“Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

“Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal
Why the collusion story begins with money, not politics.
By Sean Illing
Jul 18 2017
https://www.vox.com/2017/7/18/15983910/donald-trump-russia-putin-natalia-veselnitskaya-collusion

“To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.”

That’s what Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto and the author of Aftershocks, told me in a recent interview. I reached out to Gunitsky on Monday after he posted a short but incisive thread on Twitter about the financial roots of the Trump-Russia collusion case. 

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money. 

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain. 

I asked Gunitsky to lay it out for me as clearly as possible, and to explain the financial dealings between Trump and his Russian business partners. 

Here’s what he told me. 

Sean Illing

This collusion story gets more convoluted by the day. But you seem to think it’s pretty straightforward. 

Seva Gunitsky

I think it’s justifiable for you to say that it seems impossibly convoluted, but I would say it’s still much simpler than this idea that there’s a global conspiracy designed to bring down democracy. I’m not saying the political dimension is unimportant — surely it is. But if we’re talking about the roots of the collusion, we have to look at where Trump’s links with Russia begin. And it begins with money. [These roots] don’t start with the election; they start with money, and namely Russian oligarch money. 

Sean Illing

So walk me through the trail. Where does the money lead?

Seva Gunitsky

Again, this doesn’t start with the election; it starts with Russian oligarch money pouring into Trump’s real estate and casino businesses. Many of them Trump has been working with for years, well before he developed any serious political ambitions. And we’re not talking about small change here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy. 

Sean Illing

And we know this how, exactly?

Seva Gunitsky

We know because they’ve told us. We can talk about specific cases in a minute, but Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted the importance of Russian money to their business ventures. He said publicly in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

[snip]

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