Trump Cower Moscow
The KGB began recruiting Trump in the early 80s. The prevailing evidence and his behavior shows he is owned by Russia. Why are we STILL not talking about this?
IN THE EARLY 90s, a New York executive who worked for a prominent financial services company flew to London to attend a conference. While there, he hobnobbed with another executive, an American who worked in the firm’s Moscow office. Accompanying the Moscow executive were some Russian nationals—KGB officers moonlighting as security and logistics detail for the company.
And that is how the New York executive came to have dinner with a small group of KGB officers. When the topic turned to the Big Apple, the executive was surprised to hear that the KGB officers were very familiar with Donald Trump. Trump was a fixture in the New York tabloids, and had been for years, but at the time, he was hardly world famous. The reason the KGB officers knew about Trump, the executive concluded, is because Trump was being cultivated by that organization. This was such an open secret in Soviet intelligence circles that the spies were boasting about it 30 years ago at a restaurant with a stranger.
This colorful anecdote was related to me recently by the New York executive, who is now retired. By itself, it’s just that—a colorful anecdote. “Hey, remember the time we went to dinner with the KGB guys?” Taken together with many similar data points, however, it establishes a narrative—that Donald John Trump really was cultivated by the Russian intelligence services. That he really was—really is—a Russian asset.
There is plenty of reporting to support this:
Trump first got on the KGB’s radar in 1977, when he married his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, a Czechoslovakian national who, against all odds, managed to emigrate from that Eastern Bloc country to Canada. The investigative journalist Luke Harding writes about this in his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win (2017): “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,’” he writes. “Like with other Eastern Bloc agencies, the Czechs would have shared their intelligence product with their counterparts in Moscow, the KGB.”
Investigative journalist Craig Unger’s book American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, and Related Tales of Sex, Greed, Power, and Treachery, which came out a week ago, reveals that Trump’s first known encounter with the KGB took place in 1980, when he purchased televisions for his new hotel project at a Russian-owned electronics store, Joy-Lud—“an important outpost for the KGB,” Unger writes. “Crazy Eddie with a Russian accent, always filled with KGB agents and high-level Soviet dignitaries.”
(Both of the owners of that long-defunct store—Semyon “Sam” Kislin and Tamir Sapir—would pop up later in the Trump chronicles. The former was a big donor to Rudy Giuliani’s various campaigns; the latter helped finance the Trump Soho project.)
One of Unger’s sources for American Kompromat was the ex-KGB officer Yuri Shvets, who in the 1980s worked in counterintelligence for the KGB in Washington. While he was not personally involved with the recruitment and handling of Trump, Shvets knew well the spy agency’s M.O. The KGB employed “spotters,” he explains in American Kompromat, who were on the lookout for possible KGB assets. Appearing on Narativ Live with Unger, Shvets said he believed that the KGB began cultivating Trump in 1983, three years after initially identifying him as a possible asset.
In 1984, Trump began to branch out. Rather than laundering money for the Italian mafia exclusively, he provided the same service for the Russian mafiya, when the Soviet soldier-turned-mobster David Bogatin purchased five of Trump’s 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.
Two years later, at a luncheon given by the cosmetics magnate and philanthropist Leonard Lauder, Trump met Natalia Dubinina, the daughter of the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Yuri Dubinin. After flattering him by complimenting Trump Tower, she invited him to visit Moscow. 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 in Collusion. “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.”
These encounters are all corroborated by newspaper reporting, as well as by Unger, in American Kompromat. (Shvets theorizes that Trump’s handler at the time may have been Natalia Dubinina’s then-husband Alexander Yakovenko, who was then posted to the U.N. Yakovenko later served as the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2011-19, a period of increased Russian espionage activity in Great Britain.)
Upon his return from that fateful 1987 Moscow trip, 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.”
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.
Even the Russians thought Trump had a snowball’s chance of winning the White House. On Narativ, Shvets quipped, “If you had told anyone at the KGB that Donald Trump [back then] would one day be president, they would not even laugh, because it was too ridiculous.”
Between 1988 and 2016, as has been widely and extensively reported, Trump began to launder money extensively for the Russian mafiya, to the point where he was, in effect, mob property, if not an outright asset of the Russian intelligence services (in practical terms, there is no real difference between Russian organized crime and Russian intelligence). As Shvets put it, “The whole Trump Organization was turned into a money laundering front for the Russian intelligence community.”
Even so, it was not until February or March of 2016, Shvets believes, that the Russians actually believed Trump could win the election. This is when Paul Manafort was hired by the campaign—or, rather, when broke-ass Paul Manafort began to work for the campaign for free. One of Manafort’s trusted colleagues was Konstantin Kilimnik, identified by the Senate Intelligence Committee as a Russian intelligence officer who specialized in election fuckery.
Once Manafort was aboard, Trump surrogates began meeting with Russians who had close ties to Putin: Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States; Dimitri Simes, who helped organized the campaign’s first foreign policy campaign event at the Mayflower Hotel; Sergei Gorkov, head of VEB, the Russian state bank on the U.S. sanctions list; Natalia Veselnitskya, the attorney who led the Russian delegation at the Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016.
And this is not QAnon-of-the-left conspiracy theory—unless you believe the Office of the Special Counsel and the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are putting out disinformation. The frequent, fishy communication between Trump’s people and the Russians is confirmed in both the Mueller Report and Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Report.
“This is what collusion looks like,” the latter concludes.
Many, many people knew about, or heard rumors of, Trump’s involvement with Russian intelligence—long before he came down the gilded escalator in 2015 and started hating on Mexicans. And I don’t mean “many, many people” in the vague way Trump says “people are saying.” I mean actual, identifiable individuals. Yuri Shvets, the former KGB officer, knew. After Shvets defected and began working for U.S. interests, he went into business with Robert Levinson, the late DEA, FBI, and CIA agent who was investigating Semion Mogilevich and the Russian mob. It is inconceivable that Levinson did not know; it is therefore inconceivable that the FBI and the CIA didn’t know (which is why so many former FBI and IC professionals—Clapper, Brennan, Hayden, Strzok, Page, McCabe, etc.—spoke out against Trump, which doesn’t usually happen in the world of spies). Rudy Giuliani almost certainly knew. Same with Robert Maxwell, connected as he was with the KGB. Plenty of journalists—Wayne Barrett, Harding, Unger—knew. My source, the New York executive mentioned at the top of this piece, knew, and so did anyone else those loose-lipped KGB guys encountered on that junket to London.
And yet we are still, today—in February of 2021, in the early days of the Biden Administration—acting as if Trump’s Russia ties are, as Donald insists, a hoax—that the quest to find illicit dealings with this hostile foreign power is a “witch hunt.” Trump/Russia is being underreported, to our detriment. Chillingly, MSNBC appears to have prohibited its anchors from mentioning Unger’s name, or the title of his book:
If this is how the cable news network with the supposed liberal bias treats the story, one can only imagine how it is handled by Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson.
But then, it’s no surprise the media would prefer to avoid the topic of Russia. Voters are not, and should not be, in the position to vet candidates themselves from scratch. By failing to properly inform the American public of the true nature of Donald John Trump, our media, our intelligence services, and our FBI allowed a Russian asset to take the White House. Those three institutions failed, catastrophically, and their combined failures cost almost half a million lives and came this close to ending the republic.
James Comey, the FBI Director, disclosed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but not the far more dangerous one into Trump’s ties to Russia; that dunderheaded decision effectively handed Trump the presidency. The intelligence services did not speak out in 2016, because of the strict practice of not discussing counterintelligence cases—as if there could be a bigger counterintelligence failure than a Russian puppet installed in the White House who subsequently killed half a million of us. The media didn’t speak out because of institutional fear, or shoddy leadership, or worry about ratings and clicks, or laziness, or incompetence, or corruption, or all of the above. The Russia story exposes Trump, but it also highlights these enormous, embarrassing institutional failures.
By the grace of God and Nancy Pelosi, or else just dumb luck, we made it through four years of Trump with the republic intact. But if we do not learn from our mistakes, another Trump will come along—a Josh Hawley, maybe—who will succeed in ending the American experiment. It’s time for these institutions to come clean and admit they fucked up. The first step to recovery, after all, is admitting there is a problem.