From Trump to tRUmp: How the Mob’s Man Became Putin’s Puppet
The President of the United States is a Russian asset—property owned by Moscow.
ON 19 OCTOBER 2016, in the third and final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton opined that Vladimir Putin would “rather have a puppet as president of the United States,” meaning Donald John Trump, than a formidable adversary like her. As Trump short-circuited like a Star Wars droid on the fritz (“No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet!”), she continued:
It’s pretty clear you won't admit that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.
So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.
As usual, HRC was right. But even the most cynical viewer could scarce have imagined, in the fall of 2016, just how on the nose she was.
Trump’s activities since taking office—the gutting of the State Department, the jackals in the Oval Office, Helsinki, Mueller obstruction, Ukraine skulduggery, and his willful non-response to the covid pandemic—make clear that the longtime mob money launderer has spent most of his presidency doing Putin’s bidding, just as Clinton predicted. Allow cyberattacks against the United States? Check. Encourage espionage against our people? Check. Spout the Putin line? Always. Sign up for his wish list? Like a porn addict on OnlyFans. Break up NATO? Western Europe is as divided now as it’s been since the forties. Continue to get help from him? Every fucking day.
Three years after that third debate, almost exactly to the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stormed out of a meeting with President Trump concerning his strategically obtuse decision to withdraw US troops from Syria—a move that was more in Russia’s interests than ours. “Why,” she exasperatedly asked the press, “do all roads lead to Putin?”
It’s actually quite simple: Trump has been mob property his entire life. The difference is that now, in 2020, the mobster who owns him is not “Fat Tony” Salerno, or “Big” Paul Castellano, or Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, or even Semion “The Brainy Don” Mogilevich. The mobster who owns him is Vladimir Putin—which makes Trump, by extension, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Russian government.
Previously, I wrote about Trump’s longtime association with the mob, both Italian and Russian, and his almost certain career as a top echelon Confidential Informant for the Justice Department. He is, as I said, “second generation mobbed-up.” Although he is not, and never can be, an actual mobster—a front can never be a member of the family, for obvious reasons—the unscrupulous Trump is an extremely useful asset to his underworld associates, and has been for decades. Front men, after all, are a vital cog in the global crime syndicate machine. That dirty money’s not going to wash itself.
While the Trump Organization does deals overseas, for most of his career Donald Trump was a stateside operator. The bulk of his revenue is homegrown. As a business professional of my acquaintance who worked for years in Russia colorfully put it: “The thing to remember about Trump is that he’s a venal crook, not some international criminal mastermind. His primary source of wealth, such as it is, comes from a string of golf courses, hotels, and mixed-use office buildings spread around the world, but the corn nuggets in his crown of shit are in the New York metro area and spread across the beaches of Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward County, Florida.”
So how did a Queens-born front-man and mob money launderer, whose business was overwhelmingly domestic, wind up an asset of a hostile foreign government?
To understand this transformation, it is instructive to think of Trump not as a human being but as an asset, in the strict sense of the word—a piece of property, like a beach house, a private jet, or an HBO Go password. Just as two different families can share a beach house, and your buddy down the street can use your login to stream Succession, so Trump can be utilized by more than one entity at a time. He can also be sold outright—or rather transferred, like the deed to a house. None of this is up to him. At all. To paraphrase Elvis Presley: he’s caught in a trap, he can’t walk out, because the mobsters own him baby.
As for Vladimir Putin, while he may have started as an intelligence operative, and he may pretend to be a diplomat and statesman on the world stage, his true profession, at this stage of his career, is mob boss—probably the most powerful mob boss in the world, more powerful even than his longtime associate from back in his Dresden days, Semion Mogilevich. (There was, and is, a lot of blur between IC and OC in Russia.)
Putin and Mogilevich are two foci of the small circle of oligarchs—there are subtle distinctions, but for all intents and purposes, oligarch is basically just a euphemism for mobster—who own almost everything of value in Russia. In mafia states, the mob runs the show—charging protection for businesses, taking bribes, imposing restrictions on airports, seaports, etc. The Russian mafiya is closer to the East India Company administering the entire colony of British India than some Scorsese picture. It steals from the people, and manipulates the weak central government, to keep itself in power.
(Sidenote: per Robert I. Friedman’s Red Mafiya, Mogilevich has complete control of Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. So if a self-styled NSA “whistleblower” contrives to spend 40 days there avoiding the media, coughEdSnowdencough, you can be damn sure the “Brainy Don” authorized it).
An ex-KGB chief, Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 1999. He’s been in charge ever since. Under his reign, Russia has regressed from a burgeoning democracy to a veritable dictatorship. Putin consolidated power, destroying the independent judiciary, clamping down on press freedoms, using false-flag operations to win popular support, and exploiting his power for personal gain. He is more like a tsar than a president—although the Romanovs did not possess nuclear weapons, and their wealth, obscene as it was, paled in comparison to Putin’s own.
Bill Browder, the American-born British national who was an early investor in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and who left the country after the government became too corrupt to continue doing business there, tells a hair-raising story about Putin: After the rise of the oligarchs in the early 2000s, Putin had the richest, most powerful oligarch—Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the energy concern Yukos—arrested. At a humiliating show trial during which the accused oligarch was kept in a cage, Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud. He was sent to prison, and his sizable assets seized.
After this sobering display, the other oligarchs approached Putin and asked what they needed to give him to avoid the same fate as Khodorkovsky, whose fate none of them wanted to share. Putin replied: “Half.” Since then, ill-gotten gains have poured into his coffers. The oligarchs boast fabulous wealth, but by virtue of claiming half of their money, Putin bests them all. Browder has suggested that Putin may well be the world’s richest individual.
And if this all sounds like the world’s greatest mob boss making the world’s biggest mob-boss flex, well, you say “tomato,” I say whatever the Russian word for “tomato” is. Whatever he might have been before that series of power moves, Putin emerged afterward as a no-doubt-about-it mob boss. Khodorkovsky, the fallen oligarch, himself said as much, in a recent interview.
Whether Putin is more powerful than Mogilevich is anyone’s guess. But only one of them is concurrently the head of state of a G8 country, one of a handful of nations that has nuclear capability—and, despite what revisionist historians at Fox News would have us believe, America’s chief adversary since 1945.
Donald John Trump’s association with the Russian mafiya—as opposed to the homegrown Italian one—began, best as we can tell, in 1984, when the Soviet soldier-turned-mobster David Bogatin purchased five of his condos for $6 million. Trump Tower was one of just two buildings in all of New York City that allowed units to be purchased by shell companies. Fishy deals like this did not deter Trump, who had traveled in underworld circles all his life.
By ’84, as covered previously, Trump was already a Confidential Informant for the FBI. He’d been on the radar of the KGB since 1977, when he married the former Ivana Zelníčková, a Czechoslovakian national who someone managed to emigrate from that Eastern Bloc country to Canada. As Luke Harding writes in his masterful and must-read book, Collusion (excerpted here by Politico):
Zelníčková was born in Zlin, an aircraft manufacturing town in Moravia. Her first marriage was to an Austrian real estate agent. In the early 1970s she moved to Canada, first to Toronto and then to Montreal, to be with a ski instructor boyfriend. Exiting Czechoslovakia during this period was, the files said, “incredibly difficult.” Zelníčkováa moved to New York. In April 1977 she married Trump.
According to files in Prague, declassified in 2016, Czech spies kept a close eye on the couple in Manhattan.…There was periodic surveillance of the Trump family in the United States. And when Ivana and Donald Trump, Jr., visited [her father] in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, further spying, or “cover.”
Like with other Eastern Bloc agencies, the Czechs would have shared their intelligence product with their counterparts in Moscow, the KGB. Trump may have been of interest for several reasons. One, his wife came from Eastern Europe. Two—at a time after 1984 when the Kremlin was experimenting with perestroika, or Communist Party reform—Trump had a prominent profile as a real estate developer and tycoon. According to the Czech files, Ivana mentioned her husband’s growing interest in politics. Might Trump at some stage consider a political career?
The KGB was really, really good. Are we to believe that the Soviets would not at least try to use Ivana—and her father Milos, stuck behind the Iron Curtain in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic—to get to Trump? Would not some cooperation be expected as the price of her being allowed to emigrate in the first place?
The Russians began to actively cultivate Trump in 1986, soon after his landmark real estate deal with Bogatin. As Harding tells it, Trump was invited to Moscow by Natalia Dubinina, the daughter of the Soviet ambassador to the United States, whom he met at a luncheon in New York in ‘86. The following year, he took her up on the offer. “On July 4, 1987, Trump flew to Moscow for the first time, together with Ivana and Lisa Calandra, Ivana’s Italian-American assistant,” Harding writes. “Moscow was, Trump wrote, ‘an extraordinary experience.’ The Trumps stayed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, at the bottom of Tverskaya Street, near Red Square….The hotel was linked to the glass-and-concrete Intourist complex next door and was—in effect—under KGB control. The Lenin suite would have been bugged.”
Donald John Trump was a textbook KGB mark. The agents must have been drooling. Harding cites an internal memo circulated by the agency at the time, advising how to spot potential recruits: “Are pride, arrogance, egoism, ambition or vanity among subject’s natural characteristics?” Like a great baseball prospect, Trump was a five-tool player. Harding continues, writing about the internal memo:
The most revealing section concerned kompromat. The document asked for: “Compromising information about subject, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs, intrigues, speculation, bribes, graft … and exploitation of his position to enrich himself.” Plus “any other information” that would compromise the subject before “the country’s authorities and the general public.” Naturally the KGB could exploit this by threatening “disclosure.”
Finally, “his attitude towards women is also of interest.” The document wanted to know: “Is he in the habit of having affairs with women on the side?”
We don’t know what, if any, kompromat was gathered on that first trip to Moscow. But we do know that Trump is a serial philanderer, with a taste for Eastern European women. This wasn’t exactly a state secret; by ‘87, he was already a tabloid legend. Are we really to believe that the KGB—arguably the best intelligence agency in the world at human intelligence gathering—would not have tried to honeypot him?
It was upon his return from that fateful Moscow trip that Trump began to branch out in his interests. “For the first time he gave serious indications that he was considering a career in politics,” Harding points out. “Not as mayor or governor or senator.
“Trump was thinking about running for president.”
And indeed, in 1988, Trump flirted with the idea of entering the presidential race, going so far as to deliver a speech in New Hampshire. He toyed with running again in 2000, on the Reform Party ticket, even hiring his old friend Roger Stone to run the exploratory committee before ultimately dropping out. Is it really a coincidence that his dormant political ambitions manifested themselves immediately after his Moscow trip, and never went away?
So, yes, the Soviets were absolutely, positively recruiting Trump on his 1987 visit to Moscow—which began, not coincidentally, on the Fourth of July (Russians love that kind of symbolism). But the KGB was not the only spy network interested in the real estate developer. The trip also attracted the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency—the latter, by this time, becoming the bigger outfit, owing to the emphasis on signals intelligence collection that began in the late seventies.
As the pseudonymous mob expert known as Lincoln’s Bible put it, during our recent telephone conversation: “It’s 1987—the height of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan is president. The Russia desk is the largest, most important desk in the largest intelligence agency in the world (the NSA). And Trump was already a top echelon Confidential Informant for law enforcement. How could they not have known about that trip? It would have been gross negligence not to have known.”
And if our intelligence community knew, would they really not bother interviewing Trump upon his return from Moscow? He’d been wined and dined by the Party elite, after all, and they would have wanted to hear all about it. Beginning in 1987, then, Trump was not only a Confidential Informant for the FBI, but was also being utilized by the CIA.
Again: the two intelligence services were really fucking good. If the KGB was all over the guy, the CIA would have known, and thus taken some kind of action. “There is no universe in which he wasn’t being surveilled/tracked and used by our guys,” Lincoln’s Bible told me. “Not one that I can see.” If so, Trump’s counterintelligence file is over three decades old.
Moscow also marked a transition of sorts. Ownership of the mob asset known as Donald Trump began its gradual transfer from La Cosa Nostra to the Russian mafiya. Not long after the trip, Trump spent time aboard the Lady Ghislaine, the yacht owned by the British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell. That sounds perfectly above board, until you consider that Maxwell, born Jan Hoch in Czechoslovakia, was a seditious little fucker. His classified dossier at the British Foreign Office described him as “a thoroughly bad character and almost certainly financed by Russia.” He was affiliated with Israeli intelligence and the KGB. He was business partners with Semion Mogilevich, so he was mobbed up. And his daughter, Ghislaine Maxwell, would in 1991 begin a long and scandalous relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. For all we know, nothing untoward happened on that yacht. But given the nexus of key OC figures—Mogilevich, the two Maxwells, Epstein—it is hard to write it all off as mere coincidence.
Four-and-a-half years after Trump’s visit to Moscow, the USSR fell. Rapacious “oligarchs” raced to gobble up the country’s wealth and natural resources. Untold billions, maybe trillions, of dollars were removed from Russia, most to banks in quasi-Western places like Cyprus. This created unprecedentedly vast opportunities for willing money launderers in the West—and Donald John Trump was well positioned to benefit from the windfall.
Trump needed the help. By the early nineties, his casinos were going bust, US banks had stopped lending to him, and he desperately needed Russian capital to stay afloat. My business professional contact who lived in Russia explains what likely happened, incrementally, over the next two-and-a-half decades:
Take someone who cannot get credit from a bank headquartered in the English speaking world because he’s already burned every major US and UK bank in New York and London. Canadian banks don’t take American risk that American banks won’t take and Australian banks won’t touch him because their government blacklisted him from doing business in the country. But he has a massive cash need because if he does not have lines of credit to keep servicing his previous debts and his lifestyle and his next big thing, he can’t attract investors into his businesses to keep the ball rolling.
This is a critical point. Trump is not just greedy for his own sake. He has to keep earning, or he will have outlived his usefulness to his mafiya whoremasters. His very life depends on his ability to do deals.
The professional continues:
So Trump needs money that doesn’t ask a lot of questions. He’s happy to pay extra—and pay it he will—because in his mind interest comes without cost: he can write it off his taxes, or he can flush it in bankruptcy, or he can pass it on to his customers, or he can get his investors to give him enough to wash it all out, or he can refinance if and when the straight lending world comes back to him. He’s happy to take Russian money because in his mind, it’s an asset to him to have Russian lenders; it makes him more likely to play the real estate market in Russia.
But he knows that if his name and a Russian lender’s appear on the same finance document, that’s discoverable: by the IRS, by the agencies he probably reports to, by the gaming commissions, by the state regulators, by his ex-wives, by his last set of creditors, by the next bankruptcy trustee he has to deal with. So how does he get money from a Russian bank into his pocket, and how does he repay money to the Russian bank, without leaving that paper trail?
Simple. He does not borrow directly from the Russian bank. He borrows from a straw-man bank, like Deutsche, and has the Russian bank act as a silent guarantor.
The Mazars and Deutsche Bank documents almost certainly contain damning information that confirms all of this, and that will collapse his Trump Tower of Cards—which is why Trump has moved heaven and earth to keep them secret.
Whoever ultimately controlled the dirty rubles in the nineties, when Trump first opened his doors to the Russians, in the twenty-tens the kopek stops with Vladimir Putin. Would any Russian bank be able, in this day and age, to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank, or any other straw-man bank,” without Putin’s awareness, if not approval? If you borrow money from a loan shark, but the transaction is made through your local branch bank, guess what? You’re still borrowing money from a loan shark—and in that world, the penalties for nonpayment are brutal.
In the event, by the time Trump began his presidential run in 2015, the transition was complete. He was no longer a creature of the Italian mob. He was fully owned by the Russians—by Mogilevich and the mafiya, and ultimately by Vladimir Putin. The president really is Putin’s puppet, just as Hillary Clinton claimed.
What’s more, plenty of people in the intelligence community and the Justice Department know this is the case, because they have seen his counterintelligence file, or have worked with Trump in his capacity as CI. Robert Mueller must know. James Comey must know. Andrew McCabe must know. James Clapper and John O. Brennan must know. And while all of these individuals have dropped hints, none save Mueller have produced actual receipts—and a lot of his Report remains redacted. It’s no accident that Trump has done everything in his considerable power to impugn these people. He knows what they have on him, so he must attack their credibility.
To wit: When Lisa Page texted Peter Strzok that Trump is “not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” and Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” they were discussing national security, not Democrat/Republican politics; two of the FBI’s best Russian mob experts were highly, and rightly, concerned that an asset of a hostile foreign power would win the White House. No wonder Trump wants us to believe their text exchanges were romantic in nature, and constantly frames Page and Strzok as lovers—the truth could end his presidency.
Alas, Page’s worst fears were realized. The President of the United States answers to the Kremlin. That sounds like something from a bad movie, but in the time of the worst pandemic in over a century, it has immediate, and grave, real-world consequences.
“We have been taken over,” Lincoln’s Bible said, “and a quarter of a million innocent civilians are going to die because of it.”
As with “Tinker, Tailor, Mobster, Spy,” this piece was written with a lot of help from Lincoln’s Bible.
Photo: President Ronald Reagan Shaking Hands with Donald Trump and Ivana Trump During The State Visit of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia at The State Dinner in The Blue Room, 2/11/1985. From the Reagan Presidential Archive.