Donald Trump, Wilbur Ross, and the Russians

Last night, billionaire Wilbur Ross was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce. Only 27 Senators voted against him, despite the fact that, as Senator Elizabeth Warren noted: "Mr. Ross has extensive ties to Russia. He plans to keep making money from his major oil shipping companies while working as Commerce Secretary. He's made billions off the backs of struggling homeowners. He is practically a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat."

Ross' business ties to Russia were never brought up during his confirmation hearing. He was never asked about them, and he certainly never volunteered any information about them.

This was the backdrop to an extended segment on Rachel Maddow's show last night. It's 20 minutes, but I strongly encourage you to carefully watch the entire thing, as it's a very important piece in the Trump-Russia puzzle.

The transcript is not yet available, but, when it is, you'll be able to find it here.

In the meantime, here's a summary of the key points: Deutsche Bank (who we already know appears to be helping Trump play a shell game with his real estate assets) was fined $630 million by the U.S. Department of Justice last month for helping Russian oligarch launder their money. The reason the U.S. DoJ was involved is because the three Deutsche Bank sites engaged with the money-laundering scheme were in Moscow, Cyprus, and NYC.

The last chairman of Deutsche Bank is now the chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has a history of helping Russian oligarchs launder their money. He was appointed chair by the Bank of Cyprus' two largest shareholders, one of whom, Viktor Vekselberg, is a business associate and personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Another major investor in that bank is a Russian mega-billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev. In the last decade, he went through what's said to be the most expensive divorce in modern history; his ex-wife was awarded $4.5 billion as her divorce settlement, and even that was probably a pittance based on his actual worth. But that worth is unclear, because he conspired to hide his money from her.

One of the ways he accomplished this was by sinking his money into real estate trusts in foreign countries. He bought, for example, an $88 million apartment in NYC for his daughter, as well as a $100 million estate in Florida. The seller of that estate? Donald Trump.

Trump had bought the estate two years earlier for $40 million in a bankruptcy auction. He never lived there, never refurbished it, etc., and then sold it to Rybolovlev in 2008 for $100 million. Two-and-a-half times what Trump paid for it two years earlier. Why would Rybolovlev overpay? To hide as much of his money as he could.

Rybolovlev never lived there, and he and Trump both claim they never met during the deal, and it was all handled through intermediaries. Who were those intermediaries? Well, the other vice-chair (in addition to Putin's pal) of the Bank of Cyprus, who installed the former Deutsche Bank chair, is none other than newly-confirmed U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Ross is, in fact, the single largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, and Rybolovlev is another major shareholder. Ross is also the only American shareholder, and a longtime friend of Trump.

It isn't clear if Ross was the intermediary in this deal that netted Trump a $60 million profit on a garbage piece of real estate, but it had to be someone who knew Rybolovlev was going through a divorce and was looking to hide his assets in real estate trust and also knew that Trump needed an influx of cash to repay at debt to (surprise!) Deutsche Bank.

Now Ross is a cabinet secretary, so if any scandal about his ties to Russia come out, it will be a scandal inextricably tied to Trump.

Meanwhile, Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa have a huge new piece in the New Yorker, "Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War," which says, in part, regarding that infamous 35-page intelligence dossier on Trump:
The thirty-five-page dossier, which included claims about Trump's behavior during a 2013 trip to Moscow, had been shopped around to various media outlets by researchers opposed to Trump's candidacy. The dossier concluded that Russia had personal and financial material on Trump that could be used as blackmail. It said that the Russians had been "cultivating, supporting, and assisting" Trump for years. According to current and former government officials, prurient details in the dossier generated skepticism among some members of the intelligence community, who, as one put it, regarded it as a "nutty" product to present to a President. But, in the weeks that followed, they confirmed some of its less explosive claims, relating to conversations with foreign nationals. "They are continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier, and, at its core, a lot of it is bearing out," an intelligence official said. Some officials believe that one reason the Russians compiled information on Trump during his 2013 trip was that he was meeting with Russian oligarchs who might be stashing money abroad—a sign of disloyalty, in Putin's eyes.
Emphases mine.


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