The Russian-Trump Laundromat

Video excerpt of Brian Williams’ interview with Craig Unger, from his article in the New Republic, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat,” published 13 July 2017.

Unger’s research revealed Russian oligarchs and mafia clamoring to buy Trump properties in New York and Florida with many under FBI investigation for illegal gambling rings, prostitution and money laundering.

The “tower full of oligarchs,” as Bloomberg called it, became a model for Trump’s projects going forward. All he needed to do, it seemed, was slap the Trump name on a big building, and high-dollar customers from Russia and the former Soviet republics were guaranteed to come rushing in. Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians.

The impetus to buy anything with the Trump name on it dates back three decades, says Unger. Dirty cash from Russian crime syndicates along with the largesse of Russian real estate developers brought Trump out of financial ruin to host The Apprentice, gain traction as a business success and launch his presidential bid.

Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

The Trump-GOP Divorce Is Nearly Final


Mitch McConnell choked back tears after his last ACA repeal failed. It’s hard to know whether he mourned the defeat of his effort to delete Obama’s legacy or if he foresaw the coming divorce between his GOP and the White House.

Trump shrugged away the loss and replaced it with a crass announcement. After unleashing Scaramucci the Vulgar on the White House chief of staff with a debasing show of public humiliation, Trump tossed the remains of Reince Priebus to the street and replaced him with a general, who in turn dumped the Mooch.

The swift change of guard all but completes the expulsion of Republican Party agents from the current administration. HHS Secretary Tom Price, formerly a legislator from Georgia and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former GOP senator, are the only holdouts.

Thus far, Sessions has spurned the barrage of Trump invective, aided by party allies like Lindsey Graham, who promised “holy hell” if Trump dare to fire Sessions.

Graham’s warning is coupled with others who predict dire consequences should Trump fire the AG and tick off the conservative wing of the party.

T Price
HHS Secretary Tom Price

Meanwhile, Price may come under the president’s crosshairs for his flaccid defense of Trump and his threats to let the ACA “implode.” When pressed a day ago, Price refused to say his agency would remove cost-sharing payments to insurance companies. He also would not directly say if he’d get rid of the individual mandate or subsidies. He talked fast and invoked the President and his “passions” repeatedly. But when the interview concluded, he had not made a commitment to abide by any of Trump’s pledges to destroy the ACA.

If Price and Sessions get the boot, then the divorce will be final. Call it incompatibility. Cite the abusive nature of the union, the failure to compromise. One thing’s for sure – the political fallout from such a separation will be incalculable. Tearing the GOP label from his coattails will leave Trump without a legislative alliance. Upcoming legislation will no longer be fashioned to meet the president’s agenda. And that’s just the beginning of the shock wave.

Here’s the rub: the guy in the White House doesn’t seem to care. In fact, Trump is surrounding himself with non-governmental sycophants, questionable characters, media hucksters and family – people whose allegiances are not to party or principle but to one person: Donald Trump.

As this divorce is in process, a couple of things need to be kept in mind.

  1. Cutting the Republican cord could encourage bipartisan work among legislators, now released from the obligation to honor “their” president’s wishes. A bipartisan effort to mend the ACA is already in the works.  The next budget might actually be good for America, and not a slush fund for that “beautiful wall.”
  2. Republican resistance to investigations of the president would likely disappear. There may be a perfunctory shout-out now and then. But when the chief executive abandons his party, then the GOP would be emboldened to return the favor. And this leads to my next point.
  3. Reince Priebus is Paul Ryan’s buddy. As I noted back in March, as House Speaker, Ryan wields some scary power over a chief executive. He appoints the chair of the Judiciary committee from which emanate articles of impeachment. Republicans may realize that removing Trump is the only way to save their party.

All in all, a divorce would be a very bad move for Trump. But he doesn’t have the politically savvy, GOP-faithful advisors to tell him this – and he wouldn’t listen anyway.

The US government is dissolving under the Trump regime

Hoist the distress flags. The ship of state under Donald Trump is a mass of floating departments operating with no captains and a skeleton crew.

A paltry 15% of key government positions have been filled by Trump. These are not non-essential jobs as some might argue. These are departments heads, ambassadors to the world, administrators of national agencies, liaisons with global organizations. This scenario resembles an oligarchy where the Trump-appointed, avowedly “loyal” Cabinet members rule their departments with no intermediate secretaries standing in the way of their decisions. Most troubling is the nearly complete absence of government experience by this Cabinet.

Each President is obligated to nominate people to fill over 1200 Executive branch positions. Those nominations are then approved by the Senate. But as seen in The Washington Post graphic (below), this president has abandoned over three dozen agencies, boards and commissions. He has yet to proffer nominations to the Senate for these entities.

Thus, the Export-Import Bank, NASA, the Federal Reserve, the Nuclear Regulatory Board, the Social Security Administration and Railroad Retirement Board, the departments of Labor and Agriculture, the Census Bureau, Equal Opportunity Commission, Defense Nuclear Facilities Board and Office of Personnel Management are functioning without a head. All five positions within the Federal Elections Commission are without a nominee. The same is true for the Federal Trade Commission, the National Science Foundation and the Federal Mine Safety and Review Commission. Career employees and Obama-era administrators keep these significant agencies afloat. And this is an incomplete list.

See a complete breakdown of empty positions here.

Trump’s malfeasance affects our international relations. The U.S. has no ambassadors for our European allies. He has not provided nominees for Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden among others. We have no one to represent our country’s interests in South Korea, South America or much of the African continent including hot spots in the Mideast.

These are essential positions. Ambassadors have a transactional job: they keep the president aware of issues and crises and, they report executive policy to the individual countries. They also act as levers to soothe crises. All of these responsibilities have been vacated.

Ironically, Trump did nominate ambassadors to Russia and China. Neither country is an ally of the United States. However, the Trump brand does have extensive business interests in these nations. Manufacturing, trademarks and other investments bring in money for the Trump family. A CNN report stated that Trump and his family have business interests in 25 countries including China, India, Russia, the UAE and Israel.

North Korea’s most recent nuclear missile is capable of reaching Alaska.

Consequences of empty seats in government are surfacing each time there is an international incident. For example, while North Korea is firing nuclear warheads capable of reaching US territory, the State Department is bereft of key executives who can advise on this crisis. Trump has yet to nominate an assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Near Eastern affairs or South Asian affairs. The same holds for parallel positions in the Department of Defense.

Some news reports say the lack of an Ambassador to Japan and no Secretary of the Navy impeded rescue efforts after the collision of the USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan.

The guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald at Yokosuka, Japan. |Photo: C7F.NAVY.MIL|

The recent blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other aligned countries saw the Secretary of State and the President at odds in their public stands. The President criticized Qatar, home to a significant US Navy base, while Tillerson called for diplomacy. The policy collision is evidence of what Tillerson called a “disorganized” operational structure under Trump.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State just announced he is shuttering the Coordinator for Cyber Security and folding the office into the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. This presents a serious problem. The receiving Bureau has no assistant secretary in place to run it. With the President talking about sharing cyber security with the Kremlin to “safeguard” US elections, the potential perils are horrifying.

Trump and Putin at the G20 summit. |AFP/Getty image|

Within the Department of Homeland Security, there is no FEMA director. Citizens in states susceptible to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters may wonder how this agency will coordinate efforts during an emergency or catastrophic event.

In the Executive branch, the Science division of the Office of Science and Technology is empty. The last of the Obama staff departed on 30 June and have not been replaced by Trump. This once-robust office advised the President on “STEM education, biotechnology and crisis response.”

In nearly every federal department, Trump has failed to nominate an inspector general or legal counsel. This leaves the Trump government with virtually no independent oversight and no legal guidance or representation.

The list of absent positions is long, deep and shocking. It is akin to a hostile takeover of a multinational corporation where former executives are removed but not replaced. Refusing to staff key positions would cripple such an entity.  In this case, we are talking about the government of the United States.

This is not normal.