Trump administration brags about how many wealthy people it has

The Washington Post reports: Starting Friday evening, the White House will begin to release financial disclosure forms filed by about 180 members of the Trump administration who are either commissioned officers or paid more than $161,755.

Already, the administration is bragging that its members are way wealthier than those who worked for former president Barack Obama — a point of pride that doesn’t quite match the president’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of wealthy GOP donors, lifelong political operatives and those who are simply out-of-touch with everyday Americans. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities, according to ethics filings released by the White House Friday night.

Ms. Trump will also maintain a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel, just down the street from the White House, has drawn protests from ethics experts who worry that foreign governments or special interests could stay there in order to curry favor with the administration.

It is unclear how Ms. Trump would earn income from that stake. Mr. Kushner’s financial disclosures said that Ms. Trump earned between $1 million and $5 million from the hotel between January 2016 and March 2017, and put the value of her stake at between $5 million and $25 million. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Stephen K. Bannon was running an investment banking company in Beverly Hills when his partner called with urgent news: a potential $10 billion deal was about to unfold in New York City involving a company they hoped to continue representing — and they didn’t want to be left out of the action.

Bannon, then in his mid-40s, told his business partner to meet him at the Los Angeles airport in an hour. Soon, they appeared at the Manhattan offices of PolyGram, a worldwide music company that they had previously represented in a film deal and now was for sale.

Before long, Bannon came up with an angle. He had represented Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in a prior deal, and now he proffered the royal-family member, one of the world’s wealthiest Arabs, as a bidder. PolyGram was impressed and eventually paid Bannon a sizable fee for work on the overall deal. [Continue reading…]

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Obama WH ethics lawyer: Ivanka’s job is nepotism

The Hill reports: Former White House ethics lawyer to President Obama Norman Eisen said Wednesday that he and the former ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush see Ivanka Trump’s role as an adviser to President Trump as a violation of nepotism laws.

“My view… is that the nepotism statue does apply to the White House,” Eisen said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” of the announcement that Ivanka Trump would receive an official role in the Trump administration. “For decades the Justice Department held ‘yes’ the nepotism statue applies to the White House.”

Eisen conceded that the “reasonable minds can disagree” on whether the statue should apply.

“President Trump got an opinion from the Justice Department that the nepotism statute doesn’t apply to his White House,” Eisen continued. “We don’t agree with that opinion.”[Continue reading…]

Aside from the issue of nepotism, and aside from the fact that daddy Trump must feel the need for family loyalists close at hand inside a White House filled with potential back-stabbers, it seems to me that Ivanka’s primary function is to serve as a media distraction. Tweets alone cannot fully serve that need.

After all, nothing can preoccupy Trump more than his need to continuously manufacture distractions as threats loom from so many directions. Hence Ivanka’s usefulness when her mere presence in the view of cameras can reliably create a story — at least in the short term.

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Deutsche Bank, mirror trades, and more Russian threads

Ed Caesar writes: March 10th, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the ranking Democratic member on the House Committee on Financial Services, wrote a letter with four other Democrats to Congressman Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman of that committee, the contents of which would have been considered extraordinary in a less chaotic and febrile political atmosphere. The letter began:

Consistent with your past practice of monitoring the Department of Justice’s (“the Department”) investigations, we write to request that the Committee conduct a formal assessment of the Department’s investigation into Deutsche Bank’s Russian money-laundering scheme, including a review of the new Attorney General’s role in continuing the investigation. We also urge the Committee to initiate its own investigation, using the full range of the Committee’s oversight authorities, to determine the nature of the Russian money-laundering scheme, including who participated in the arrangement and whether violations of U.S. Law, beyond the failure to maintain appropriate anti-money laundering controls, may have occurred.

The letter then outlined the anxieties shared by Congresswoman Waters and her Democratic colleagues on the committee. They included a concern “about the integrity of this criminal probe . . . given the President’s ongoing conflicts of interest with Deutsche Bank”—Trump businesses owe hundreds of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank—and that “suspicious ties between President Trump’s inner circle and the Russian government . . . raise concerns that the Department may fail to implicate those who benefited from Deutsche Bank’s trading scheme.” [Continue reading…]

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Manafort-linked accounts in Cyprus raised red flag

NBC News reports: A bank in Cyprus investigated accounts associated with President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for possible money-laundering, two banking sources with direct knowledge of his businesses here told NBC News.

Manafort — whose ties to a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin are under scrutiny — was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyprus, dating back to 2007, the sources said. At least one of those companies was used to receive millions of dollars from a billionaire Putin ally, according to court documents.

Banking sources said some transactions on Manafort-associated accounts raised sufficient concern to trigger an internal investigation at a Cypriot bank into potential money laundering activities. After questions were raised, Manafort closed the accounts, the banking sources said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s business network reached alleged Russian mobsters

USA Today reports: To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among them:

• A partner in the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.

Trump’s Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall’s election. What’s more, Trump and his companies have had business dealings with Russians that go back decades, raising questions about whether his policies would be influenced by business considerations. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner tempted by Russia’s bank of spies

Michael Weiss writes: Not every bank lists a convicted spy serving 30 months in an Ohio prison as its active deputy representative in New York. But then, not every bank is headed by a former spy, much less one found to have spent time with Jared Kushner during a “roadshow” last year, when Donald Trump’s son-in-law was then just a top campaign advisor and not a likely witness about to testify before a Senate committee on Russia’s meddling in U.S. democracy.

In those charmed days before the director of the FBI raised in an open session of Congress the very real possibility that some of the president’s men might be working on behalf of a hostile foreign power, there was the curious case of a Wall Street analyst who was handcuffed in his Bronx neighborhood in late Jan. 2015 after going out for groceries. His crime wasn’t peddling junk sub-primes to trusting pensioners but working for Moscow Center.

Evgeny Buryakov, a former tax inspector turned officer of the Sluzhba vneshney razvedki, or SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, had arrived in the U.S. just weeks after the feds executed Operation Ghost Stories and brought down ten out of an 11-person spy ring of Russian “illegals,” without whom Anna Chapman’s clothing line and The Americans would now be impossible. [Continue reading…]

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Paul Manafort’s all-cash New York real estate purchases

WNYC reports: Paul J. Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager facing multiple investigations for his political and financial ties to Russia, has engaged in a series of puzzling real estate deals in New York City over the past 11 years.

Real estate and law enforcement experts say some of these transactions fit a pattern used in money laundering; together, they raise questions about Manafort’s activities in the New York City property market while he also was consulting for business and political leaders in the former Soviet Union.

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three homes in New York City, paying the full amount each time, so there was no mortgage.

Then, between April 2015 and January 2017 – a time span that included his service with the Trump campaign – Manafort borrowed about $12 million against those three New York City homes: one in Trump Tower, one in Soho, and one in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Manafort’s New York City transactions follow a pattern: Using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and then took out hefty mortgages against them, according to property records. [Continue reading…]

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in court after arrest

The Guardian reports: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has appeared in a Moscow court a day after some of the biggest anti-government protests in years swept Russia.

Navalny faces up to 15 days in jail for organising protests across Russia on Sunday, which led to more than a thousand people being detained. He has declared his intention to run for president next year, an election in which Vladimir Putin is expected to stand and win a new six-year term.

A defiant Navalny posted a selfie from court on Twitter: “The time will come when we will put them on trial (but this time, honestly)” he wrote. He was upbeat during his hearing, asking the judge to summon [prime minister] Medvedev as a witness to “explain why so many people protested”. [Continue reading…]

NBC News reports: The United States said it was monitoring developments and called on Russia to release all of the protesters. Mark Toner, acting spokesman for the U.S. State Department, called the arrests “an affront to core democratic values.”

“The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution,” Toner said. [Continue reading…]

AFP reports: Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny has cemented his status as leader of Russia’s opposition movement by organising the largest unauthorised protest in recent years against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The clean-cut lawyer, 40, who was arrested at Sunday’s demonstration in Moscow, is no stranger to clashes with the Kremlin.

He has spent time under house arrest and seen his brother jailed in a string of cases he has denounced as retribution for his challenging authorities and exposing the vast wealth of the president’s inner circle.

Late last year, in his most ambitious move yet, he announced he would run for president in 2018, an election that Putin is expected to dominate.

This month he posted a YouTube video tracing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s links to mansions, yachts and vineyards that has been viewed 12 million times. [Continue reading…]

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Russian youth from Moscow to Siberia slam ‘Putin the thief’

The Daily Beast reports: A wave of protests against corrupt Kremlin leaders rolled all across Russian cities, from Moscow and Saint Petersburg to Siberia and Far East on Sunday.

Authorities did not permit the rallies and warned that participants would be punished, but tens of thousands came out to demonstrate their anger with the country’s leaders’ overwhelming corruption.

In Moscow protesters were chanting: “Putin the thief, go away!” Thousands of people gathered on the Palace Square of Saint Petersburg in front of the Hermitage and shouted: “Down with the Tsar!” The scene was reminiscent of the famous images captured 100 years ago on the same square during Bolshevik revolution.

According to Echo of Moscow radio station, 60,000 people took part in anti-Kremlin rallies in 82 Russian cities. [Continue reading…]

Buzzfeed reports: Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s most prominent critics of President Vladimir Putin, organized the gatherings to raise pressure on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In March, Navalny accused Medvedev of accepting bribes that he used to purchase mansions and yachts.

Russian authorities, however, called these gatherings unauthorized and moved to disperse the crowd of thousands in Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

Neither the White House, State Department, or the US Embassy in Moscow had issued any statements by Sunday afternoon. As of 2 p.m. Eastern time, a State Department spokesperson was unable to provide any statements, or say if one was expected.

President Donald Trump has called for warming relations with Russia and more cooperation on counter-terrorism. In a February TV interview, Trump said he respects Putin and declined to criticize Russia’s human rights record, explaining: “What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?” [Continue reading…]

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Secret palaces, vineyards and yachts of Dmitry Medvedev

 

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Nearly 1 out of every 3 days he has been president, Trump has visited a Trump property

The Washington Post reports: For the eighth weekend in a row, President Trump has visited a property that bears his name. He has done so on 21 of the 66 days he has been in office, meaning that for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, he has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property — earning that property mentions in the media and the ability to tell potential clients that they might be able to interact with the president. And, despite his insistence on the campaign trail that he would avoid the links — “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” he said in August — he has made 13 visits to his own golf courses since becoming president, likely playing golf on at least 12 of those occasions. [Continue reading…]

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Russian police arrest protesters at nationwide anti-corruption rallies

The Washington Post reports: A wave of unsanctioned rallies swept across Russia on Sunday to protest corruption in the government of President Vladi­mir Putin, prompting arrests as riot police moved in to break up crowds.

The protests are driven by opposition leader Alexei Navalny and fueled by the popular response to his recent allegations that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed vineyards, luxury yachts and lavish mansions worth more than $1 billion.

The demonstrations appear to amount to the largest coordinated protests in Russia since the street rallies that broke out in 2011 and 2012 after a parliamentary election that opposition leaders decried as fraudulent. State-run television was silent about Sunday’s protests as of midday, but pictures posted on social media sites like Twitter suggested that sizable rallies were underway across the country.

Dozens of arrests were reported in the far east city of Vladivostok, and more were likely as demonstrations began in Russia’s largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Authorities preemptively banned a rally that Navalny called for central Moscow. Putin’s spokesman has said that even urging people to take part is illegal. [Continue reading…]

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Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, arrested in Moscow

BBC News reports: Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navanly, has been arrested at an anti-corruption protest he organised in the capital, Moscow, witnesses say.

Protesters tried to prevent a police van from taking him away.

Navalny is known for his anti-corruption campaign, which targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin.

He is barred from running for president against Vladimir Putin next year after being found guilty in a case he said was politicised.

In a tweet after his detention, he urged fellow protesters to continue with the demonstration. [Continue reading…]

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Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam

The Guardian reports: The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin, the Guardian can reveal.

Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.

The scheme, dubbed “the Global Laundromat”, ran from 2010 to 2014.

Law enforcement agencies are investigating how a group of politically well-connected Russians were able to use UK-registered companies to launder billions of dollars in cash. The companies made fictitious loans to each other, underwritten by Russian businesses. [Continue reading…]

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The Russian ‘Global Laundromat’ laundering operation exposed

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reports: Three years after the “Laundromat” was exposed as a criminal financial vehicle to move vast sums of money out of Russia, journalists now know how the complex scheme worked – including who ended up with the $20.8 billion and how, despite warnings, banks failed for years to shut it down.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) broke the story of the Laundromat in 2014, but recently the reporters from OCCRP and Novaya Gazeta in Moscow obtained a wealth of bank records which they then opened to investigative reporters in 32 countries.

Their combined research for the first time paints a fuller picture of how billions moved from Russia, into and through the 112 bank accounts that comprised the system in eastern Europe, then into banks around the world. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal.

HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers.

Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe.

One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”.

They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB.

Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud. [Continue reading…]

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Ivanka Trump set to get West Wing office as role expands

Politico reports: Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington, D.C., saying she would play no formal role in her father’s administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House.

The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing’s second floor — a space next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was recently promoted to a position on the National Security Council. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance, and is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.

In everything but name, the first daughter is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father’s administration, with a broad and growing portfolio — except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position, and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said.

Ivanka Trump’s role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women’s empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Ivanka Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor’s first official visit to Trump’s White House. [Continue reading…]

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