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How Cohen’s and Manafort’s Ukraine Ties Tell the Deeper Story of Trump-Russia and the Mueller Probe

Both Cohen and Manafort have close ties to people close to Putin’s Russian mafia henchmen and who are central to Trump-Russia. Their work is closer than most previous analysis has indicated.

AMMAN — To many people following the Trump-Russia investigation for the start, it might be surprising that Michael Cohen, a longtime Trump “lawyer” and soldier, and Paul Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, political wizard for a rogue’s gallery of dictators over decades, and Campaign Chairman for Trump’s campaign during arguably the most crucial stretch of 2016, would become two of the most significant current centers of gravity in the Trump-Russia investigations.

But to those who have been paying close attention, this is not surprising at all (I’ve been writing about Manafort for over two years and Cohen for over a year).  And their specific work that raises significant concerns about Kremlin attempts to co-opt Trump and people close to him over the years overlaps in meaningful ways, an overlap that has generally been overlooked, but that merits a closer inspection.

Currently, Cohen is the subject of “many” inquiries that have been ongoing for months, and it seemed as though he could have been arrested at any moment. Now, Cohen seems both to have turned on Trump and to be cooperating with authorities (rather enthusiastically, it seems, with Team Cohen releasing a profoundly relevant and incriminating conversation of a private conversation with Trump and more potential tapes on the way). Cohen’s apparent change of heart occurred after he started feeling as if Trump betrayed him and left him out to dry, taking his loyalty for granted.

Meanwhile, Manafort is, yet again, being further investigated and is locked up in jail because of his attempts to obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses with the assistance of his old long-time colleague, Konstantin Kilimnik. KilimnikU.S. officials, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, assert was (and may still be) a Russian military intelligence operative, and is now starting what looks to be a grueling trial in federal court in Virginia, with another trial set to begin in Washington in September.

But one must go back decades to correctly understand why both Cohen and Manafort are so central to the Trump-Russia probe.  And no, this is not about the surprisingly and impressively graceful and tenacious pornstar Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels), who, if anything, has received a disproportionate amount of coverage that has drowned out some of the deeper, more complex aspects of the Trump-Russia scandal.

*****

 

In the 1980s, Donald Trump bought some 200 televisions for one of his hotels from an electronics store run by Semyon “Sam” Kislin and Tamir Sapir, immigrants from the then-Soviet Republics of Ukraine and Georgia, respectively.  Their store was a known hot-spot for senior government officials, spies, and politicians all from the Soviet Union.

Sapir may have (once) been part of or even come to the U.S. secretly working for the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (at whose academy he had apparently studied). Rumors swirled around the sources of his extremely unlikely and massive wealth.  One of his primary business partners pled guilty to longtime scams with the Gambino Crime family.

As for Sapir’s partner, as I noted in more detail previously, Kislin was a longtime ally of Rudolph Giuliani: a prolific repeat donor to the future-Trump-ally’s mayoral campaigns, with Giuliani as mayor even appointing Kislin to his economic council where he served until Giuliani’s final year as mayor. Kislin would also later serve on another of the city’s economic advisory groups.  By at least the mid-1990s, U.S. authorities believed Kislin had helped launder millions for the Russian mafia, had helped bring in a suspected hired assassin to America, and specifically had been linked by the FBI to Vyacheslav Ivankov’s Russian mob crew based in Brighton Beach as a “member or associate.”

Ivankov—one of the Russian mafia’s top men in Americalived in Trump Tower, had the Trump Organization’s private contact numbers in his address book, and also loved frequently spending time—along with other Russian mobsters at Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, NJ.

Ivankov reported to Russian mafia “boss of bosses” Semion Mogilevich, perhaps the most powerful mobster in the world today, a financial mastermind known for long-term schemes, a top concern of the FBI for decades, and a longtime-friend and ally of current Russia President Vladimir Putin, who shields him to this day from U.S. (and other) authorities.

Mogilevich set up a front company in America in 1995 that would perpetrate a massive stock fraud worth $150 million on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Its ostensible “CEO” was Jacob Bogatin, who made repeated donations in this role to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Jacob’s brother, David Bogatin, had served in the Soviet Army in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, targeting U.S. aircraft.  By the mid-1980s, Bogatin had purchased five Trump Tower apartments that Trump had personally sold to him. By 1990s, he was also a key soldier for Mogilevich.

A man that a U.S. Supreme Court petition for a writ of certiorari alleges was another Mogilevich lieutenant, Mikhael Sheferovsky, had a son, Felix Sater, who, even without his father’s possible relationship with Mogilevich (which Felix denies), ended up having his own ties to the Russian mafia.

Sater was involved in a massive stock fraud and money laundering scheme worth tens of millions. Sater ran his illegal operation in the mid-1990s from an office in none-other-than-Trump-owned 40 Wall Street. It’s well-known that Sater’s plan involved the Russian mafia, but it is not publicly known if Mogilevich was involved. If Mogilevich were involved, it would hardly be surprising because of his involvement in similar stock fraud and money laundering in the U.S. and Canada during the same period.

Many details of Sater’s case remain sealed because he later mysteriously cooperated with the U.S. government on national security issues in a deal made on the government’s side by Andrew Weissmann, then a federal prosecutor and now a key member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Glenn Simpson (a Fusion GPS opposition research lead investigator on numerous Russian cases including Trump’s connections to Russia and the infamous Prevezon/Magnitsky case, discussed later) also testified to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee staff that Sater has strong ties to the Mogilevich crew. Specifics on which basis Simpson is alleging this are not clear.

Sater also grew up in Brighton Beach—a neighborhood notorious for being a Russian mafia enclave—and had a friend since childhood from that neighborhood whose uncle ran a catering establishment in New York then popular with the Russian mafia figures.  That friend was Michael Cohen, the same Michael Cohen close to Trump and at the center of the Stormy Daniels saga.

*****

 

Mogilevich was hardly only focused on North America.  In 1995, he attended a major summit for Eastern European mafia bosses in Tel Aviv hosted by Boris Birshtein, a Russian émigré living in Canada who ran a number of ostensible businesses under the Seabeco name.  The main agenda was laying out plans for their Ukrainian operations.

Not long after, Mogilevich would be making major moves in Ukraine’s energy sector.

Those moves were all related to corrupt relationships and arrangements with Ukraine’s pro-Russian (then-)President Leonid Kuchma, who was close with Putin and other major Ukrainian politicians. At one point, $5 million was delivered by Birshtein and his Seabeco associates to Kuchma’s campaign manager, Oleksandr Volkov, known for his ties to Russian organized crime. Volkov also just happened to be Seabeco’s representative in Ukraine.

Meeting at Birshtein’s Seabeco and working for it throughout the 1990s were two men who would come to dominate large parts of Kazakhstan’s natural resource sector and forge very close ties with that country’s corrupt political leadership as two members of a corrupt Kazakh “Trio” of oligarchs, one being Alexander Mashkevich.

At the same time, Russian-born Canadian Alexander Shnaider also began working for Seabeco in 1991 while in law school; he would eventually marry his boss’s daughter, Simona Birshtein, and he rose quickly in Seabeco’s steel sector.  Shnaider and a partner would later found a company that began aggressively buying up the Ukrainian government’s shares in Ukraine’s fourth-largest steel mill, Zaporizhstal.

Also in Ukraine was Ukrainian businessman Viktor Topolov. By the late 1990s, Topolov’s construction company was allegedly employing multiple Russian mobsters, including as a “vice president” Leonid Roytman, whom the FBI has found to be a Mogilevich-associated (confessed) hitman and who said that the company regularly functioned to set up mafia meetings.

It seems Topolov was also involved in a scandal involving alleged money laundering and embezzling with Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz, the giant Russian state gas company Gazprom, and a Ukrainian football team named CSKA Kiev.  The football team was managed by Topolov until he handed it off to Andrii Artemenko in 1999. Artemenko was himself involved in, and later took much of the fall for, the laundering/embezzling scandal.

*****

 

In the 2000s, these relationships would explode into billions of dollars in scandal and shake the foundations of a nation.

By at least 2000, Ukraine’s President Kuchma seemed to tacitly approve of, or at least not try to block, whatever designs Mogilevich had for Ukraine and was also aware both of the mafia don’s longstanding relationship with Putin and that the two were already plotting something big for Ukraine.

Kuchma tried to fix the 2004 Ukrainian election to install his chosen successor Viktor Yanukovych, and the well-known 2004-2005 Orange Revolution thwarted this election fraud.  The disgraced Yanukovych needed a political rebirth, and it was none other than Paul Manafort, who was brought in to help him try to beat the Orange Revolution and then to rehabilitate him.  With his deputy Rick Gates, Manafort was effectively the political manager for Yanukovych and his political party, the Party of Regions.

Essentially, Putin would arrange to have Gazprom sell natural gas cheaply to Firtash, who ran the relevant intermediary company called RosukrEnergo (RUE), and Firtash would then generally sell that gas to Ukraine at much higher rates.  The profits would then be laundered by Mogilevich and others and used both to bribe Ukrainian politicians to do Russia’s bidding and to fund Yanukovych and his party.

Manafort and Gates even allegedly worked directly with Firtash to launder some of this money into fraudulent Manhattan real estate deals using shady shell companies.

One of the shell companies mentioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of Manafort (John Hannah LLC) is the same one Manafort used in 2006 for a cash purchase of a $3.675 million Trump Tower apartment, raising a distinct possibility the property was used for Ukraine-related money laundering.

Manafort and Gates also partnered with close Putin ally and Russian aluminum oligarch-billionaire Oleg Deripaska on various projects serving Russia’s and/or Putin’s interests and funneling Yanukovych’s private fortune and those of his inner circle away from prying eyes.

Over the years, Manafort would end up owing Deripaska no less than a staggering $60 million.

Also at this time, from 2004-2007, future-Trump-campaign-advisor and repeated FISA superstar Carter Page advised both Gazprom and another Russian state-owned energy company—RAO UES—all the way on the other end of this massive Ukrainian gas scam, making it highly unlikely he was not at least partly aware of what was going on.

Michael Cohen would also become heavily involved in Ukraine in the 2000s.  Cohen started his business career as a personal injury lawyer, then pursued some other business interests that ended in dozens of lawsuits and involved mafia-linked associates.  Both he and his brother, Bryan Cohen, married Ukrainian women, Bryan marrying Oksana Oronov, daughter of Alex Oronov, a “longtime” business partner of Mogilevich-linked Topolov (linked to the earlier alleged money laundering that had involved Gazprom and the Kiev soccer team), who had now become a powerful Ukrainian politician.

Together, the Cohens, Alex Oronov, and Topolov all joined a Ukrainian ethanol business venture.  In 2006, the Cohen brothers personally tried to convince Americans to invest in building a factory for the business and failed to do so, though they did meet Topolov in the process. Others funded the investment to the tune of millions, and no ethanol was produced at the factory.  All this was at the same time that the Ukrainian gas scheme and money laundering of Mogilevich and Manafort were in full effect.

Going back to Sam Kislin, after his work with Giuliani, in the early 2000s, he brokered a deal for a condo in Trump World Tower for Vasily Salygin, who would soon become an official in Ukraine’s Party of Regions at the same time Manafort was running its political affairs and then some.

Around this time, Kislin’s old partner Sapir—who now owned a $5 million apartment in Trump Tower, with Trump calling Sapir and his family “great friends”—introduced Trump to Bayrock, ostensibly a real-estate firm led by Tevfik Arif, an ex-Soviet government official from Kazakhstan whose rise to fortune is at least somewhat questionable.

The earlier-introduced Sater now enters Trump’s orbit as the COO of Bayrock, the office of which was even located in Trump Tower. Sater now famously partnered with Trump (and sometimes his children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr.) in a series of potential deals (including the infamous Trump Tower Moscow with his old friend Cohen) and actual deals, most of which ended in disaster, failure, lawsuits, and scandal, with hundreds of millions in losses.

The most famous of the actual deals was the Trump SoHo, and none other than Alexander Mashkevich was one of its chief financiers.  By this time, Mashkevich was also a dominant player in aluminum and orchestrated a huge aluminum deal with Deripaska in 2004 at a time when Deripaska’s relationship with Manafort was taking off, while the other two members of Mashkevich’s Kazakh “Trio” had been dealing with Gazprom.

Four specific deals, SoHo included, of Bayrock’s that had been signed-off on by Trump personally received $50 million in “financing” from an Icelandic firm—FL Group—known as a hub for Russian investors, investors apparently linked to Putin and money laundering. FL Group’s $50 investment was illegally structured as a “loan” designed to cheat governments of taxes and helped precipitate some of FL Group’s woes that led to its meltdown, which helped spark the 2008 global financial crises.

Sater was the point man for these deals, which were alleged, in a settled-in-late-February long-running lawsuit, of being RICO money-laundering scams.

Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, by 2001, Shnaider and his business partner had acquired a 93 percent stake in Zaporizhstal for some $70 million. They managed the deal at a time when steel was the country’s most significant industry, accounting for about 25% of Ukraine’s GDP.  By 2006, Shnaider was turning down a $1.2 billion offer for the mill.

Then came 2007, when Shnaider partnered with Trump to begin building the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Toronto.  And in 2008, FL Group conspicuously loaned Shnaider €45.8 million ostensibly for a yacht at the same time Shnaider’s former Seabeco partner Mashkevich was also working with FL Group and Trump on the Bayrock projects.

After investors were pounded during the ensuing global financial crises that exploded that same year, Shnaider sought to sell his company’s near-total stake in Zaporizhstal to help finance his Trump project, which he did in 2010 for some $850 million through five shell companies.  His buyer was an unknown Russian acting on behalf of the Russian government and who, in turn, was funded by the Russian state-run bank VEB (Vnesheconombank), and the chairman of its board at that time was Vladimir Putin himselftr.  Subsequent chairman Sergei Gorkov, a graduate of the F.S.B.’s academywould meet Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in December 2016, just after Trump’s victory against Clinton and while the bank was under U.S. sanctions because of the war in Ukraine).

Zaporizhstal fit well into Putin’s and Mogilevich’s scheme of trying to extend Russian influence over Ukraine’s industries and natural resources.  Yanukovych financier Akhmetov had apparently narrowly missed out on acquiring Zaporizhstal from Shnaider back in 2010 but was able to gain majority ownership in July 2011, when he was a sitting member of Ukraine’s parliament with the Party of Regions.

Like the other deals discussed above, the Toronto deal fell into the same pattern of coming apart amid scandal and lawsuits from dozens of investors saying they were misled and who are still suing both Trump and Shnaider.

Still another massive scandal-ridden deal from this period involves the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, Panama, which began in 2005, with the Tower opening in 2011.  To get to that point, in 2007, Bear Stearns “underwrote a $220 million bond issue” that would help finance the project’s construction, less than a year before Bear Stearns’ meltdown (along with FL Group’s) initiated the global financial crises of 2008.

(Pause: This means that scandalous Trump projects were major catalysts in the two main corporate collapses that were themselves the catalysts for the global financial crises!)

The Panama project involved Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, drug cartels, the Russian mafia, and a Ukrainian businessman named Igor Anopolskiy, who has strong financial ties to Oxana Marchenko, apparently the same Marchenko who is the wife of Viktor Medvedchuk…

Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s first post-Soviet oligarchs (and in none other than the natural gas business), and by 1999 he was an important ally of then-Ukrainian President Kuchma, supporting him in partnership with Volkov, who at the time was funneling money from Birshtein to Kuchma as previously discussed.  Medvedchuk later became Kuchma’s chief of staff from 2002-2005 and also became very close with Putin’s number-two, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.  But he is even closer with Putin himself, who is godfather to Medvedchuk’s and Marchenko’s daughter (Medvedev’s wife is the godmother).

Putin has pushed for and seen Medvedchuk take leading roles in Ukraine’s politics.  In such positions, Medvedchuk helped Yanukovych, has worked to steer Ukraine away from the West and closer to Russia, and has played a significant role as a negotiating representative “for” Ukraine in major disputes with Russia on everything from gas deals to the current war.  He was also one of the first officials sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea for his role in that affair. That same year Medvedchuk met Manafort whom Medvedchuk has praised as “the best, both among foreign and domestic political consultants,” which makes the fact that Medvedchuk was reported to be in contact with the Trump campaign during 2016 concerning “U.S.-Russia cooperation” unsurprising yet still very troubling.

Even now, a prostitute in a Thai Jail has been exposed by suppressed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny as being connected with Oleg Deripaska. She was with him, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, who is a big-time foreign policy guy in the Kremlin, on a yacht at the height of the 2016 election, shortly before Manafort had offered to brief Deripaska on Trump’s campaign (presumably) on behalf of Putin.  The prostitute, known as “Nastya Rybka,” recorded video of Deripaska and Prikhodko talking about Russian relations with the U.S., and noted more such interactions in writing.

Rybka is threatening to share damning evidence she claims to have—including audio recordings she claims proves collusion between Manafort, Deripaska, and Prikhodko to interfere in the U.S. election. Rybka has asked the U.S. for asylum and protection from Russian authorities in exchange for the information she says she can offer.

 

If only Deripaska had a fixer like Michael Cohen, who apparently allegedly regularly paid women who had extramarital sexual affairs with Trump (and at least one other significant Republican Party figure, Elliott Broidy) to be quiet and go away.

Outside a courtroom in mid-April of this year in which the business inside centered on criminal inquiries into his own business dealings, Cohen took time to share cigars with Rotem Rosen and other friends.

Rosen married Tamir Sapir’s daughter, Zina Sapir, in 2007 at a ceremony hosted by Donald Trump himself at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and the next year, Trump and Kushner attended the newlywed couple’s bris for their newborn.

Rosen was the longtime right-hand man of Lev Leviev, a famous Israeli diamond oligarch from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.  Leviev is close and, it seems, a friend to Vladimir Putin, but also is close with the Sapirs, Deripaska, and (another) Russian aluminum oligarch named Roman Abramovich, who is himself close to Putin and was apparently the first to recommend Putin to then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin as a successor.  Abramovich owns the UK club football team Chelsea, and until recently lived in the UK. Following Russia’s shocking recent Skripal chemical nerve agent attack on British soil, the UK declined to renew Abramovich’s visa, and he made aliyah to Israel, instantly becoming that nation’s wealthiest citizen).

When former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who had been talking on tape about Putin’s “good relationship” with Mogilevich, among other things, was assassinated with radioactive material in the UK in 2006 on the orders of the Kremlin (not that different from the Skripal poisoning), he was helping both British and Spanish intelligence look into money laundering and organized crime ties surrounding Abramovich.

Ivanka has been very close with Dasha Zhukova, Abramovich’s wife during this period (they separated in mid-2017, and Abramovich has since curiously been spotted with Polina Deripaska, Oleg’s “estranged” wife) for over a decade (introduced, interestingly, by Wendi Deng, then Rupert Murdoch’s wife and more recently a rumored lover/girlfriend of, yes, Vladimir Putin).  Abramovich became acquainted with both Kushner and Ivanka as a result.

His and Putin’s friend Leviev, whose company’s U.S. operations were headquartered at Trump’s 40 Wall St. property (where Sater ran his 1990s’ massive scam), was a business partner of Denis Katsyv, scion of a Putin ally, through Katsyv’s company Prevezon. Their dealings were at the heart of the whole Magnitsky money laundering and Russian sanctions saga that, in turn, led to the infamous June 2016, Trump Tower meeting hosted by Manafort, Kushner, and Donald Jr. with a variety of Russian operatives with deep Kremlin connections.

Leviev later conducted a major business deal with Kushner in 2015 and financing from Deutsche Bank related to that deal is under scrutiny by federal authorities. Deutsche also helped finance Donald Trump for years when few other banks would, and financed the Prevezon deal between Katsyv and Leviev. The Prevezon deal later became the subject of a settled civil case from the local U.S. Attorney’s office and is still the subject of a criminal probe there (a piece I wrote on Prevezon/Magnitsky was even censored in Russia). “Magnitsky” has since become synonymous with a human-rights crusade against Putin, and his Kremlin allies carried out by one Bill Browder, who has been a repeated target of Putin and Russian authorities as a result.

Another money laundering case of note involved the arrest of Mogilevich-linked Russian mobsters in Trump Tower when local boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and his minions Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik were allegedly overseeing an illegal high-stakes international gambling ring. The ring targeted wealthy clientele and was, in part, operated out of the building (and was the subject of the recent Jessica Chastain movie Molly’s Game).  The gambling ring was popular with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs in both Russia and Ukraine, and besides the gambling, its ringleaders also engaged in some $100 million in money laundering.

In 2009, Trincher bought an apartment in Trump Tower just below an apartment owned by Donald Trump, in which Trincher nearly held a fundraiser for future-Trump-ally Newt Gingrich two years later. The fundraiser never occurred after a mold problem, and a water leak was detected. Other mobsters in the outfit also owned Trump properties.  The minions did not escape justice in 2013 raids orchestrated by Preet Bharara (later fired by Trump), but Tokhtakhounov did and was soon after a red-carpet VIP guest at Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. The two men arrived within minutes of each other, and it is certainly possible they interacted there in Moscow, a city where, to this day, Tokhtakhounov is regularly spotted at trendy public places.

*****

 

Meanwhile, Manafort’s and Gates’ work led to the triumphant rise of Yanukovych’s Party Of Regions and of Yanukovych’s ascent to Ukraine’s presidency in 2010.  Ultimately, the gas scam that empowered those wins precipitated the 2014 (Euro)Maidan revolution, the ouster of Yanukovych, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and today’s civil war in Ukraine.  At this time, Manafort and Gates were lobbying the U.S. government to improve the corrupt image of Yanukovych’s government, and it was for lying about this work that Alexander van der Zwaan, son-in-law of major Putin-linked Russian oligarch billionaire German Khan, was sentenced in April, the first defendant in Mueller’s Russia probe sentenced to time in prison.

After Trump’s presidential win and eleven days before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, Cohen met with a Russian oligarch close to Putin and the Kremlin named Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government in response to Putin’s hostile actions. The two men discussed Russian-American relations in Trump Tower in New York; probably not coincidentally, a company of Vekselberg’s ended up sending Cohen substantial sums of money amounting to more than half of a million dollars.

A diplomatic episode from the beginning of Trump’s presidency ties all this together.  Early in 2017, Cohen teamed up with his old friend Sater and Topolov’s old associate Artemenko from the alleged Gazprom-related laundering scam in an unofficial diplomatic meeting in Manhattan regarding Ukraine. This meeting was organized by Alex Oronov, whom Artemenko described in March 2017 as a “partner, mentor, teacher and friend.” His statement was made shortly after Oronov had mysteriously died.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a “peace” plan for Ukraine that had support from senior Putin aides, one that would cede to Russia official control over Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed with a 50 or 100-year “lease.”  At the meeting were also discussed ways to undermine Ukraine’s current anti-Putin president, Petro Poroshenko.  Cohen personally delivered the proposal to National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who had attended a Russian gala dinner in 2015 while seated at Putin’s table, which was next to Vekselberg’s table. Flynn would later resign from Trump’s team because of his Russian entanglements that would then lead to his indictment by the Special Counsel.

Such excellent Ukraine work assisting Russian interests would have made Manafort proud, and Manafort may even have played a role in it.  Artemenko used his private plane to fly Manafort to Europe in July 2013, and Manafort made at least 19 trips to Kiev in the 20 months after Yanukovych was overthrown in 2014, possibly partnering with Medvedchuk.

Soon after the last trip, he and Gates joined the Trump campaign, just in time for the campaign to defang the Republican Party Platform’s harsh language on Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Cohen’s work on the 2017 “peace plan” would, had it been adopted, have been the long-worked-for culmination of over a decade of work by Manafort and Gates. This “peace plan” would have basically put an official stamp of approval on the latest in the long series of Putin, Yanukovych, Medvedchuk, and their whole crew’s efforts to enforce Russian domination of Ukraine through corruption, politics, lobbying, laundering, annexation, and war. Russia’s any means necessary approach was often orchestrated in no small part by Manafort.

With Manafort sidelined by the clouds hanging over his head, Cohen, along with his old friend Sater, were virtual representatives of Manafort, both in agenda and in spirit, ready to carry the pro-Russian torch Manafort had so diligently carried steadfastly for so long.

What is clear at a minimum is that an awful lot of people with deep ties to the Russian government, the Russian mafia, especially to Mogilevich, and involvement in (sometimes alleged) money laundering surround both Cohen and Manafort in profound, sustained ways. Those ties also appear to pertain directly to their relations to Trump the businessman, Trump the candidate, and Trump, the president.  At worst, this could go way beyond collusion.

In particular, large-scale involvement by a network of Russian operatives ties dealings in Ukraine to dealings in America, suggesting some sort of coordinated effort by a network spanning continents and oceans.  This network and the way it engaged Trump and his (future) people for years—all out there for those willing to give them the time and scrutiny they deserve—have been woefully undercovered by major American news outlets, with too little coverage and too little depth, often just scratching surface layers and eschewing the core while foregoing any deeper, larger-picture analysis, perhaps mentioning in a major article or two, but failing to connect the dots or revisit when another look is warranted.

If this all looks suspicious to you, we can be sure it all looks suspicious to Mueller, and that he is being more thorough than the news media or most Republicans in Congress.

Manafort and Cohen are at the center of this saga, now more than ever, with law enforcement zooming in on their activities ever more closely with each passing day, getting closer to the truth, far closer than the myopia of the journalistic and editorial class has allowed the news media to reach.

This overlap in pro-Russia work and connections between Manafort and Cohen would be as good a place to start as any if the news media is to unearth the deeper layers of this story and help voters be armed with a far larger sense of the truth than that which has been presented thus far as they consider their votes in the coming midterms and beyond.

Adapted in part from author’s earlier work published on July 31st, 2016, November 4th, 2016, March 28th, 2017, and July 27th, 2017.

Brian Frydenborg
  

Brian in an American freelance writer, academic, and consultant from the New York City area currently based in Amman, Jordan. He holds an M.S. in Peace Operations and specializes in a wide range of interrelated topics, including international and U.S. policy/politics, security/conflict/(counter)terrorism, humanitarianism, development, social justice, and history. The views herein necessarily represent only his own. You can follow and contact him on Twitter: @bfry1981

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