Felix Sater, Paul Manafort, and others were on the FBI radar as far back as the early 90’s, for their connections to prominent Russians and shady business dealings. Then suddenly, or so it would appear to the yous and mes, they show up on the national scene with the then-Republican nominee for president of the United States, a generation later. Andrew McCabe spoke with ProPublica recently, in a podcast on WNYC, and he says that this is hardly a coincidence. First, the Russian mob started out undermining America with financial and business crimes on the east coast. ProPublica:
ProPublica’s Heather Vogell: You wrote about how the Russian mob started turning more toward financial crimes and business to pursue its goals. Could you talk a little bit about that transformation?
McCabe: Sure. This was one of the fascinating things about working on that squad. You could be working an extortion or kidnapping case one day, and then a really esoteric financial fraud the next. The thing that set the Russians apart from their Italian counterparts in the organized crime community was their creativity. They very quickly became the originators of the new scams.
So they did things like the tax cheating scams on gasoline and diesel fuel that were very common in the New York-New Jersey area in those days. They really professionalized the auto insurance scams around false accidents and medical mills and clinics where people would go and get processed to increase the billings against auto insurance companies. We did a lot of that work. And then, of course, we spent a lot of time on what became known as the Bank of New York money laundering scandal. So a few enterprising employees of the Bank of New York essentially took their private banking and internal computer software, which they had access to because one of them had a position in, I believe, the private banking section of Bank of New York, and began operating their own financial institution with individuals for the purpose of transferring money from Russia first to New York and then to many other places around the world.
Bernstein: We have spent the last year thinking about whether there is a line from some of the small-time crooks in Brighton Beach to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The list of people who seem to matter now were in some way connected to this scene. There’s Felix Sater, who is connected to the Trump Tower Moscow deal; there was Michael Cohen. They later show up trying to build a Trump Tower Moscow. And then there’s Yevgeny Dvoskin, who was convicted in the gasoline scam that you were just talking about in Brighton Beach and is now a banker in Russia.
McCabe: That’s right.
Bernstein: So they were all connected to Brighton Beach years ago, and then they show up in negotiations and 2015 and 2016. What do you make of that?
McCabe: Well, it is at first blush curious, and then when you think about it a little bit longer, it makes perfect sense. Brighton Beach — we thought of it as kind of the Normandy landing in America for Russian organized crime folks.
Then McCabe goes on to explain how crooks interface with the Russian government and then how they came to deal with ours.
McCabe: The place where those two things come together — the organized crime figures and the government — is through the intelligence services. So there’s always been this kind of synchronicity between the arm of the government that understands organized crime, knows who the players are, understands the businesses and the things that different individuals are engaged in, and has the kind of boots on the ground, if you will, to make those sorts of connections. Those are the intelligence services in Russia.
Bernstein: There is a mountain of evidence suggesting a Trump-Russia thing. But so far no one — not not us, not you, not Robert Mueller — has been able to say what that thing is.
And as you have puzzled over this relationship, does it seem possible that there in fact isn’t a thing?
McCabe: I think that mountain of evidence that you referred to makes it strongly likely that there is a thing. Does that mean we’ll ever figure out what it is? No. But it certainly means we should keep looking.
If you look at even just the Trumps’ history with Deutsche Bank: It’s almost impossible to look at those series of relationships and transactions and defaults and failures followed by more and more loans. There has to be a thing at the core of that relationship between the Trump Organization and Deutsche Bank. Do we know what it is just yet? No. Will we ever? I’m not sure, but we certainly should keep looking.
This is the juncture where somebody from the FBI doing the job that the FBI is hired to do, gets characterized as implementing a witch hunt. Trump ludicrously calls himself, “the most transparent president ever,” and yet the record shows that he hides all his transactions and lies about how much his properties are worth, sometimes exaggerating their value, sometimes diminishing, depending upon his end game, to appear richer for Forbes Magazine, or broker for the IRS.
Then McCabe commented more on parallels between how Donald Trump functions and the way that organized crime figures do. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time this comparison has been made with a United States president.
Bernstein: Just to follow up with that, Jim Comey in his book references La Cosa Nostra. He also says the way that the president operated reminded him of the way the mob operated. But what are you guys saying here?
McCabe: It’s impossible to interact with the president and the administration without drawing that comparison. If you’re somebody who comes from an investigative background, somebody like Jim Comey or myself or anybody else who’s had experience with organized crime, the parallels are undeniable. The parallels in the way business is conducted, the way conversations proceed, the way you are asked for personal loyalty rather than loyalty to the oath that you’ve taken, the way that everything is analyzed on this kind of black-and-white paradox: you’re either with us or you’re against us, or either on our team and a part of this effort or you are somebody that we need to destroy. It’s just such an obvious comparison. I’m not trying to undermine Jim Comey or myself, but it is an undeniable parallel between the way this president conducts himself and those around him support him and conduct themselves and the things that we have seen from organized crime groups.
This article is lengthy and it’s a transcript of the podcast on WNYC that ProPublica did. It’s worth taking the time to read/listen to it, because just the fact that people like James Comey and Andrew McCabe, leaders in our intelligence community, are going on record with statements like this is simply incredible. We are in some strange historical box canyon right now and I sure as hell hope that we find out our way out.