People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016.

 

Courtesy of Nicholas Kristof, historian Douglas Brinkley and others, the “T” word is finally in the air. Kristof’s column sums up and speculates about some of what we know about Trump advisors’ potentially treasonous collusion with Russia. As an indication of how this story is evolving in such a fast and troubling way, the piece doesn’t address the recent unprecedented, extremely political decision of House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes to brief a subject of his investigation (Trump) on the investigation itself.

So much for the “T” word. But what about the “F” word? Last year saw a spate of stories about Trump’s finances as they relate to Russia. This Time piece provides an overview, with Slate taking a deeper dive. Here’s one nugget from that analysis:

One of the important facts about Trump is his lack of creditworthiness. After his 2004 bankruptcy and his long streak of lawsuits, the big banks decided he wasn’t worth the effort. They’d rather not touch the self-proclaimed “king of debt.” This sent him chasing less conventional sources of cash. BuzzFeed has shown, for instance, his efforts to woo Muammar Qaddafi as an investor. Libyan money never did materialize. It was Russian capital that fueled many of his signature projects—that helped him preserve his image as a great builder as he recovered from bankruptcy…

 

These projects are simply too ambitious, too central to his prospects, for Trump to have ignored the underlying source of financing. And it was at just the moment he came to depend heavily on shadowy investment from Russia that his praise for Putin kicked into high gear. In 2007, he told Larry King, “Look at Putin—what he’s doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done—whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job.”

Having noted this, it’s still vital to acknowledge how much remains very unclear, including whether anything Trump or his associates did descends to the level of treason.

But still…is the FBI probing whether Russian loans put him in political debt to the Kremlin? Whether related connections involved money laundering? Whether there were other nefarious financial links that made Trump subject to Russian blackmail or at least undue influence? This too is unclear.

What is clear, though, is that if the FBI, Congress and the press just get consumed by the collusion issue, they may miss potentially treasonous or illegal financial ties behind the Trump-Putin bromance.

We  indeed live in interesting times.

Based in Oakland, California, Stephen Golub writes, consults and teaches about international development, with a particular focus on justice, democracy, human rights and governance issues. Currently teaching part-time at Central European University in Budapest and previously at the University of California at Berkeley, he has worked in over 40 countries and with such organizations as Amnesty International, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Ford and Open Society Foundations, the U.K. Department for International Development, the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank

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