Last week, Bill Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The more publicized news concerned new-and-now-no–more White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s profanity-laced interview with The New Yorker, which purged the Administration of its last half-ounce of decency – and Reince Priebus – and President Trump’s hullabaloo in dishonoring the transgender soldiers who are helping to keep us safe.
Was the ruckus over White House chaos and bigotry a cleverly-raised smoke screen to divert public attention from more serious matters?
Bill Browder is a financier, whose firm, Hermitage Capital, had more than $4 billion invested in Russian stocks from 1996 to 2005. In that latter year, he was expelled “as a threat to national security.” After Russian Interior Ministry officials seized all corporate documents from his offices and those of the American lawyers representing him, Browder hired Sergei Magnitsky, “the smartest Russian lawyer I knew,” to try to figure out what was happening.
Among Magnitsky’s findings were that, using the seized documents, Browder’s companies had been fraudulently re-registered to “a known criminal,” and that “the stolen companies were used by the perpetrators to misappropriate $230 million of taxes that our companies had paid to the Russian government in the previous year.” Magnitsky filed the proper complaint and gave the Russian-equivalent of the FBI sworn testimony about the involvement of officials in the crime. He was promptly arrested.
For the last 358 days of his life he was subjected to increasingly brutal torture. The abusers were promoted and Vladimir Putin pocketed the $230 million.
I direct everyone’s attention to the Huffington Post’s website for Senior Editor Chris York’s account of Browder’s testimony. York, thankfully, was not distracted by the buffoonery that marks this presidency. If it’s not on the front page, check under Politics. The article also contains the full transcript of Browder’s pre-prepared remarks – my source above – published by The Atlantic. Anyone who thinks you can have innocent dealings with the Russians needs to read that transcript.
Quoting York here, “In it (Browder) describes a Russian system of government that operates in the shadows, using corruption, blackmail, torture and murder – all led by Vladimir Putin….Effectively the moment that you enter their world, you become theirs.”
In other Russian matters, The Washington Post has reported that during the 2016 campaign, our intelligence agencies heard out-going Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak bragging about substantive conversations on the campaign and Trump’s Russian policies with Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump and, at this writing, Attorney General. Again, according to The Post, Sessions met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, failed to mention the meetings on his security clearance forms and denied “any communications with the Russians” when testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Kislyak also met with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner during and after the campaign and the two talked on the phone between April and November of last year, according to Reuters. Kushner’s lawyer says his client doesn’t remember the calls. Kislyak is heading back to the Kremlin; his tenure here ending. I’m guessing he’ll get an “Atta boy” for a job well-done, maybe a performance bonus and a dacha in the country – if his bosses don’t find another way to ensure his silence – say, the Magnitsky Method.
In companion news cycles, Exxon-Mobil, the mega-conglomerate then-led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was fined $2 million for dealing with Russian companies in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Wednesday, Nahal Toosi reported for Politico that Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut called for Tillerson to use any of the $80 million allocated by Congress to “counter propaganda by Russia and terrorist groups.” Murphy said, “This is indefensible. Every day (the Islamic State) is spreading terrorist propaganda and Russia is implementing a sophisticated disinformation campaign to undermine the United States and our allies. I strongly urge Secretary Tillerson to take this issue seriously and use the tools and resources he has at his disposal to stand up to our adversaries.”
According to Toosi, “$60 million is supposed to fund the Global Engagement Center, an inter-agency unit established last year and based at the State Department that specializes in countering propaganda. The $60 million is currently parked at the Pentagon waiting on Tillerson’s request for a transfer.” Another $19.8 million is also sitting idle at State, not being used to counter terrorist propaganda.
Toosi reports conflicting answers as to why no action has been taken to counter the propaganda from Tillerson’s former trading buddies, but that “one aide mentioned that Tillerson is trying to work through disagreements with Russia, and that the center’s work could undermine that effort.” Never mind Russia undermining our elections, our alliances and our standing in the world, the ex-oilman busted for illegal dealings with Russia doesn’t want to upset them.
Neither does his boss, of course. Faced with veto-proof Congressional opposition. President Trump signed tougher sanctions into law. He claimed that parts of the law are unconstitutional and encroach upon his executive powers to negotiate. A prepared – untweeted – statement claimed, “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
Maybe some of those deals are why he so adamantly opposes Special Counsel Robert Mueller looking into Trump family finances. York’s reportage from the hearing and Browder’s statement – where he estimates Putin has amassed $200 billion through extortion and theft – present a chilling picture of ruthless corruption. Toosi’s account of possible inaction on national security issues based on conflicts of interests for Administration folks with past Russian business ties shows how Russian tentacles spread.
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, most of the traitors subverted by the Ruskies were not ideological pinkos, buy “greenos,” people willing to sell us out for personal greed. Today, Russian ties seem to be a prerequisite for employment within the Trump Administration.
In closing, Browder states, “I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests.”
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party chair.)