Adam Schiff Illuminates Pathway of Russia Investigation in Glenn Simpson Interview - by Greer Clem
Some of you may be wondering why so much energy is being devoted to Glenn Simpson's testimony, especially when there has been relatively little coverage of it by mainstream media. I've chosen to spend so much time breaking this down because I believe these interviews to be the best indication of how far-reaching the Donald Trump Russia investigation will ultimately be. As to why the media has not covered it more thoroughly, I have no answer, other than to assume they don't want to cover someone who is relatively unknown (Simpson) when there are Trump figures who make more entertaining subjects. The tangled web of relationships between Trump associates and associates of the Kremlin will undoubtedly be the subject of study and investigations for years if not decades to come, but for now this interview, given this time in front of the House Intelligence Committee, gives us a decent glimpse into just tangled this web is.
Simpson's testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee was released by Diane Feinstein's office two weeks ago. That interview was given in August of 2017. In November of the same year, Simpson willingly gave further testimony to the Permanent House Intelligence Committee, namely to member Adam Schiff who released the full transcript last week. Much of the information that was given has already been covered in my previous articles, but there were some pointedly asked questions by Mr. Schiff, as well as bits of previously unheard testimony, that illuminated new areas of the investigation.
The first revelation I wanted to point out was the apparent lack of discretion the Kremlin used while tampering with our election. Mr. Simpson tells Adam Schiff, "The Kremlin's election operation was being run by Sergei Ivanov, who is the head of the presidential administration... That was news to me. I thought if you were going to run an intelligence operation against the United States, you'd use the SVR... Ivanov is, in fact, or was at the time, the head of a sort of internal kind of White House plumber's operation for the Kremlin"(pg.28). For context, Sergei Ivanov is a close ally of Putin who is also a former KGB (now known as SVR) agent. He was Putin's Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister. Most importantly, he was Putin's Chief of Staff until August 2016, when he was fired by Putin, supposedly because the rumors that Russia was hacking into our elections were swelling. What Simpson reveals essentially confirms this being the reason Putin distanced himself from Ivanov; he had appointed his chief of staff to oversee the hacking of an American election and his blatancy had gone too far.
When Simpson refers to a "White House plumber's operation" he is saying that Ivanov was tasked with preventing knowledge of Russia's hacking from leaking to the public. The "White House Plumbers" were a covert group of Special Investigators in the Nixon administration charged with preventing the Pentagon Papers and other similar information from leaking. The members of the Plumbers operation ultimately committed illegal actions that lead to the Watergate scandal. So what Simpson is saying is Ivanov was supposed to perform the same function for Putin's government and failed, hence his firing.
Simpson continues to remark on how startling it was when Paul Manafort was made Trump's campaign manager. He said, "I knew a lot about Paul Manafort from my career at The Wall Street Journal. I had written a number of stories about his involvement with Oleg Deripaska and the pro-Russian party in Ukraine and another oligarch named Firtash. And I had even written a story about whether he should have registered as a foreign agent" (pg. 35). Deripaska is a notable figure in the Collusion story, as he is supposedly a Russian contact Manafort provided with information about the 2016 presidential election. A billionaire with close ties to Putin and a $10 million business contract with Manafort, Deripaska is no small figure.
Composed of relationships with oligarchs and government officials, the skeleton of the Trump Russia story begins to come together. As Simpson said in his Senate interview, the concern was not if Trump sought out to collude with the Russians, but rather that he was susceptible to blackmail because of financial ties to Russian oligarchs. Simpson knows a great deal about the threat of financial dealings with Russian criminals. He said, "The Russians are far more sophisticated in their criminal organized crime activities than the Italians, and they're a lot more global. They understand finance a lot better. And so they tend to use quite elaborate methods to move money... The Russians are much more integrated in the way they operate with the political - the sort of legitimate business structures" (pg. 37).
Simpson then brought up the issue of real estate deals. Simpson said, "There were a lot of real estate deals where you couldn't really tell who was buying the property... And we had done a lot of work for previous investigations on people buying condos in order to get visas under the EB-5 program" (pg. 38). This was a program I had previously not heard of, but which provides an incredibly important piece to this puzzle. The EB-5 program was created by Congress in 1990 under the first Bush administration to increase foreign investments in the U.S. Essentially, it is an incentive for foreign entrepreneurs to invest in American money by providing them a path to green cards. If foreign investors either make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise within the U.S. or plan to create ten full time jobs for American workers, they they become eligible for "employment-based 5th preference visas" AKA EB-5s. The problem with Donald Trump was that he then sold large chunks of property to Russian criminals, like the gangster living in Trump Tower and operating a gambling ring out of Trump's residence (pg. 38-39). His family also boasted about having Russian money available to float various Trump projects, like his Scottish golf courses which then became sinkholes (pg. 40). The issue is this: there is no definition between Russian criminals and the Russian government. They are one thing entirely, and when you become indebted to the criminals, you become indebted to the government.
Simpson also revealed Trump ties to a Russian named Sergei Milan who went under numerous aliases but claimed to work for the Russian Foreign Ministry. Milan also boasted to people that he had sold "hundreds of millions of dollars in Trump condos" and Trump real estate to Russians and that he was "some kind of exclusive agent for Trump in Russia"(pg. 45). What's more, it was then discovered that Milan was connected to Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, who himself has a set of connections to the former Soviet Union. More and more, we begin to see that there is virtually no facet of Trump's personal or professional circle that is not pervaded with Russian oligarchs.
This then brings us to Schiff's pointed question about Jared Kushner and his Jersey City project. Schiff asked, "Did you also look at the Kushner business operation? Did you find any facts that caused concern in terms of potential money laundering through the Kushner properties or organization?"(pg. 50). Schiff then adds that the House Committee has subpoena power unavailable to Simpson and asks, "How would you go about using that?" Before we get in to Simpson's answer, it's crucial to note that Schiff's question illuminates one branch of the investigation that has remained illusive. There has been speculation about Kushner's presence at the Trump Tower meeting and his involvement with Russian oligarchs, but how it connects to the Trump organization and to Trump himself has yet to be clearly defined. Simpson responds that they did indeed look into the Kushner project in Jersey City. He said, "Kushner was another case of someone who I sort of misjudged. I didn't think he was going to be very interesting or very important, partly because he was so young. But in any event, we did look at some Kushner stuff and specifically focused on the project in Jersey City, I think partly because Trump had a position in that project... it was going to be financed by selling visas to foreign citizens who were seeking green cards from the United States" (pg. 49-50). The irony should not be ignored that both Trump and Kushner therefore made a good deal of money from wealthy foreign investors, despite the nationalist economic platform of the Trump campaign and presidency.
Simpson then answered Schiff's subpoena question. He said that first he would identify the banks that had custody of the transactional information. He said, "The first thing that I would do would be to subpoena the brokers and the people, the other people that were involved in the transactions, and the title companies and the other intermediaries that would have that kind of information. Then I would go to the banks next" (pg. 62). When he said "the other intermediaries" he later clarified he was referring to the real estate brokers and licensing companies who were involved in the deal. Basically, Simpson argued that the financial trail that will be necessary evidence to prove a mutual relationship between Trump and Russian money may be found in private financial records. Simpson deals mainly in publicly available information, information that most people just don't know how to find. But what Schiff has the capacity to do is find the paper trail Trump never thought anyone would dig for. Banks inherently have a self interest to protect their own profit, so there would be no reason for a bank to voluntarily expose where it's money has been coming from, but Schiff has the power to ask.
I wanted to bring attention to Schiff's questions in particular because they illuminate the direction this investigation is heading. With rumors swirling that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump's Deutsche Bank records and Deutsche Bank itself vehemently denying that they flagged any of Kushner's transactions, we know that Simpson is right to follow the money. Schiff, presumably having read Simpson's Senate interview, knew the questions that then needed to be ask. Trump provided easy ways for Russians to put their money in the American financial system. Both Kushner and Trump provided pathways for green cards to Russian oligarchs. The Russians, in turn, funneled money into Trump projects that would never have been approved by American backers because they were sinkholes. Whether or not Trump himself actually realizes it, he long ago entered into a contract with the Russian government, one they expect him to pay in full by reversing sanctions, one they made sure to advance by hacking into our election. Many will deny these truths because they are almost too blatant to accept, but here they are. If these interviews have shown us anything, it's that the truth is often hidden in plain sight, we are just too blind to see it.