Politics March 23, 2017
As questions continue about Russian influence over Donald Trump’s election, even more of his inner circle are being probed about ties to Moscow money.
In the latest development it has emerged that Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, had business links to wealthy associates of Vladimir Putin while in his previous job as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a country considered a tax haven for Russian oligarchs.
President Trump has repeatedly said he has no financial links to Russia but it is becoming clear that plenty of his key allies do. And this at a time when the FBI is probing possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence his winning of the White House.
Campaign adviser Roger Stone is furious with talk implicating him as part of any such plot and took the bizarre approach of sending a letter to CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday in which he said of his accusers, “I will deconstruct their lies and spank them like children.”
Meanwhile the attempt to get to the facts continues and part of the FBI’s investigation is to follow the money trail to see where it leads. Offshore financial transactions involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort are among those being examined.
The Associated Press reported this week that Manafort was paid $10 million in 2006 by Putin associate Oleg Deripaska to advance Moscow’s interests in American political and media circles. Manafort who, like Trump, comes from a real estate family, says he worked for Deripaska but not for the Russian government.
Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is also under scrutiny for his connections to Russia. The former investment banker was a keynote speaker at the 2016 graduation ceremony for the New Economic School in Moscow. Congressional committees looking into Russian hacking during the election have asked him and Roger Stone to preserve materials related to their Moscow associations.
In his ranting letter to Jake Tapper, Stone called Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, a “pussy” and added, “Neither the president or I have anything to fear from a full and fair investigation of these bogus charges of Russian collusion.”
Schiff said Thursday he had been presented with new evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump allies but refused to specify what it was.
Lawmakers are getting closer to formalizing proceedings for Trump associates to testify on Capitol Hill about money links to Moscow. One of the first to be called is likely to be Manafort, who was long known to have associations with Russia and Ukraine. He resigned as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after being implicated in a scandal over payments from the political party of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is also at the center of the gathering storm. Flynn resigned this February just three weeks into his job as national security adviser after it emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence over the nature of his meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and amid media reports that the US army was investigating whether Flynn had taken payments from the Russian government during a 2015 Moscow trip.
Someone else who seemed to have trouble disclosing his meetings with Kislyak was attorney general Jeff Sessions. Asked under oath at his confirmation hearing, “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”, he replied “No.” It later emerged he had met Moscow’s man in Washington twice last year, prompting him to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
It all makes for a very murky picture indeed. At the moment there are more questions than answers. But this potential scandal indicates that a nation which used to worry about “reds under the bed” should maybe now be more concerned with rubles in the bank.
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