Buzzfeed is reporting on a freshly-discovered cache of documents which reveal previously unknown Russian payments inside the United States. Citibank, which handles Russian embassy accounts, marked these transactions as suspicious following the post-9/11 laws that require banks to flag transactions that are unusually large or which don’t fit in with other account activity. Included in these suspicious transactions are at least two that seem to have some … interesting timing. First there was an apparent bonus payment to the Russian ambassador who had so many conversations with Jefferson Sessions, Michael Flynn, and others.
One of the people at the center of the investigation, the former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, received $120,000 ten days after the election of Donald Trump. Bankers flagged it to the US government as suspicious in part because the transaction, marked payroll, didn’t fit prior pay patterns.
And there was a mystery withdrawal of a similar size.
Five days after Trump’s inauguration, someone attempted to withdraw $150,000 cash from the embassy’s account — but the embassy’s bank blocked it.
A withdrawal of that size would seem to necessitate something more than someone sticking a card in an ATM, so it seems likely there is additional information on this attempt. But what do these, or the several dozen other flagged transactions really mean? It’s hard to tell.
But apparently these documents are now in the hands of Robert Mueller’s team, which is examining them for potential issues.
It’s almost certain that, hidden among legitimate payments for services and contractors, are funds that went out for bribery, intrusion, and other forms of espionage. But it seems somewhat unlikely that the Russian government would push large payments on important topics through a US bank as blocks of cash that they know will set off alarms.
Still, Mueller’s team contains experts on money laundering and financial crimes. It’s likely they’ll be able to spot any illicit activity even if it’s hidden under a pattern of transactions or broken up into multiple small payments. What’s not clear is if any of the money being tracked through Citibank leads back to Trump-related activities.
Trump was, after all, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian oligarchs through real estate transactions. Money laundering was also funding Manafort, Kushner, Cohen, and others. So the idea that they would be on the receiving end of a $120,000 check from Kislyak seems a bit penny-ante.
Except … there was that one guy.
NBC News and other outlets, citing documents released by Democrats on the House Oversight committee, have previously reported that RT paid Flynn more than $45,000, plus perks, to speak at its tenth anniversary gala in December 2015. Flynn was famously seated at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin at that event.
And Flynn was famously making a series of calls to Kislyak right around the time when Kislyak was getting that special bonus check approved. Unlike the rest of the team, Flynn was not a real estate millionaire. He collected an unreported $150,000 from speaking engagements in 2016, but the big money was still out there for Flynn in the form of a $15 million kidnap plot put together by Flynn to help his client Turkish autocrat Recep Erdogan.
It was going to take Flynn a few more months to collect on that one. And, unlike most of the Trump crew, getting rid of the sanctions against Russia didn’t promise any immediate personal benefit for Flynn. So a six-figure payment from Kislyak could have made Christmas nicer at the Flynn house.
Kislyak has refused to comment. But then, this could have been one of those things that made Michael Flynn so anxious to strike a deal with Robert Mueller.
One interesting side note — it was exactly the law that makes large bank transactions subject to blocking and flagging that made real estate into the preferred money-laundering tool after 2001.