C.R.E.A.M. Open Thread: “A Theory of Trump Kompromat

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.
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Russiagate Open Thread: COMPLICIT

But it’s not just Trump who’s acting just like someone whose career relies on keeping a foreign oligarch happy…

Open Thread: Today’s GOP, the ‘Treason in Defence of Its Perquisites’ Party

Never forget: Whatever the label disclaimers, Trump is the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is Trump. His goals are their goals, their goals are his goals — and none of them have anything to do with ‘patriotism’ or their fellow Americans.

(Sidebar: Adelson says he wants to build a casino in North Korea… )

Pre-Dawn Treason CREEPster Open Thread: Oh, Please… Please

At first he tried to bluff it out, but an hour later that statement (to quote from history) was “no longer operative”…

A federal indictment filed Friday accusing a dozen Russian military intelligence officers of conspiring to hack Democrats during the 2016 campaign spotlights communications between Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Trump, and an online persona allegedly operated by the Russians.

Stone has previously acknowledged exchanging direct messages on Twitter in August and September 2016 with Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be a Romanian hacker. Stone has said there is no proof the account was connected to the Russians.

But according to criminal charges filed Friday by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Guccifer 2.0 was actually operated by a group of Russian military intelligence officers based in Moscow. The Russians used Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter account to send multiple messages to “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of Trump’s campaign, Mueller wrote in the indictment.

The messages quoted in court papers match exchanges that Stone had with the account, according to an image he posted on his personal website. A person familiar with the investigation also confirmed that the Trump campaign associate referred to in the indictment is Stone…

Russiagate Open Thread: Clown Car Rogues Gallery, Top to Bottom, Recent & Vintage

There doesn’t seem to have been a single nationally-known Republican above the level of coffee boy who wasn’t part of the Russiagate treason squad…

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Early Morning [Facepalm] Open Thread: NATO Meeting Catch-Up

Washington Post: Trump berates NATO allies and then asks them to double their defense spending goals“.

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Russiagate Open Thread: Not Helping, Rudy!

… unless your goal is just “seeing Rudy Giuliani sthlurr hith wordths on the teevee thome more.” Or, as a certain Democrat might say, Please proceed, Governor!

President Trump’s lawyers set new conditions on Friday on an interview with the special counsel and said that the chances that the president would be voluntarily questioned were growing increasingly unlikely.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, needs to prove before Mr. Trump would agree to an interview that he has evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is essential to completing the investigation, said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer in the case…

The gambit by Mr. Giuliani was the latest maneuver in an all-out assault by the president and his legal team in recent months to alter public opinion about the inquiry. They have come to believe that, if the Democrats win control of the House in November, the chamber will vote on whether to begin the impeachment process no matter the outcome of Mr. Mueller’s investigation. So they want to sway Americans — and by extension, lawmakers…

Mr. Giuliani has sown doubt and confusion by pushing dubious theories about the case. He has made claims like accusing Mr. Mueller’s office, without evidence, of trying to frame Mr. Trump. Mr. Giuliani has also pushed unfounded theories, like an assertion that the F.B.I. implanted a spy in Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The president and his lawyers have also tried to undermine key witnesses like James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director fired by Mr. Trump, to force the public to decide whether to believe them or the president. That is a tall task — the president’s penchant for half-truths, exaggerations and outright falsehoods is well established.

But Mr. Trump and his lawyers contend that Mr. Comey damaged his credibility as a witness during his book tour this spring by showing that he played by his own rules when he ran the F.B.I., and that the findings of a recent inspector general report critical of the F.B.I.’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation buttressed their case.

[Thanks again, Honorable Jim!]

Mr. Giuliani views the tactics as an early success. “Right now, public opinion is going in our direction big time,” he said…

Critics see the array of delay tactics as aimed at stalling an investigative report to Congress until after November’s midterm elections. The more time Mr. Trump and his lawyers have to influence Americans’ views of the inquiry, the better their chances to undermine its credibility and pressure lawmakers not to impeach Mr. Trump.

Legal experts are skeptical that the new tactics will be effective. “It’s a gambit because if there’s damaging information that comes out down the line — like primary source documents or testimony — then you’ve spent your capital trying to create a public narrative that is belied by hard evidence,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and an expert on constitutional law…

I believe the classic formulation runs It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.