Hiding in Plain Sight

Let me share a few thoughts on the latest developments in the Trump Russia story, or perhaps better to say, elements of it that don’t seem to be getting a great deal of attention.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Donald Trump’s multiple business ties to people from the Russian criminal underworld. This is not primarily contacts or associations that came up during the campaign but ties that go back in most cases a bit more than a decade. The regimes of Russia and other post-Soviet states are heavily kleptocratic. So the lines separating oligarchs from governments from organized crime bosses can be very hard to draw and in many cases are close to non-existent.

Most reports and observers of the Trump/Russia story have tended to look at this morass of ties and associations and see this as the swamp in which the smoking gun or extensive evidence of Trump’s ties to Russian intelligence and hacking will be found. I think there’s a quite good chance that that’s true – for a number of reasons I hope to get to in coming days. It’s a solid assumption.

But this assumption has tended to hide an extremely relevant story in plain site: namely, Donald Trump had and continues to have extensive and deep ties and business dependence on organized crime figures in the US, Russia, Ukraine and a host of other countries. If we’d never heard about Russian intelligence hacking of the 2016 election or Carter Page or Paul Manafort or Sergei Kislyak this would seem like an extraordinarily big deal. And indeed it is an extraordinarily big deal.

What that means is that we – as reporters and as a concerned public – should probe these relationships on their own terms just as much as the most logical place to hunt looking for the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Perhaps another way to put it is, let’s find that needle. But don’t forget the haystack is a huge story in itself. It may end up being the bigger one. That story goes not only to Donald Trump but what US law enforcement and intelligence knew about Donald Trump, his connections to the world of oligarchs and organized crime long before the DNC’s and John Podesta’s emails started appearing out of thin air to help saw the 2016 election. There is a whole lot there.

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