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The Russia Saga: What To Make of Donald Trump’s Paranoia

 9 min read / 

In the 1980s, the name Donald Trump was synonymous with terms such as “luxury”,  “lavishness” & “power”. Straight to 2017, when Trump, albeit the president of the United States of America, has lost all luxury to pull the brakes on the ongoing and ever-expanding/sprawling investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin.

The appointment of Robert Mueller to spearhead the investigation into President Trump’s ties with Russia as an independent special counsellor was welcomed by both the houses. But, it came nonetheless as a shock to the POTUS. Mueller, an ex-FBI director with a clean record and a reputation as a hard-charging boss, has been described as “America’s straightest arrow” by some. Mueller has the required experience and expertise and this kindles hope that the counsel would reach unbiased conclusions from the ongoing investigation.

Although Trump’s lawyer, Mr. Ty Cobb, welcomed the news officially, the president went out of line to call out Mueller for having interviewed for the job to replace ex-FBI Director James Comey just before his appointment. The political costs to his presidency for firing Mueller are ginormous. Therefore, the president has been hard at burning the midnight oil by hurling out tweets about the “Democrats” Mueller has hired on the team, pointing to how many of the appointees have made donations to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the past.

This stands in stark contrast to the attitude adopted by the other Republicans who have welcomed this development thus raising eyebrows about why the president does not agree with his other party members on this decision. A former FBI director, who commands immense respect post his tenure, amongst both the senate houses, isn’t going to plant any evidence to frame anyone, much less the president of the United States of America in the most important investigation of his career so far. This investigation is more than just the words of a man against another.

Red Line

In an explosive interview, when asked by Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman about whether an investigation into Trump’s finances would be a breach of a “red line,” Trump answered, “I would say yeah.” He then protested that his business had no ties to Russia. Although he did admit that he might have had sold a few condos here and there to a few Russians given he sells many units or might have looked at striking a deal in Russia over the years but he stated he had never done one. Well, other than the Miss Universe pageant he held in Moscow at the behest of Russian billionaires Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son, Emin Agalarov whom he described as “two nice people”.

He then reasoned that the investigation should not steer into the alien territory because his company was financially sound. Trump dodged questions on how he might handle the situation if Mueller were to cross his proposed red line by summing up with, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen” with full confidence his defined limits would be strictly adhered to.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence opposed the president’s move in an interview where she said, “The President can’t set red lines for Bob Mueller.” She added that the special counsel “should follow the leads wherever they may be.” Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, on the other hand, argued that he had “no reason to believe that the President is under investigation here.” Defying this proclamation, though, are reports doing the round that Trump is indeed being investigated, albeit for obstruction of justice.

Financial Crimes

Mr. Mueller has commenced looking beyond the potential collusion allegations and the charges of obstruction of justice in the firing of Ex-FBI director Mr. James Comey. The revelation that Mr. Mueller has expanded the scope of his investigation to include potential financial crimes, including but not limited to money laundering, committed by Trump associates with ties to the Kremlin, despite the President’s clear resistance, was a daunting one. Nipping in the bud all of President Trump’s hopes that the special counsel won’t cross his sacred “red line,” Mr. Mueller has been going ahead with the investigation to gather evidence at a lightning speed, even for financial crimes which were originally outside the realm of the Russian investigation.

The investigation’s scope has widened by leaps and bounds, going on to encompass Trump’s firing of Former FBI director, Mr. James Comey; the Trump campaign’s links with the Kremlin; and potential financial crimes by Trump associates who have documented ties to the Kremlin. He may, in fact, proceed with pressing federal charges if and when he deems necessary. Therefore this comes as no surprise that almost all the 16 lawyers now on Mueller’s team are specialists in money-laundering and other financial crimes. The investigation has been busy unwinding the complexities of the Trump and Kushner real estate empires. The latest hire, Greg Andres, is a former deputy assistant attorney general who used to run a unit that targeted foreign bribery.

President Trump’s uneasiness with the investigation is alarming. The only evidence President Trump is serving/presenting against the biggest “witch-hunt” in the history of American politics is that during the G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany Mr. Trump had asked Vladimir Putin twice in two different manners if he or Russia was to blame for the meddling in the US Elections of 2016 which was met with Mr. Putin’s vehement refutations/refusals on both the occasions. If only we could take a foreign diplomat’s words on their face value. Could Putin not have lied twice?

No Ties with Russia

If as Trump says, he has no business ties with Russia, all evidence shall lead the investigating committee to the same conclusion. It is mind-boggling then to understand the reason President Trump remains more guarded about his company’s financial dealings and his tax returns than President Obama was about his birth certificate. After having left his post and his interests behind to avoid any ethics violations, President Trump’s being so evasive about his ex-company’s finances and dealings do indeed raise a red flag. If the investigation into Trump’s finances is to go by, his companies’ convoluted ties to Russian billionaires along with the cobweb of lies spun around these is the staggering evidence the president would do better to distance himself from.

There seem to be many of bad deals in the Kushner and Trump real estate empires which make it imperative for the special counsel to see where the money to keep these business empires afloat is coming from. The 666 5th avenue building with an extremely precarious debt structure and in crucial need of an immediate debt refinancing/restructuring is the tip of the iceberg this presidency seems to be colliding into. Quite a few Russian billionaires/oligarchs seem to have invested in apartments in Trump buildings. Trump’s international financing behind a condo-hotel Trump developed with foreign partners in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood; his presence at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow; and his sale of a South Florida mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95m in 2008 are the main eyebrow-raising transactions under the scrutiny of the investigating team.

Trump-Russia Scandal: Secret Dealings

As much as 70% of the Trump real estate sales have been to secretive shell companies. Luxury real estate has always been a market ripe for internationals looking to secretly launder their money into the States for tax evasion. Clientele includes wealthy Russians and oligarchs from the former Soviet republics. Mueller’s team, therefore, is looking through the real estate properties’ deals dating more than 6 years and backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump.

The investigation could bring to light scandalous matters hidden beneath the rug in the Trump organizations and that should be worrisome given that unlike his predecessors Trump has steered away from making public his tax returns. We are all aware of the 4 bankruptcies that Trump had filed in the past. What could Trump still be hiding when it comes to his businesses? Interestingly, this financial investigation stems out from an old investigation into money laundering by former US Attorney Preet Bharara which was already in the works when Trump fired Bharara in March.

The president’s eagerness to swing dirt at Mueller and his team demonstrates his desperate attempts to disparage and discredit the investigation or find a pretext to fire Mueller. Nothing explains his paranoia. His recent tweets on the president’s privilege to pardon those found guilty in the ongoing investigation, even himself, hint at his willingness to resort to any means to excuse himself from the direct consequences of the investigation in case he is proven guilty. The move, if ever taken, could set open his already dodgy presidency to condemnation.

Conclusion

In fact, the act would constitute stretching this executive privilege a bit too far. Each move of the president seems to invite intense scrutiny. There’s only so long that one can get away with labelling the media outlets condemning him “fake news”. The president first needs stop defending their actions and to stop them from getting too involved in the higher echelons of the administration. He needs to act more Presidentially and stop bluffing. It would be in his best interests to understand the difference between fitting the bill as the president and being the CEO of the Trump organisation. Business tactics don’t work too well in high profile public administration jobs and president Trump needs to demarcate his role and responsibilities properly.

Meanwhile, the president’s general approval ratings have slid to the mid-30s. The scenario of an impeachment doesn’t seem all so inexorable. The unfolding investigation could unearth the long-cupboarded skeletons haunting the Trump White House or provide the administration with the much-needed relief if it unearths no big lies or secrets but the firing of Mueller would definitely prove him guilty before all.

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