New from latest Manafort hearing: Govt. said explicitly that banker Stephen Calk knew Manafort submitted a fraudulent loan application but approved it anyway because he wanted a Trump job
— Rachel Weiner (@rachelweinerwp) July 23, 2018
Does Putin have kompromat on Trump?
It is WAY worse than that.
— Adam Davidson (@adamdavidson) July 21, 2018
Our own Adam Silverman and other knowledgeable cynics have been long said this, but the working theory that financial failures might be more embarrassing than sexual peccadilloes to Trump — and his handlers — is finally getting some traction among the Very Serious People:
… There is no need to assume that Trump was a formal agent of Russian intelligence to make sense of Trump’s solicitousness toward Putin. Keith Darden, an international-relations professor at American University, has studied the Russian use of kompromat—compromising material—and told me that he thinks it is likely that the President believes the Russians have something on him. “He’s never said a bad word about Putin,” Darden said. “He’s exercised a degree of self-control with respect to Russia that he doesn’t with anything else.” Darden said that this is evidence that Trump isn’t uniformly reckless in his words: “He is capable of being strategic. He knows there are limits, there are bounds on what he can say and do with respect to Russia.”…
Trump has made a lot of money doing deals with businesspeople from the former Soviet Union, and at least some of these deals bear many of the warning signs of money laundering and other financial crimes. Deals in Toronto, Panama, New York, and Miami involved money from sources in the former Soviet Union who hid their identities through shell companies and exhibited other indications of money laundering. In the years before he became a political figure, Trump acted with impunity, conducting minimal corporate due diligence and working with people whom few other American businesspeople would consider fit partners. During that period, he may have felt protected by the fact that U.S. law-enforcement officials rarely investigate or prosecute Americans who engage in financial crimes overseas. Such cases are also maddeningly difficult to prove, and the F.B.I. has no subpoena power in other countries. If, however, someone had evidence that proved financial crimes and shared it with, say, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, other American law-enforcement officials, or the press, it could significantly damage Trump’s business, his family, and his Presidency.
Alena Ledeneva, a professor of politics at University College London and an expert on Russia’s political and business practices, describes kompromat as being more than a single powerful figure weaponizing damning evidence to blackmail a target. She explained that to make sense of kompromat it is essential to understand the weakness of formal legal institutions in Russia and other former Soviet states. Ledeneva argued that wealth and power are distributed through networks of political figures and businesspeople who follow unspoken rules, in an informal hierarchy that she calls sistema, or system. Sistema has a few clear rules—do not defy Putin being the most obvious one—and a toolkit for controlling potentially errant members. It is primarily a system of ambiguity. Each person in sistema wonders where he stands and monitors the relative positions of friends and rivals…
The scenario that, to my mind, makes the most sense of the given facts and requires the fewest fantastical leaps is that, a decade or so ago, Trump, naïve, covetous, and struggling for cash, may have laundered money for a business partner from the former Soviet Union or engaged in some other financial crime. This placed him, unawares, squarely within sistema, where he remained, conducting business with other members of a handful of overlapping Central Asian networks. Had he never sought the Presidency, he may never have had to come to terms with these decisions. But now he is much like everyone else in sistema. He fears there is kompromat out there—maybe a lot of it—but he doesn’t know precisely what it is, who has it, or what might set them off.