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Economist James Henry says the overlooked story is the longstanding role of Russian flight capital and organized crime ties in funding Trump’s ventures

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. FBI Director, James Comey, and National Security Agency Director, Mike Rogers, were both testifying before Congress today, confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections. Further, the FBI Director, James Comey, told a Congressional Hearing, he had seen no evidence to support a claim by President Trump, that President Obama had wire tapped his campaign headquarters in Manhattan’s Trump Tower. On to talk about this with me is James Henry. James is a leading economist, attorney and investigative journalist — who has been investigating Trump’s economic ties to Russian oligarchs. Thanks so much for joining me here, James. JAMES HENRY: You’re very welcome. SHARMINI PERIES: So, James what’s noteworthy that you heard in today’s hearing? JAMES HENRY: Well, first of all, Comey confirmed that they have an investigation of Trump, and his team; and this was an issue we were concerned about. Whether they would actually have the kind of, willpower to go ahead, and do such an investigation of a sitting president. That’s a pretty unprecedented thing for the FBI to be doing. I can’t recall any such, kind of, investigation since, well, certainly since the Nixon years. So, that’s point one. Point two, is at the same time, he basically agreed with many other observers, who say that there is no evidence that Trump himself was wire tapped, or that his administration was wire tapped or monitored, certainly by way of any kind of formal government process. So, you know, that is a contentious issue. There are a lot of technicalities involved in — you know, what is actual monitoring? Some say they may have listened in on some members of the Trump team talking to Russians. Who were being bugged by counter-intelligence, by the FBI, or by potentially the CIA, as incidental intelligence collection. But at the end of the day, I mean, it seems that there is no support for the Trump position, that there was an organized effort by the Obama Administration, to monitor his, or his teams phone calls. SHARMINI PERIES: Right, and James for a long time now you’ve been investigating Trump’s connections, in terms of his business dealings, and histories with Russian oligarchs. And we’ve reported on those findings here on The Real News Network. From that prism, looking at the investigations, what alerts you, in terms of some of the things that were said? JAMES HENRY: Sure, well I think both the Congress — the Democrats, the Republicans as well, I think, to some extent, are obsessed with leaks, intelligence, intensive evidence, getting to the bottom of whether there were contacts with Russia; or whether the leakers from the administration were, you know, who they were. Who’d been talking about all these various pieces of information. I think there’s another whole story here, which I don’t think anybody has really gotten to the bottom of yet. And it has been sitting there, kind of, in plain view. And that is the fact that Donald Trump was able to finance many of his projects, only with the benefit of Russian, or former Soviet Union flight capital, much of which was kind of dirty money laundering, involved in organized crime contacts. We’ve seen project after project that was where Trump was simply not very discriminating about the partners that he chose to involve in these projects; or members of his administration. Like Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, are basically involved in partnering with Russian oligarchs to turn around, you know, a Cyprus money-laundering bank. So, you know, at the very least, we have all of these cases where Trump, and some of his closest advisors, have turned a blind eye to unsavory business connections. I think that’s of concern. There may indeed be a case here, for finding money-laundering violations, with respect to some of these projects. For example, the Trump SoHo, where Trump was an 18% investor. He partnered with a convicted felon, and several other people with deep contacts with the former Soviet Union, or with countries like Kazakhstan. The case of the Panama Ocean Club — you know, this is a $400 million project that went belly-up in 2014, and basically, Trump walked away with $50 million. A lot of Russians bought condos there, organized crime types were selling the condos. And yet we had another sort of bankruptcy. We have similar kinds of patterns in many other Trump properties. And I think this raises the question of whether the Congress shouldn’t take a look at auditing some of these projects, and actually look for evidence of money-laundering violations, in addition to the kind of intelligence contacts that they’re examining in the Comey investigation. SHARMINI PERIES: And in terms of these hearings, are the Democrats asking the right kinds of questions? JAMES HENRY: I don’t think they’re being hard enough on, you know, the questions of the economics, of Trumps ability to come back from, literally, from the dead. In 2000, he had had six bankruptcies; no banks would finance him. Deutsche Bank was the only one. You know it turns out the Deutsche Bank was a big money laundering operation for Russian money, as well; received a $650 million fine for laundering $10 billion of dirty money from Russia. And, you know — this is a whole lot of, sort of, underground economy type questions that ought to be asked more, about the rise of Trump. SHARMINI PERIES: And James, are any of these actually going to come out in these investigations, that the FBI is conducting — because that is solely about whether the Russians actually intervened in the elections, or whether there was any tampering? But it doesn’t really directly look at any of his business connections to Russia, and whether that by way of the Russian oligarchs, had anything to do with Trump becoming President. JAMES HENRY: Well, I think that that’s a good question to ask the Democrats. They certainly know about all of these projects. I’ve written about them. Other people have written about some of them. It is an issue with respect to the Democrats, the scope of their investigation. This notion that Putin was responsible for Hillary losing the election, I think is, you know, really kind of dubious. He did have preferences in the election, and he probably did make, you know… was responsible for some of the hacking that went on. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that even Putin was surprised by Trump’s victory here. And Fox News, we know on 11:00 o’clock, on Election Eve, was about to call the election for Hillary. So, the fact is, I think there were so many causes for the Democrat debacle here, that trying to pin this on the Russians, is sort of avoiding the point. The key point here is that to understand why we’re having to deal with both Vladimir Putin, and with Donald Trump. We have to go back to what happened with the kind of, failed reconstruction of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s — the effort to make Russia a more democratic society, and the enormous amount of wealth that was transferred to oligarchs during that period. And so, oddly enough, I mean, Hillary and her husband were actually playing a fairly big role in those policies in the 1990s, as we know. And so, that was a kind of missed opportunity, I think, in terms of the problems that created both Putin and Trump that we’re still dealing with today. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James, we’ll be continuing to look into these hearings as they continue this week, and looking forward to having you back. Thanks so much for joining us today. JAMES HENRY: Right, good to be with you. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network. ————————- END

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James S. Henry is an investigative economist and lawyer, a Global Justice Fellow at Yale University, and a Senior Advisor at the Tax Justice Network. Previously, James served as Chief Economist at the international consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. As an investigative journalist his work has appeared in numerous publications like Forbes, The Nation and The New York Times.