[Marxism] The Hustlers and Swindlers of the Mueller Report

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 19 08:02:49 MDT 2019


The New Yorker, April 18, 2019
The Hustlers and Swindlers of the Mueller Report
By Masha Gessen

There was a lull on social media among Russia watchers after the 
redacted Mueller report dropped, on Thursday. “Everyone is reading,” a 
friend of mine wrote. “It’s like a well-written detective novel.”

I disagree. A masterfully constructed novel might spin different strands 
in order to tie them up neatly at the end, leaving the reader with the 
sense that the world has come into focus: motives are clear and 
mechanisms of malfeasance have been exposed. The Mueller report exposes 
the mechanisms and the motives, to be sure, but doesn’t tie anything 
together in the end. Rather than the story of a single crime 
masterminded by a single actor or entity, this is the story of many 
hustles, most of them unsuccessful. You’d be hard-pressed to find 
collusion among these hustlers—each of them has his own game.

One of the first hustlers comes into the report on page 54. He is Jerome 
Corsi, whom the report identifies as an “author who holds a doctorate in 
political science.” He is also a conspiracy theorist, a Swift Boater, 
and a birther. In his interviews with investigators, Corsi claimed to 
have alerted the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to the impending 
publication, by the Washington Post, of the “Access Hollywood” tape, on 
which Donald Trump boasted of forcibly kissing women and grabbing women 
by the genitals. Corsi appears to have claimed credit for insuring that 
Assange released the first trove of e-mails stolen from the Clinton 
campaign chairman, John Podesta, within an hour of the publication of 
the tape. The special counsel could not find anyone who could 
corroborate Corsi’s claims. It appears that Corsi might have lied 
(though Corsi has denied this). Corsi’s hustle is like most of the other 
hustles in this story: he is inflating his own importance.

Next, on page 61, comes Henry Oknyansky, a.k.a. Harry Greenberg, a 
Russian-born Florida businessman, and Alexei Rasin, identified as a 
Ukrainian involved in Florida real estate. The two met with the Trump 
campaign adviser Roger Stone in May, 2016, and offered to sell damaging 
information on Hillary Clinton, which Rasin claimed to have obtained 
while working for Clinton. Stone rejected the offer. Mueller found no 
evidence that Rasin was ever connected to Clinton, and the special 
counsel was unable to locate Rasin himself.

Page 67 marks the arrival of big-time hustlers: the father and son Aras 
and Emin Agalarov and their sometime associates Irakly Kaveladze and 
Robert Goldstone. Aras Agalarov is a Moscow real-estate mogul. Kaveladze 
is his deputy and representative in the United States. Goldstone is a 
British music producer who served as a go-between for Agalarov’s 
contacts with Trump. Agalarov wanted to build a Trump-branded tower in 
Moscow. The Trump Organization explored the option but, by September, 
2014, appears to have lost interest in the Agalarovs, only to take up 
negotiations the following year with two other potential partners in 
Moscow. In this battle of hustlers, Felix Sater, a Soviet-born New York 
lawyer and convicted felon, emerges. He imagines bigger and better than 
the rest of them. In a now famous November, 2015, e-mail to the Trump 
attorney Michael Cohen, Sater promised the world: a ribbon-cutting 
ceremony from Trump Tower Moscow that would feature Trump and Russian 
President Vladimir Putin onstage together—and this, he claimed, would 
win Trump the Republican Presidential nomination. (“And possibly beats 
Hillary and our boy is in,” he added hopefully.) Sater proceeded to 
string Cohen along with promises of arranging a meeting with Putin.

Frustrated, Cohen decided to reach out to the Russian President himself, 
by writing to a publicly available e-mail address for Putin’s press 
secretary, Dmitry Peskov. His first message didn’t go through because he 
misspelled the address, but eventually he made contact with Peskov’s 
assistant. Sater jumped back in, trying to take control of the 
communication. Claiming to be coördinating with Peskov and promising a 
meeting with Putin, Sater arranged for Cohen to travel to the St. 
Petersburg Economic Forum, in June, 2016. Cohen went so far as to get 
his travel arrangements and credentials, but then concluded that Sater 
was misrepresenting his connections and was not acting on Peskov’s 
behalf after all. Cohen didn’t go to Russia. At the St. Petersburg 
forum, Putin, in an onstage interview with Fareed Zakaria, made fun of 
the American media’s obsession with his imagined regard for candidate 
Trump. “I said that he is colorful,” Putin said. “Well, he is colorful.”

The next pair of hustlers are George Papadopoulos, who was hired as a 
foreign-policy adviser by the Trump campaign, which was rushing to 
cobble together a team, and Joseph Mifsud, who called himself a 
professor and worked at a London institution that called itself an 
academy. Mifsud and Papadopoulos meet on page 82, in March, 2016. Mifsud 
boasted of his connections in Russia and elsewhere; Papadopoulos, 
according to the report, “thought that such connections could increase 
his importance as a policy advisor to the Trump Campaign.” Mifsud 
introduced Papadopoulos to a Russian woman he may have misrepresented as 
Putin’s niece. After the meeting, Papadopoulos sent an e-mail to the 
campaign in which he misrepresented Mifsud, whom he had met just days 
earlier, as his good friend, and lied that he had also met the Russian 
Ambassador to London, who, he lied some more, also acts as Russia’s 
deputy foreign minister. Over the next several months, Papadopoulos 
worked frantically to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin using 
contacts, including Mifsud, who couldn’t possibly have the access 
necessary to broker such a meeting. Higher-level campaign officials 
dismissed his efforts. Papadopoulos was fired from the campaign, in 
October, 2016, after he gave an interview to the Russian news agency 
Interfax in which he criticized sanctions against Russia. Somewhere 
along the way, Papadopoulos appears to have heard that Russia had “dirt” 
on or e-mails from Hillary Clinton, but the investigation found no 
evidence that he shared this information with anyone on the campaign.

Then there was Carter Page, the founder of a failing consultancy and 
investment-management firm focussed on Russia. He had been hustled by a 
Russian intelligence officer named Victor Podobnyy, introduced on page 
96. The report quotes Podobnyy, who met Page in 2013, boasting to an 
associate that he is feeding Page “empty promises.” Podobnyy was 
identified as an intelligence agent by the U.S. government in 2015; Page 
was interviewed by the F.B.I. about his contacts with him before he 
started volunteering for the Trump campaign, in January, 2016. In a 
now-familiar double hustle, Page misrepresented himself to the campaign, 
claiming that he had high-level Russian contacts, and exaggerated his 
own position in the campaign to his Russian contacts. In July, 2016, he 
travelled to Russia without the campaign’s authorization, spoke out 
against sanctions, and met with high-level government officials. When 
his activities began generating publicity in the U.S., he was fired from 
the campaign. After the election, he applied for a position on the 
transition team; on his application, he once again exaggerated his 
experience, the standing of his foreign contacts, and his role in the 
Trump campaign. He never heard back from the transition team, but he 
continued to hustle the Russian side for at least another couple of months.

One of the most covered events of the campaign appears on page 110: a 
June, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, in New York. The hustler this time was 
Natalia Veselnitskaya, a small-time lawyer who was representing a 
Russian businessman battling American sanctions because of his role in 
the death of the Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky. Veselnitskaya 
claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. So convincing was her bid for 
attention that old acquaintances, including the Agalarovs, Kaveladze, 
and Goldstone, joined her effort, in the apparent hope of hustling their 
way back to Trump. The Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Jared 
Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr., attended the meeting. Veselnitskaya also 
brought Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet-born American lobbyist. Veselnitskaya 
had nothing to offer—she apparently had no dirt whatsoever, and she and 
Goldstone exaggerated her contacts with high-level officials in the 
Russian government (as did much of the American media, after the fact of 
the meeting became public). Kushner was angry that he had wasted his 
time. Goldstone later apologized to Trump, Jr., and complained to the 
younger Agalarov that his reputation was “basically destroyed by this 
dumb meeting which your father insisted on.”

Manafort, the second-biggest hustler in this story, comes in on page 
129. According to the report, he instructed his deputy, Rick Gates, to 
release campaign information to Manafort’s former employee Konstantin 
Kilimnik, whom the F.B.I. considers to have ties to Russian 
intelligence. Kilimnik had come to him with a proposed peace-brokering 
arrangement between Russia and Ukraine. A telling detail is that he 
claimed that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was then 
living in Russia, would secure Russian support for the proposal. 
Manafort, who had worked for Yanukovych, was in a position to know that 
he was being hustled: Yanukovych did not have the kind of access to the 
Kremlin that would support such a claim. But Manafort had a hustle of 
his own: he told Gates that the arrangement would be “good for business” 
and, the report says, “potentially a way to be made whole for work he 
previously completed in the Ukraine.” Manafort was, it seems, trying to 
share internal campaign information in lieu of making debt payments to 
the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

The report explains that Mueller’s team “applied the framework of 
conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’ ” Mueller decided not to 
charge any Trump-campaign officials with conspiracy due to a failure to 
“establish any agreement among Campaign officials—or between such 
officials and Russia-linked individuals—to interfere with or obstruct a 
lawful function of a government agency during the campaign or transition 
period.” The key word here is “agreement.” Of course there was none. 
Every character in this story was hustling every other character. 
Everyone was exaggerating his importance and selling more than he had. 
Conspiracy assumes a common purpose, but these people didn’t have 
one—not even, it seems, the hustle ultimately perpetrated on the 
American people by the election of Donald Trump.




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