Sunday, July 24, 2016

As a notorious billionaire once said, just what in the hell is going on?

Image by Elizabeth Griffin for Esquire, December 2015.
Everybody's got a reason why Donald Trump won't release his tax returns. Some say it's because he's one of those rich free riders taking advantage of loopholes to bring his income tax bill down toward zero, a bloodsucker who gets an infinite amount more out of government than most of us do but doesn't give anything back. For others, it would reveal that he's far less wealthy than he claims, putting a hole in his Prosperity Gospel argument that you should vote for him because he's made himself so damn rich he's bound to make you rich too, although that argument surely has enough holes in it already. Then there's the possibility that he's getting a lot of income from some unpleasant place he doesn't want us to know about.

Here's another hypothesis with some elements of all-of-the-above: that the tax returns would show he's seriously dependent on money from sources in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, people in the orbit of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, sponsoring his ventures and covering for his colossal mistakes.



That's the burden of a post put out yesterday afternoon by Josh Marshall, following some very dark hints in Dr. Krugman's Friday column, "The Siberian Candidate". The evidence is totally circumstantial so far, but it covers an awfully wide range of different aspects of the question, elements of motivations, methods, and opportunities, and it shouldn't be ignored.

First: Trump's need for credit. Not because he's poor, obviously, but because real estate and many of this other businesses can't function without lots of credit, and he doesn't get it from major US banks, for some reason, which is why he is in the odd position of owing at least $100 million to Deutsche Bank (an institution that has a lot of conflict with US regulators, issues from which a President Trump would have to recuse himself).

He's had lots of financing from Russia, though, over the years, along with developing projects in Russia, Ukraine (in 2005, not long after Paul Manafort made his first venture into the country as an adviser to oligarch Riyat Akhmetov and politician Viktor Yanukovych), Montenegro, and Azerbaijan (a project buried in mystery), and marketing US properties to oligarchs who are big customers for the kind of gross luxury he specializes in. One quite recent deal was the development of Trump SoHo in downtown Manhattan, financed from Russia and Kazakhstan, in which Trump was being sued for fraudulent claims on the values of the apartments—there was a criminal fraud case as well being put together by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, but it had to be dropped when Trump settled the suits ("I never settle") and the complainants were no longer willing (or able, under the secret terms of the settlement) to testify.

His debt load seems to have radically increased over the past year, from $350 million to $630 million, too, at the same time as his assets have been radically decreasing with the loss of so many of his branding assets in television and retail marketing brought about by the presidential campaign and the offense he's given in the course of the campaign to so many important groups of consumers.

Then: The channels in Trump's own staff. His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who spent years, starting in 2005, as an adviser to the savagely larcenous leader of Ukraine's pro-Russian party, Viktor Yanukovych, president from 2010 until the 2014 revolution forced him to abandon his Trump-style palace and flee to Russia, and his foreign policy adviser Carter Page, a businessman deeply connected to Russia's energy giant Gazprom and in this way directly dependent on Vladimir Vladimirovich, who could fabulously make or break him with a stroke of a pen.

Finally: Everybody knows how Putin has cultivated a kind of quasi-endorsement relationship with Trump, praising him as he often does particularly xenophobic politicians in the West such as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and cheerfully accepting their praise in return, but what I had no idea of until yesterday was a quieter kind of quid pro quo involving this year's Republican platform.

Trump and his lieutenants have shown in fact that they don't actually have any interest in what's in the Republican platform, and are happy to ignore it. He may have fantasies about eliminating the carried interest loophole or "renegotiating" NAFTA, but he didn't push those in there. Ivanka Trump has gone so far as to promise the world a President Trump would fight for equal pay for women and universal child care, which is decidedly not something the RNC is down with. But there is one very small plank where they interfered, and fought pretty hard—Ukraine. Quoting Marshall directly:
Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.
I should say that, like Marshall, I somewhat approve of that: I agree with Marshall that we must keep our NATO commitments but oppose any aggressive military approach to Russian relations beyond NATO.

That's not the point. The point is that this is the only policy issue where the Trump campaign has an interest it feels compelled to promote, and it's not to anybody's benefit but Vladimir Vladimirovich's.

It's all just a little bit much. Trump has all these long-term strands of interest linking him to the Putin regime, he is in appearance financially dependent on money streams Putin controls, he endorses Putin and trash-talks NATO and Putin endorses him back (in his American outlets such as RT, where even the former MSNBC working class hero Ed Schultz is now lionizing the Donald), and his serious deviations from Republican orthodoxy—the questioning of NATO and the very specific platform recommendations on Ukraine—are keyed precisely to Putin's gratification.

I think the Trump campaign needs to provide answers to the questions this raises; I certainly think they need to release those tax returns, right away. I think we need to know, as the fellow said, "just what in the hell is going on?"

The Yanukovych place in Kyjiv. Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/GETTY via FastcoDesign.

No comments:

Post a Comment