The Mueller Team’s Latest Charges In the Russia Investigation Follows the Money Trail to One of America’s Largest Law Firms

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Office filed another important criminal charge yesterday (February 20, 2018) as part of its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. These charges are being brought against attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan, who is scheduled to plead guilty later today for lying to the FBI about a conversation he had with Rick Gates, Trump’s Deputy Campaign Chairman. The conversation with Gates was about the work that Van Der Zwaan and his law firm, Skadden Arps, Slate, Meager and Flom, were doing in Ukraine for the pro-Russian regime of then-President Viktor Yanukovich.

Van Der Zwaan, who worked out of the Skadden Arps London office until he was fired last year, was part of that law firm’s legal team that was hired at the behest of Paul Manafort, a senior advisor to the Yanukovich regime and his pro-Russian party during 2011 and 2012, who then went on to become Trump’s Campaign Chairman in 2016.  Skadden Arps was hired by the Ukraine government to counter the adverse publicity that the Ukraine government was receiving over its arrest and prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine who lost the presidential election to Yanukovich in 2010.

Immediately after taking office, Yanukovich directed that a politically-motivated investigation be conducted into Tymoshenko’s handling of a natural gas deal between Russia and Ukraine, leading to her arrest, incarceration and prosecution on baseless trumped-up political charges in 2011.

When an international storm of protest erupted, and with the U.S. government, the European Union and human rights groups calling for Tymoshenko’s immediate release, Manafort and Gates convinced the Ukraine government to hire the Skadden Arps firm to counter this adverse publicity and to lend an air of respectability to the government’s relentless and unfounded prosecution of Tymoshenko, who by this time was in urgent need of specialized surgery in Germany to relieve a painful back condition. However, the Yanukovich regime steadfastly refused to permit her to travel to Germany for the operation.

Manafort and Gates orchestrated the retention of the Skadden Arps team for the ridiculously low contract amount of $12,000 in order to keep the contract just below the threshold requirement under Ukraine law for the public bidding of all government contracts.

Since I was Ms. Tymoshenko’s U.S.-based attorney at the time, I helped her Ukraine-based legal team to calculate the actual legal fees and expenses that Alex Van Der Zwaan and the other members of the Skadden Arps team were incurring for their frequent trips to Kiev, where they stayed at expensive hotels and dined at expensive restaurants while they were being led around Ukraine by Manafort, Gates and their pro-Russian cronies as part of their so-called investigation. We estimated that the law firm must have been paid at least $1-2 million for its legal services in preparing their “whitewash” report, which unsurprisingly concluded that there was some legitimate basis for the Tymoshenko prosecution and that it was not (at least not completely) a political hit-job by Manafort, Gates and the Yanukovich Regime they were working for.

When we turned the results of our investigation into the missing $1-2 million in payments over to the FBI and Department of Justice prosecutors, they apparently incorporated this  information into their larger money laundering and influence-peddling investigation of Manafort and Gates, which led to the recent charges that Manafort and Gates used an offshore account to  “funnel $4 million to pay secretly for the report” supporting Tymoshenko’s conviction. The work was revealed in last year’s indictment of Manafort and Gates, in which prosecutors asserted that the two men lobbied members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine, including the issue of whether Yanukovych had a legitimate basis for imprisoning and prosecuting his political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The pubic release of the charges against Van der Zwaan signals that the Special Counsel’s office has reached  plea agreements with both Van der Zwaan and Rick Gates, and that both of them are cooperating with the continuing investigation into the both Manafort and Gates’ work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian President, as well as their continuing work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party even after Yanukovich was forced to flee Kiev for the safety of Moscow in March of 2014 during the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine.

The results of this investigation should answer the longstanding question as to why then-Candidate Trump hired Manafort and Gates to head up his Presidential Campaign in the summer of  2016, knowing how closely affiliated they were with pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The recent charges and plea agreements should also substantially advance the ongoing Mueller investigation on many fronts, including the question of whether it was Trump himself who directed Manafort and Gates to water down the Ukrainian plank in the party platform at the Republican National Convention. This revision of the Republican platform eliminated the call for the U.S. to send defensive military equipment to the beleaguered Ukraine government, which was facing the annexation of Crimea and a Russian-incited rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

One thing is clear: there is much, much more to come from the Special Counsel’s office.

JARED KUSHNER HAD CLOSE BUSINESS TIES WITH RUSSIA LONG BEFORE HE MET WITH THE RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR

The media is understandably fascinated by the revelation that Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower on December 1 or 2, 2016 (the White House has been rather vague as to the exact date). Apparently neither Kushner nor Flynn disclosed the meeting on their security clearance forms. Both of them have a lot of explaining to do. Not only was the meeting undisclosed, but the alleged reason for the meeting was highly unorthodox. According to an intercepted communication between the Ambassador and the Kremlin, Kushner had requested that the Russians give him access to a backchannel communications facility at the Russian embassy. His apparent intent was that he wanted to communicate directly with Moscow, free from the prying eyes and ears of the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

It also recently has been disclosed that Kushner had another undisclosed meeting during the Transition period with Sergey Gorkov, a KGB graduate and head of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian state-owned bank that has been subject to U.S. sanctions. This bank has also been linked to Russian spy operations in the U.S.

While Kushner’s apparent level of trust in the Russians demonstrated by his meeting with Kislyak and Gorkov may be surprising, it was not completely unexpected. Kushner has strong business relationships with Russian individuals and companies tied to Russia and Vladimir Putin. In some cases, these relationships have been in place for many years.

In May 2015, Kushner’s real estate company paid $295 million for the majority share in the former New York Times Building on West 43rd Street in Manhattan as part of a deal with Lev Leviev, the Uzbek-Israeli “King of Diamonds” with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Leviev serves as chairman of Africa Israel Investments Ltd., which has a Russian subsidiary, AFI Development PLC, a public company traded on the London Stock Exchange which is one of the largest real estate development companies in Russia. Leviev is also chairman of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS (former Soviet republics), and is closely associated with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow who is often referred to in the Jewish press as “Putin’s rabbi.”

In November 2014, Kushner and his brother Joshua also formed a real estate investment company – Cadre – which attracted substantial venture capital from Russian high-tech billionaire Yuri Milner. As founder of the investment firms Digital Sky Technologies (now called Mail.ru Group) and DST Global, Milner’s net worth went from zero to $12 billion in two years as a result of his investments in Facebook and other social media platforms. Milner also owned the largest Internet providers in Russia and elsewhere in eastern and central Europe.

Other Russian and Chinese investors who invested in Cadre and other Kushner companies were rewarded with U.S. visas as part of the EB-5 program. The program gives investors putting at least $500,000 into American companies a two-year visa and a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, are also close friends with Russian billionaire and Putin crony Roman Abramovich and his wife, Dasha Zhukova. Ivanka invited her close friend Dasha to the Trump Inauguration in January 2017, and they have been frequently spotted together at the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other events.

Abramovich, who is perhaps best known as the owner of the legendary Chelsea Soccor club in London, was reported by BBC to have given a $35 million yacht to Putin as a “gift.” Abramovich is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FJCR), which is a major supporter and ally of President Vladimir Putin within Russia.

Abramovich has a one-third interest in Evraz PLC, one of the world’s largest steel manufacturing companies. Through one of its Canadian subsidiaries, Evraz supplied about 40% of the steel used for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in North Dakota.

One of Trump’s first actions in office was to sign an executive order expediting the approval of the Keystone pipeline. Construction of the pipeline had been halted by the Obama Administration in November 2015 based on environmental and other concerns. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to reverse this Obama order and to finish construction of the pipeline. Owned by TransCanada, the pipeline is intended to move Canadian tar sands oil southward through the Dakotas to Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas. On January 24th, Trump also signed another executive order requiring that the steel for all U.S. pipelines had to be made in the U.S. to the “maximum extent possible.” Two days later, TransCanada filed a presidential permit application for the Keystone pipeline with the U.S. Department of State, which was granted.

Ironically, much of the steel to be used for the Keystone pipeline had already been manufactured outside the U.S. by Abramovich’s company Evraz, and was sitting in a field in North Dakota waiting to be used once Trump “green lighted” the project. Evraz had lobbied heavily against provisions that would have mandated that all of the Keystone steel be made in the U.S., and they got their wish when Trump’s executive order contained enough “wiggle room” to ensure that all of Evraz’s foreign manufactured steel was used on the pipeline. Just to be doubly sure, Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on March 3, 2017 that Trump’s executive order requiring that U.S. steel be used on U.S. pipelines only applied to new pipelines, not those already under construction. This “clarification” meant that the Keystone pipeline was completely exempted from the executive order.

In March 2017, Jared, Ivanka, and their family took a ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado. There were some grumbling emanating from the White House to the effect that Kushner, as one of Trump’s senior advisors, should not have been off skiing in Aspen while Trump’s health care  agenda was going up in flames in Congress.

As it turned out, however, Kushner’s trip to Aspen was not completely a vacation. Roman Abramovich and his wife just happen to own a chalet in Aspen, and the two couples just happened to arrive in Aspen on the same day (March 18th). Although there were no photographs of the two families together in Aspen, it is reasonable to assume that – given the closeness of the relationship between the two families – Jared and Roman found some quality time together to close the Keystone pipeline steel deal and cover other business matters of mutual interest.

Thus Kushner, like his father-in-law, has a longstanding history and close affinity for Russian oligarchs who operate within Putin’s inner circle. At the same time, Kushner has had a longstanding suspicion (if not outright hostility) to federal law enforcement agencies and the media who, in his view, hounded his father out of the family business and into prison. It must have seemed perfectly natural, therefore, for Kushner to want to communicate directly with the Russians, out of sight from the media and unfettered by federal law enforcement/intelligence agency “interference.”

 

THE RELEASE BY BUZZFEED NEWS OF THE “TRUMP RUSSIAN DOSSIER” HIGHLIGHTS THAT THE FBI HAS KNOWN ABOUT THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN’S TIES TO RUSSIA SINCE AT LEAST AUGUST 2016, BUT HAS CONDUCTED VIRTUALLY NO INVESTIGATION OF THESE ALLEGATIONS

The publication last Tuesday by BuzzFeed of the 35-page document – referred to as a “Dossier” — prepared by a former British intelligence officer regarding the ties between President-elect Donald J. Trump and the Russian government has triggered a huge political stir in Congress and, of course, in the Office of the President-Elect, but contains little news that has not been widely known within the media, as well as in the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
Specifically, the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies have had information relating to the direct communications between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government since at least July/August 2016, when it was first alerted that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy advisor, as well as other intermediaries, were receiving information originating with the government that was extremely helpful to the Trump Campaign, and extremely damaging to Hillary Clinton.
As I reported in my law firm’s blog on October 31, 2016 (www.mccallionlaw.com.blog ), the FBI was “applying a double standard when it comes to publicly confirming whether the FBI has active investigations relating to the two major Presidential candidates.” As I pointed out, FBI Director Comey’s cryptic letter to Congress — eleven days before the November 8th election — announcing that the FBI was reviewing some new emails that may or may not be relevant to Hillary Clinton and her use a private email server, was grossly unfair to the Clinton Campaign and the American public, not only because it was inevitably designed to influence the outcome of the election, but because Comey was remaining silent as to the far more explosive investigation it had regarding to possible treason by high-ranking members of the Trump Campaign. Specifically, I sharply criticized Director Comey regarding his refusal to comment on “whether FBI agents had sought to speak with or had interviewed Trump former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, or his deputy, Rick Gates, even though it is widely known throughout the law enforcement and intelligence communities that there is an active FBI investigation of Manafort, Gates and others for money laundering and other illegal activities ever since documents surfaced in Kiev, Ukraine in August 2016 showing that Manafort had received over $12 million in cash from the pro-Russian former President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich.”
I was able to reliably report on these investigations since I had personally received reliable information regarding the money laundering operations by Manafort, Gates and others through various companies and bank accounts located in New York and elsewhere, and had brought a civil racketeering lawsuit on behalf of various clients against Manafort, Gates and a Ukrainian oligarch – Dimitri Firtash – who was supplying much of the illegal money that was then “laundered” through these U.S.- based accounts. We also named as a defendant Manafort’s former boss – Victor Yanukovich – – the pro-Russian former President of Ukraine, who was run out of Kiev during the so called “Maiden Revolution” in Ukraine in February/March 2014, and is now residing in Moscow under the protection of Vladimir Putin.
During our investigation, we also collected valuable information regarding the ties between Manafort/Gates and Russian oligarchs and organized crime leaders based in Moscow. All of this information was turned over to the FBI, and Firtash was later indicted by the U.S. Dept. of Justice on similar money laundering and corruption allegations.
The former MI-6 British intelligence officer also provided the FBI with specific information regarding the connections between Manafort/Gates and Russian operatives. For example, he reported in his “Dossier” that he learned “in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership [and that] this was managed on the TRUMP side by the republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.”
In fact, the former MI-6 agent believed this and other information urgently needed to get into the hands of the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, that – without even the permission of his private clients who had commissioned his investigation – he turned the fruits of his investigation over to U.S. law enforcement and others. He specifically alerted the FBI not only to the possibly treasonous activities by Manafort and Gates themselves, but also – as I had done – the various “ethnic Russian” operatives both within and close to the Trump Campaign.
Yet the FBI did nothing, and kept the entire matter under wraps while, at the same time, the agency leaked like a sieve as to Hillary Clinton’s emails and the “dangers” that some of her emails might have been hacked by Russian operatives.
I also reported in my October 31, 2016 blog that the FBI investigation also covered the money laundering activities of the Trump Organization with regard to the huge influx of cash from that Company from Russian and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international criminals and organized crime racketeers. For example, the Trump Soho project in lower Manhattan was largely financed by illegally-obtained cash from Russia and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers. The Trump Soho project in lower Manhattan was largely financed by illegally-obtained cash from Russia and several former Soviet Republics, and Trump specifically marketed his Sunny Isles, Florida apartment units in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other venues designed to attract Russian organized crime money, Such as the French Riviera. So much tainted Russian money poured into Trump’s Sunny Isles project that the entire area came to be referred to as “Little Moscow,” complete with Russian shops, restaurants and even directional signs.
As I have previously reported, foreign condo owners in Trump’s Sunny Isles project include Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman arrested on fraud charges in San Francisco in 1999, who, with his partner — former Ukraine Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. and elsewhere. Kiritchenko avoided jail time in the U.S. by agreeing to testify against Lazarenko, who was convicted of money laundering and spent 13 years as a client of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Other proud owners of Trump condos at Sunny Isle include Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, members of a Russian-American organized crime group who ran an illegal high-stakes sports betting ring catering almost exclusively to wealthy oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. The list goes on and on.
Based on the fact that Trump’s buildings in New York and Florida were filled with Russian/Ukrainian oligarchs and their families, the Trump Organization (and therefore the Trump Campaign) were in a unique position to collect detailed ongoing information regarding these Russian/Ukrainian expatriates, which was a very valuable bargaining chip with Putin and the Russian intelligence organizations, since Putin has always been paranoid about the ability or likelihood of various Russian oligarchs to undermine his iron grip on all things Russian, both domestically and internationally. So the Dossier (at page 11) has the ring of truth to it to the extent it further reports that a “Source close to TRUMP campaign …confirms regular exchange with Kremlin has existed for at least 8 years, including intelligence fed back to Russia on oligarchs’ activities in the US.”
It was not until the President-Elect strongly denied being briefed about the Dossier at his Thursday news conference – calling it “fake news” – that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others felt compelled to correct the record by confirming that Trump had, in fact, been briefed on the Dossier, and that FBI Director Comey had specifically taken Trump aside during the recent intelligence briefing to advise him that this information was “out there.” In fact, it has now been disclosed that the Dossier had been widely circulated before the BuzzFeed publication and that it was the height of irresponsibility for the President-Elect to accuse the intelligence community for the “leak” of such a widely available document.
The former MI6 agent has disappeared “off the grid” and is unavailable for comment. Definitely a wise move. The stakes here are very high, and the Kremlin kleptocracy has shown no compunction about terminating with extreme prejudice even those on foreign soil whom they deem pose a threat to them. One of my sources regarding Trump’s Sunny Isles’ holdings recently died after falling (or being pushed) off an apartment balcony of a Sunny Isles apartment. Was his death related to our continued investigation of the ties between the Trump Organization and Russian/Ukrainian oligarchs and organized crime operatives with apartments in Sunny Isles, or was his death a coincidence and unrelated to this investigation? Strangely, his computer and phone went missing, so it is difficult – if not impossible – to fully investigate his contacts in the final days and hours before his fateful plunge. Very unsettling.
In any event, President Elect Trump’s baseless attacks on the press and intelligence communities should not detract from the most important “take away” from the release of the Dossier, and its importance has virtually nothing to do with alleged sex tapes from a Moscow hotel, or whether Trump is a “germaphobe” or not. Those are all sideshows and distractions from the real issue of paramount national importance: Did high-ranking members of the Trump Campaign, including several of those following him to the White House, commit high crimes and misdemeanors – basically treason – against the United States and, if so, what did the President Elect know about it and when did he know it. Question 2: Why did FBI Director fail to disclose its investigation of the Trump Organization’s Russian ties at the same time that he was making public statements about the Clinton email investigation. In other words, why was Director Comey focusing the public’s attention on the tail of the dog (the email investigation), without disclosing the much more important investigation of the dog itself.
The American people have a right to know. NOW!