Donald Trump Is a 'Russian Asset' Owned by the Mafia, Author Claims in New Book

Omarosa vs. Trump may be the political pro wrestling match of the week, but a more serious confrontation could be prompted by a book that came out Tuesday, alleging that President Donald Trump may be a Russian asset compromised by billions of laundered dollars over decades of shady real estate deals. 

In House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia, veteran journalist and author Craig Unger names 59 Russians as business associates of Trump (who has claimed he has none) and follows the purported financial links between them and the Trump Organization going back decades. 

The Trump White House did not immediately respond to Newsweek's requests for comment. In February 2017, Trump issued a blanket denial to questions about Russian money and his business. "I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away," he said. "And I have no loans with Russia. I have no loans with Russia at all."

Newsweek spoke with Unger about ties he claims exist between the Russian mafia, President Vladimir Putin and the Trump Organization, as well as what a guilty verdict for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort could mean for the future of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. 

What is money laundering, and what role do you believe the Trump Organization played in it?
Money laundering is taking money from illicit sources and essentially cleaning it and putting it into a Western bank. We are talking about huge sums, a trillion dollars in flight capital from Russia since Putin became president. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the floodgates opened for the Russian mafia. All of Russia's natural resources were up for grabs. If you needed to launder huge sums of money, the best ways are casinos and real estate—both of which Trump was in. Casinos have a $10,000 [reporting threshold under the Bank Secrecy Act]. The Trump Taj Mahal violated that more than a hundred times. But you can’t launder a trillion dollars that way. You really need something like real estate.

You allege that the Trump Organization laundered billions of dollars. How much of the money would it have gotten to keep?
It did enrich him. He gets an 18 to 25 percent franchising fee for these [real estate] projects. Just as McDonald’s franchises burgers, Trump was franchising luxury condos in roughly 40 Trump Towers all over the world. But the larger point is the Russian mafia bailed him out. They own him.

You name numerous alleged mafia links to Trump. Isn’t that just how business is done in New York commercial development?
It has been, absolutely. I think the Russian mafia’s role has been dismissed and not analyzed because people think that in real estate you have to pay off construction people. That has been true historically. But early in Trump's career, the Italian mafia began partnering with the Russian mafia, and the Russian mafia is very, very different, and that ups the ante. The major reason for that is that Russian mafia is a state actor.

There are two things that you say intersect here: the mafia and the Russian government. Explain.
I interviewed [former] General Oleg Kalugin, who was head of counterintelligence for the KGB, and when I asked him about the Russian mafia, he said, "Oh, that’s another branch of the KGB."

Who is Semion Mogilevich?
He is the brains behind the Russian mafia. He is worth $10 billion. He is the king of money launderers, and he is the financial genius behind many of their scams. Russia has no Wall Street, no Goldman Sachs. If you have financial acumen, you work for the Russian mafia. If he had been born here, he might be head of Goldman Sachs. The Russian mafia fetishizes brutality. Mogilevich helped elevate it from this thuggish world of extortion to sophisticated financial scams. He lives in Moscow. He has been on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list, and one of the people on the Budapest task force investigating him was Lisa Page, who was part of Mueller’s investigation. [Page resigned from the FBI in May.] 

You call this the greatest intelligence operation of our time. What do you mean by that?
It started out as a simple money-laundering operation at Trump Tower in 1984, when a Russian mobster came to Trump Tower with $6 million in cash and bought five condos. This is the template for what begins to unfold. At least 1,300 of Trump condos in the United States have been sold similarly. All cash purchases through anonymous sources. Those numbers reflect only domestic property. After the demise of the Soviet Union, the KGB decided to create multibillion-dollar companies to survive. The use of the term mafia state is not just a metaphor. It really explains how Russia works. The mafia essentially reports to Putin.

Do you think Trump knew he was being targeted, or did he just think the Russians were being nice and helpful?
I have no idea what’s going on in his mind. But it's hard to believe someone can do 1,300 transactions and not know what is going on.

Both Trump sons have talked about how much money was coming into their business from Russia in the 2000s. Doesn’t that suggest that it was not a secret operation and that the U.S. government was fully aware of it?
Regulations in real estate are so lax that the Trump Organization and Trump have repeatedly said they don't have to do due diligence. And, legally, that is largely true. Sometimes, what is most scandalous is what's legal.

How is it that the U.S. authorities never noticed the relationship you allege between Trump and the Russian mobsters?
I think the whole story of the FBI’s role in this is another book, but there are important unanswered questions there. Before 9/11, the FBI was clearly on the trail of the Russian mafia, and they opened a task force in Budapest that was specifically going after Mogilevich. They chased Mogilevich back to Moscow, where there is no extradition treaty. Soon after that, 9/11 happened. The priorities of the FBI shifted dramatically. 

How much so-called kompromat do you believe the Russians have on Trump, how far back does it go, and what is the nature of it?
I am approaching things quite differently than looking for the pee tape. In a lot of ways, the kompromat is hiding in plain sight. I found 59 links between Trump and Russia. He said zero. I say 59. These cannot possibly be random or coincidental contacts. It evolves into something more than money laundering over time.

What is Manafort’s alleged role? What does he know about Trump?
Manafort is an incredibly crucial link to Putin’s goals. He connected Trump directly to Putin's strategic objectives. One question people are not asking: Where is the Russian mafia money coming from? In my book, I identify two pipelines. One is the Ukraine energy trade, in which Mogilevich has a gas intermediary. They get gas at low prices and resell it at market prices, and through this, they were skimming $750 million a year off the Ukraine energy trade. They were getting all that money and wanted the political wherewithal to support it. Manafort was hired to assist Putin's candidate in Ukraine. He was paid in money that he had to launder. And some of that went through a shell company, and I tie that directly to Mogilevich.

How can Manafort hurt Trump?
If he’s convicted, he can still flip. Manafort has known Trump for 30 years. He knows how the whole thing works.

Did any Russian mobsters either follow or threaten you in the course of your research?
I have not had threats. But I dedicate this book to Paul Klebnikov and other Russian journalists who have been murdered. Dozens and dozens of people have been murdered. It takes real courage for the Russian journalists to pursue this.

Which of your findings do you think Americans would find most shocking?
There is a Russian asset in the White House. He is an asset. I believe he is an agent, but it's hard to prove he is knowledgeable. When you look at the 59 Russians, some live in Trump Tower. The Russian mafia is a state actor, and it has direct ties to Russian intelligence, and they have been located in the home of the president of the United States!

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Lisa Page resigned from the FBI in May.  

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