Which is the institution at the heart of Bob Mueller’s ‘mystery case’ and why does it matter so much?
Bob Mueller does not leak. His team does not leak. The subject bank might leak, of course, but we are unlikely to find out, before the case is unsealed, who the mystery reluctant witness is. The leading possibilities, however, are all disastrous for Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. I am not a betting woman, but if I were, I should put a few roubles on Vnesheconombank or VEB, for reasons I explain below.
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The Qatar Investment Authority
The analyst Marci Wheeler has been arguing that the mystery entity is the Qatar Investment Authority, whom Jared Kushner, I have suggested, was attempting to extort for money for his building at 666 Park Avenue. This is a popular theory and may well be true. Chris Geider reported that the Corporation was served the subpoena at its US offices.
Wheeler pointed out that the QIA’s New York offices are ‘a two minute walk from Trump Towers’. She notes that Qatar previously refused to give evidence on Jared Kushner to Mueller, for fear of Trump’s retaliation. NBC News reported last year:
WASHINGTON — Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings, but decided not to give the information to special counsel Robert Mueller for fear of harming relations with the Trump administration, say three sources familiar with the Qatari discussions.
However, the story goes on:
“On the topic of the Special Counsel’s investigation: Qatar has not been approached nor has it considered approaching the Special Counsel’s Office or any entity within the United States Government,” said [Qatar’s Ambassador to the US] Al Thani.
However, the evidence described is not banking evidence primarily, and is not attributed to a bank but to diplomats ‘familiar with Qatari internal discussions’. As written, I suggest that this story is closer to my own theory that there is audio of Mr. Kushner or his representatives attempting to extort Qatar to invest in 666 Park Avenue, before changing US foreign policy against them when they refused.
The most important argument against the Qatar theory, I would argue, is that it is Robert Mueller who is bringing the case. Mueller is not bringing peripheral cases. His mandate is to investigate collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia during the election. Where he discovers other crimes arising, he can prosecute, but he has chosen not to do so. Michael Cohen’s nonsense with Stormy Daniels and Trump was passed off to SDNY. Maria Butina’s case was not a Bob Mueller case, not directly: as the DoJ website puts it:
The investigation into this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Therefore, the RDIF’s involvement with Kirill Dimitriev in the Seychelles, and Qatar’s refusal – at least initially – to comply with Jared Kushner’s attempts at extortion – although deeply corrupt, and involving many of the personae who attacked our election, most of what we know about those institutions in public reporting occurred after the election was over. It is more likely that Mr. Mueller would hand such investigations to other divisions of the DOJ for prosecution.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund or the Central Bank of Russia
These are both state owned enterprises; they both might claim sovereign immunity; they both carry out business in the United States, and they are both connected to Mueller’s inquiry. Alexander Torshin, the mentor of unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina, who admitted conspiring against the United States, is a Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank. It doesn’t get more “sovereign wealth” than that. I have reported that Russian money was washed into the GOP during the campaign with the connivance of the NRA, and that the FBI have recordings of this being discussed with multiple GOP bigwigs, including the former Speaker Paul Ryan and then Chairman of the GOP Reince Priebus. Certainly, with Butina in custody, the FBI would be interested in her efforts on Russia’s behalf with Torshin. Mitigating against this, though, is the point that Butina’s case is with the National Security Division, not Mueller.
The RDIF, or Sovereign Wealth Fund, suggested by some analysts, is also an attractive possibility. It could make an argument based on sovereignty, and it intersects with Mueller very firmly as we see Erik Prince being tasked by Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner; George Nader, the pedophile aide to the Crown Prince of the UAE and ‘Mr. Fixit’ who set up this meeting had done some data work for Trump during the election. However, again, the largest headlines for this matter are about things that occurred after the election of Trump, and Mueller’s own prosecutions seem to be very tightly focused on his specific case; Russians attacking the US election and Americans lying to law enforcement or Congress about colluding with those Russians. Furthermore I have not been able easily to find offices in America for the Central Bank of Russia or the RDIF, although they may exist.
The Marcy Wheeler theory of Qatar would mean, if sustained, that Mueller was looking to them for evidence of a crime committed by Kushner – which Trump would be complicit in, changing US foreign policy for a bribe. The RDIF or Central Bank of Russia again, at the simplest level – considering this is a Mueller case – would mean Mueller was looking for data from financial arms of the Russian state implying criminal acts during the transition, and possibly relating to George Nader’s data efforts. The last candidate, my own best guess, would be by far the worst news for Donald Trump. It was a bank whose boss was brought to Trump Tower at the request of the Russian Ambassador; it is a bank whose supervisory chairman is the actual Russian Prime Minister. If Mueller believes that VEB, Vnesheconombank, is holding evidence that links the Trump campaign to collusion with the Russian state, then the consequences for Donald Trump and those around him in the campaign are incalculably bad.
My Theory – Vnesheconombank
Vnesheconombank also fits the facts as we know it: the entity is a fully state-owned bank, it employs a legal team who have worked in Russian interests before, it will have ‘commercial interests’, it is wholly owned by the state (this detail ruled out Sberbank and Alfa Bank) and ‘Country A’ has argued that it would be required to violate its own laws by complying with Mueller’s subpoena. This could refer to Russian data protection laws making it illegal for Russian banks to transfer data on Russian citizens without their consent outside of Russia, fitting better than the RDIF or the Central Bank.
Vnesheconombank also has offices in New York City, at 777 Third Avenue.
Vnesheconombank has perhaps the single greatest claim to “sovereign immunity” outside of the Central Bank of Russia. As the New York Times reported in early 2017:
Vnesheconombank, or VEB, is no normal bank. It is wholly owned by the Russian state. It is intertwined with Russian intelligence. And the Russian prime minister is, by law, the chairman of its supervisory board.
Famously, Sergey N. Gorkov, its chief, a former Russian spy, met with Jared Kushner during the transition. Now, one might argue that this is also part and parcel of post-election corruption, but the visit had several elements that tie it in to pre-election collusion as well; it was publicly tied to the lifting of sanctions, a key element, I have reported, and Chris Steele first reported, of the Trump-Russia “hacking help for sanctions lifting” deal.
VEB has quietly kept up appearances on Wall Street in the event that sanctions would be lifted, according to interviews with American bankers and former government officials….Mr. Gorkov met with bankers at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and another, unidentified American financial institution. Goldman Sachs bankers also tried to arrange a meeting but ultimately had a scheduling conflict. The meetings, which are not prohibited by sanctions, were confirmed by three people briefed on the discussions but unauthorized to speak publicly about them
Now, such activity would certainly fall squarely within the government’s case filings that speak of, as a concurring opinion in the case put it, ‘the government’s theory turned only on the “considerable business” of a U.S. office of the Corporation’. Furthermore, the Gorkov-Kushner visit gave two different explanations for the reason that Kushner and Gorkov met with each other. The Trump White House, according to the New York Times, said “[Ambassador] Kislyak requested the meeting and that “Mr. Kushner was acting in his capacity as a transition official.”’
Such an explanation, along with Kushner’s attempt to establish a new “backchannel” to Russia, would fall firmly within Mueller’s criminal investigation. Sergei Kislyak met Republicans, including Trump, Priebus and Ryan, at the RNC, and discussed with them how to wash Russian money to the campaign. Kislyak also met Jeff Sessions, who then lied about it, causing him to be forced to recuse from this investigation. And Kislyak, Trump, Manafort and Epshteyn, I reported, were taped at the Mayflower hotel using Sergei Kislyak’s hot-miked phone, discussing Carter Page taking an offer to Moscow; sanctions relief in exchange for hacking help.
Mr. Manafort, according to the Steele Dossier, was using Carter Page as his “intermediary” to Russia. Manafort was present at the Donald Trump Jr. meeting in Trump Tower.
Kushner’s own explanation was contradicted by VEB.
But VEB said Mr. Gorkov had met with Mr. Kushner, who was still running his family’s real estate company, to discuss business.
That would be because VEB, as representing the Russian state, could not do foreign policy business with Kushner while Obama was still President. It could also be that Gorkov offered Kushner a bribe, not directly through VEB, but via VTB or other companies with which they did business. It is more likely that Mueller would be interested in collusion with the Russian state during the election than corruption after it; nonetheless the fact that Kushner and VEB conflicted in their statements will surely be of interest to Mueller.
For all these reasons, and others which relate to the FISA warrants on two Russian banks which I first reported in October 2017 – reasons that I shall detail in my next piece – I believe that it is most likely that Vnesheconombank is the subject of the Mueller subpoena. What do readers think? Let us know in the comments below.
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