The Trump Grand Design – keep following the money.

The real Deep Throat apparently did not tell Bob Woodward of the Washington Post to “follow the money” as depicted in the movie All the President’s Men, although the phrase is now firmly fixed in the American lexicon.  My favorite example of its use was by Det. Lester Freaman in an episode of The Wire:

“You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f__k it’s gonna take you.” ∼ Det. Lester Freaman, Season 1, The Wire.

In a post last December, I cautioned that we needed to be concerned about the potential for divided loyalty when it came to our president-elect and Russia.  I certainly don’t claim to be the first one to point that out.  In any event, I followed that post up with another one two weeks later in which I said that comments made by Mr. Trump had turned me into a “budding conspiracy theorist.”

The comments that sent me off the deep end were his dismissive references to accusations of attempted Russian interference in the presidential election, with Trump at one point stating that it was “time to move on to bigger and better things.”  Bigger and better things?  Yikes.   What is bigger than one of our enemies (and yes, Russia is an enemy) trying to influence the outcome of a presidential election, particularly if they had inside help?

My working theory is that Mr. Trump believed then and believes now that he can simultaneously pursue two goals:  Enrich himself and his family empire beyond all imagination and at the same time achieve “greatness” as president of the United States.  I call it the Trump Grand Design.  I do not think it is possible to overstate the extent and pathological nature of his narcissistic personality disorder and megalomania and the extent to which it distorts his judgment.

Two recent events caused me to return to this theme.  One was the discrepant accounts of a meeting between Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Sergey Gorgov, a Russian banker, a graduate of the academy that prepares students for careers in the Foreign Intelligence Service and Federal Security Service (FSB), and a member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Mr. Kushner stated that he met with Gorgov in his capacity as a primary point of contact for the Trump transition team.  The bank of which Gorgov is chairman, VneshEconomBank, released a statement that Gorgov met with Mr. Kushner in his role as head of his family’s real estate firm.

The Russians are perfectly capable of doing and saying things simply to sow confusion and discord, but the context is that we also know that Kushner Companies is looking for someone to bail it out by purchasing a 41-story tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.  Kushner Companies bought the building in January 2007 for a then-record $1.8 billion and since then has been hemorrhaging money.

The second event that came up on my radar was Mr. Trump channeling Saudi Arabia’s strident position on the boycott of Qatar at the same time Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to ease tensions between the boycotting Arab states and Qatar.  Qatar is a vital military ally of the United States, not only because of the war against ISIS but in general because of its strategic location in the Persian Gulf.  We have an enormous air base in Qatar, Al Udeid Air Base, that is home to 11,000 members of the United States military.  Did Mr. Trump not know that, or didn’t he care?

I was suspicious enough when Mr. Trump began his first foreign trip with a stop in Saudi Arabia where he was fawned over members of the House of Saud and in turn threw his unconditional support behind a regime with a rich history of playing both sides against the middle.  As former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams noted on CNN Mr. Trump referred to the problem with Islamic terrorists in the Middle East as if the terrorists had dropped in from outer space.

In his effusive praise for the Saudis Mr. Trump ignored the role that Saudi Arabia has played as a breeding ground for terrorists and an exporter and financier of Wahhabism, the austere and intolerant form of Islam that provided the ideological underpinning of ISIS.  Saudi Arabia has not stopped doing the things it has done for decades that helped give rise to Islamic terrorism.

Because of the dominance of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia there is a smoldering resentment in Saudi Arabia against the west and the ties of its royal family to the west.  It may be a small thing in and of itself but the Saudi men’s national soccer team recently caused an uproar in world soccer circles by failing to honor a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attack in London.  The government quickly apologized, but the incident furnished a rare opportunity for insight into Saudi culture.  One wonders how long the tension can continue before the country explodes.

True to its duplicitous form Saudi Arabia rewarded Mr. Trump for his expression of friendship almost immediately, by putting the United States in an awkward situation with a key ally in the Middle East by orchestrating an unnecessary and precipitous boycott of Qatar.  Mr. Trump seemed not to care, probably because his focus remains on fostering a personal relationship with the Saudi royal family and not on the Middle East in general.

Mr. Trump, highly critical of our closest allies, has been as uncritical of Saudi Arabia as he has been of Russia.  And I believe in both cases the reason is the same:  He is cultivating them as sources of money for the Trump-Kushner empire.  If you are looking for very large amounts of money accompanied by very little scrutiny then Russian oligarchs and Arab oil sheikhs are just the thing. Plus, like Messrs. Trump and Kushner, they have no problem mixing business with politics and government. Everything is negotiable, including scruples.

As an aside, I am not one of those folks who see Mr. Kushner as a “moderating” influence on the president.  Any moderation he does is intended to preserve the president’s dwindling credibility, because his dwindling credibility affects Mr. Trump’s ability to advance their shared economic interests.

Mr. Kushner is a more cosmopolitan version of his father-in-law, at least in terms of ambition and ruthlessness. Ivanka married someone pretty much like her old man, although with a lot more polish and a less-pronounced personality disorder.  There is nothing in the way Mr. Kushner runs his family’s businesses that suggests that he would be unwilling to exploit his symbiotic relationship with his father-in-law to mutual advantage.  In my opinion Mr. Kushner thinks that he is clever enough to help pull off the Trump Grand Design without seriously damaging the United States and his youthful arrogance is almost as dangerous as Mr. Trump’s megalomania.

The only logical reason that Mr. Trump is so concerned about the Flynn and Russia investigations is that they may lead back to him or Mr. Kushner.  It is imperative that the investigations continue.  The distortion caused in Middle East policy by Mr. Trump’s desire to attract Saudi money to his businesses can cause serious damage but nothing like the irreparable harm that can be done by his potential ties to Russian banks, oligarchs, and Putin himself.

I get that my theory about Mr. Trump’s odd posture toward Russia and now Saudi Arabia involves plenty of conjecture and a little paranoia, but I am waiting for one piece of evidence demonstrating that I am on the wrong track.  Unfortunately, as each day goes by and new facts are adduced it appears more and more likely that my theory is correct.  I don’t believe that Mr. Trump will fire Robert Mueller, the DOJ special counsel, but if he does that will be all the confirmation I need to conclude that there is some arrangement or discussion with Putin or one of his associates that even Mr. Trump doesn’t think that he can explain away.

June 13, 2017



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