syndicate and raids. Cohen seems to have come clean in the “no collusion” thing. Manafort resorts to the thug form and gets dumped by Team USA. Trump is having such a meltdown he could barely flip that switch on the National Christmas tree. So, this post mostly follows up on BB’s news yesterday as we go further down the Russian Rabbit hole.

It’s illegal to bribe foreign officials to get business favors in foreign countries when you’re an American. So, what does it mean when you’re doing it big time to the guys that are going to help you win an election and you’re on the campaign trail for the presidency? We’ve had so many laws broken recently by the placeholder in the White House that it’s both horrifying and numbing. Buzz Feed broke this last night and it took the oxygen right out of the news cycle. “The Trump Organization Planned To Give Vladimir Putin The $50 Million Penthouse In Trump Tower Moscow. During the presidential campaign, Michael Cohen discussed the matter with a representative of Putin’s press secretary, according to two US sources.”

President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.

Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

The Trump Tower Moscow plan is at the heart of a new plea agreement by Cohen, who led the negotiations to bring a gleaming, 100-story building to the Russian capital. Cohen acknowledged in court that he had lied to Congress about the plan in order to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.

The revelation that representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about President Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin. The plan never went anywhere because the tower deal ultimately fizzled, and it is not clear whether Trump knew of the intention to give away the penthouse. But Cohen said in court documents that he regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Moscow negotiations.

BuzzFeed News first reported in May on the secret dealings of Cohen and his business associate Felix Sater with political and business figures in Moscow.

The two men worked furiously behind the scenes into the summer of 2016 to get the Moscow deal finished — despite public claims that the development was canned in January, before Trump won the Republican nomination. Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan.

Dollar Bill Jefferson must be sitting in his federal jail cell in awe of such heights of bribing public officials. The amount in his fridge was no where near this. It’s a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and I have no idea if they charge him with it before or after he leaves office. This is just another one of those constitutional crises thingies we’re getting used to. It’s been in place since 1977 so it’s hardly a new thing.

The FCPA has two provisions- Anti-Bribery and Accounting. In essence, the Anti-Bribery Provisions make it a crime for any US individual, business entity or employee of a US business entity to offer or provide, directly or through a 3rd party, anything of value to a foreign government official with corrupt intent to influence an award or continuation of business or to gain an unfair advantage. The Accounting Provisions basically make it illegal for a company that reports to the SEC to have false or inaccurate books or records or to fail to maintain a system of internal accounting controls.

Which brings us to two raids that happened just yesterday. Law enforcement in Frankfurt stormed Duestche Bank which is the only bank that will fund the Trump Family Crime Syndicate. Today is the second day they’re on the scene.

Police have searched the offices of all the members of Deutsche Bank’s (DBKGn.DE) board as part of an investigation into money laundering allegations linked to the Panama Papers, a source told Reuters on Friday.

Investigators are looking into the activities of two unnamed Deutsche Bank employees alleged to have helped clients set up offshore firms to launder money, the prosecutor’s office has said. The inquiries focus on events from 2013 to this year.

Gerhard Schick, a member of parliament for the opposition Green party, said it was “particularly irritating” that the bank’s current board members oversaw operations during the time in question. “This is not about legacy issues,” he said in a statement to Reuters.

Bloomberg reports today that the raid goes straight to the top and is likely to snag some senior officials. The big question is where did the money come from and who benefited from the laundering and resulting funds? It’s likely the Russians are involved so that could lead us right back to Putin’s puppet.

The police raid on Thursday and Friday was targeting two suspects identified by their age and an unspecified number of other suspects, the prosecutors said. One of the two suspects works in the bank’s anti-financial crime unit, a person familiar with the matter said. It was headed by Philippe Vollot until this summer and now is led by Stephan Wilken. The unit head ultimately reports to Matherat.

The other suspect identified by age works in the private wealth unit, according to the person. It’s led by Fabrizio Campelli and it’s part of Deutsche Bank’s private and commercial bank that is headed by management board member Frank Strauss. It was led by Sewing from 2015-2018 before he was appointed CEO.

Searches don’t necessarily mean that prosecutors have evidence against a person whose office is being raided. They can raid homes or offices of people who aren’t implicated if there’s reason to believe document or other evidence relevant to the case may be found there. In probes of corporate crimes, investigators generally check whether top managers knew about the alleged wrongdoing or did enough to prevent it

Of course, the bank is related to both the Trump and Kushner businesses so it’s likely to vex and jeopardize Trump’s already troubled business dealings. This analysis is from Timothy O’Brien of Bloomberg .

When Trump nearly went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s, he left a handful of major U.S. banks on the hook for about $3.4 billion in loans he couldn’t repay (and about $900 million of which he had personally guaranteed). Hotels, casinos, real estate, an airline and other parts of his debt-ridden portfolio went into bankruptcy protection. In the wake of that collapse, Trump became a pariah among major U.S. banks, and he had to find unique ways of lining up money for the infrequent and small-boredeals he pursued thereafter. That left him borrowing money from labor unions and small, local lenders. Deutsche, keen at the time to make a name for itself in U.S. investment banking and commercial lending, was less hesitant to do business with Trump.

Deutsche’s first transaction with Trump involved a modest renovation loan for 40 Wall Street, a Manhattan skyscraper Trump controls, in 1998. Trump did little to merit Deutsche’s involvement after that until the early 2000s, when it agreed to loan him as much as $640 million for a Chicago project — the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

I was working on a biography of Trump at the time, and he told me that one of things he learned from his financial collapse in the early ’90s was that he had ignored valuable business advice from his father, Fred: Never personally guarantee a loan. Yet he still went ahead and guaranteed $40 million of the Deutsche loan for the Chicago project. (Trump sued me for libel in 2006, claiming the biography, “TrumpNation,” had misrepresented his business history and finances; he lost the suit in 2011.)

Deutsche had a relatively intimate understanding of Trump’s finances. Although Trump told me in 2004 and 2005 that his net worth was anywhere from $1.7 billion to $6 billion (and suggested it might even be $9.5 billion), my sources at the time told me his wealth was closer to $150 million to $250 million. When Trump litigated the point with me, my lawyers produced a Deutsche assessment of his finances that pegged his wealth at $788 million in 2005.

Trump’s relationship with Deutsche briefly soured in a dispute over the Chicago project. When the financial crisis landed in 2008 and imperiled that development, Trump sued Deutsche to avoid paying the $40 million he had guaranteed (claiming, in part, that Deutsche was responsible for the global economic distress unleashed by the crisis). A clash like that can permanently unwind a real estate partnership, but Deutsche and Trump agreed to settle, with the bank extending a loan from its private banking division to allow Trump to pay back its real estate lending unit, according to the New York Times.

Deutsche’s private banking arm has hung in there ever since, with Rosemary Vrablic as the Deutsche banker serving as Trump’s primary liaison there. She also has helped Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, as well as his mother, arrange multimillion-dollar loans and lines of credit at Deutsche. In recent years, Deutsche’s private banking unit has loaned Trump money — about $300 million, according to Bloomberg News and Trump’s government financial disclosure forms — for such projects as his Washington hotel and the Trump National Doral golf course.

The Trump SoHo Hotel, which stripped Trump’s name from the property last year, was financed in the mid-2000s in part with loans channeled through Icelandic banks that collapsed during the financial crisis. I’ve written extensively about Trump’s involvement with the firm originally behind that project, Bayrock Group LLC, and about the murky funds from Europe used to build it. While Deutsche was closely involved with Icelandic banks at the time of the collapse, no information has surfaced that it played a direct role in the Trump SoHo.

What’s likely now, however, is that Trump’s dealings with Deutsche — which have represented, at a minimum, a serious and long-standing financial conflict for him given the influence he wields over law enforcement and financial regulation as president — are about to draw greater scrutiny.

The other most interesting raid is still happening in Chicago. Salon calls the day a Trifecta of bad news for Trump family crime syndicate.

In another curious coincidence that may or may not be related, the law offices of Edward Burke, a Chicago alderman and former Trump tax attorney, were raided on Thursday. Burke’s law firm represented Trump’s businesses — including the same Chicago Trump Tower that secured funding from Deutsche Bank — for 12 years.

With Deutsche Bank hit with yet another money-laundering probe, one former Trump lawyer raided by the feds and another one apparently ready to spill the beans, Democrats — poised to take control of the House of Representatives in January — are already chomping at the bit to investigate.

“All these developments make clear the counterintelligence imperative for the House Intelligence Committee, in the new Congress, to continue to probe the Trump Organization’s financial links to Russia and determine whether the Russians sought financial leverage over Trump and his associates, or hold any such leverage today,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Again, no wonder Trump looked greener than the National Christmas tree at the ceremony and the quick exit was such that the White House Press Pool was abandoned there. It was a dark and bizarre event that usually leads into a charming White House Christmas season.

Reporters were briefly held at the Ellipse outside the White House without any immediate indication of where the president had gone. They were later notified that Trump had returned to the White House via motorcade without the press pool in tow.

Members of the press pool protested the situation on Twitter.

The funniest thing I’ve found in years is where Rod Rosenstein was speaking while all of this was going on, along with the topic of his speech. Straight from the DOJ website: Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the American Conference Institute’s 35th International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Oxon Hill, MD, Thursday, November 29, 2018, Irony is not lost on this guy. Neither is getting the last laugh.

The term “rule of law” describes the government’s obligation to follow neutral principles and fair processes. The ideal dates at least to the time of Greek philosopher Aristotle, who wrote, “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the law.”

The rule of law is indispensable to a thriving and vibrant society. It shields citizens from government overreach. It allows businesses to invest with confidence. It gives innovators protection for their discoveries. It keeps people safe from dangerous criminals. And it allows us to resolve differences peacefully through reason and logic.

When we follow the rule of law, it does not always yield the outcome we prefer. In fact, one indicator that we are following the law is when we respect a result that we do not agree with. We respect it because it is required by an objective analysis of the facts and a rational application of the rules.

The rule of law is not simply about words written on paper. The culture of a society and the character of the people who enforce the law determine whether the rule of law endures.

One of the ways that we uphold the rule of law is to fight bribery and corruption. Until a few decades ago, paying bribes was viewed as a necessary part of doing business abroad. Some American companies were unapologetic about corrupt payments.

Once again, Melania’s proclivatives for dystopian decorating overshadowed nearly all attempts to emphasize the next battle in the War on Christmas on Fox.

“In real life they look even more beautiful, and you are all very welcome to visit the White House — the ‘people’s house,’” she said.

I just refer to them as the Used Tampon Trees.

Trump is in Argentina as the national embarrassment continues on the international stage. The back and forth meeting on and off business with Russia is truly odd.

President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled his planned meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

“The Kremlin regrets U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Argentina and said Moscow is ready for contact with Trump, RIA news agency cited spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Friday,” Reuters reported.

“This means that discussion of important issues on the international and bilateral agenda will be postponed indefinitely,” President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Now, the Kremlin announces there will be a meeting. Nothing stands between KGB and the need for a debrief from its agents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a brief impromptu meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Argentina just as he will with other leaders at the G20 summit, RIA news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Friday.

So, it’s definitely a ‘red’ christmas and I’m beginning to wonder if we get somewhat the feel of the red wedding.

So, we’re on the agenda as being a destablizing force along with Russia. I’m not sure if this actually makes Trump proud of himself or not.

World leaders are meeting in Argentina for their annual G20 summit amid new tension with Russia over Ukraine and a US trade row with China.

US President Donald Trump has cancelled a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in protest at Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval boats.

But ahead of the summit’s official start Mr Trump signed a trade deal with the Mexican and Canadian leaders.

A massive security operation is under way for the summit in Buenos Aires.

A bank holiday has been declared for Friday and the city’s main business district has been shut down.

Speaking before the signing of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – to replace the Nafta free trade deal – Mr Trump described it as “probably the greatest trade deal ever”.

“All of our countries will benefit greatly,” he said.

So, maybe we’ll get some christmas cheer this year from some place other than the Red House with it’s used tampon alley, or commie car wash or whatever that was …

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?