Trump’s Top Targets in the Russia Probe Are Experts in Organized Crime

Source: The Atlantic | August 30, 2018 | Natasha Bertrand

Some of President Trump’s favorite targets in the Russia probe have spent their careers in the Justice Department and the FBI investigating organized crime and money laundering, particularly as they pertain to Russia.

Bruce Ohr. Lisa Page. Andrew Weissmann. Andrew McCabe. President Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked these FBI and Justice Department officials as dishonest “Democrats” engaged in a partisan “witch hunt” led by the special counsel determined to tie his campaign to Russia. But Trump’s attacks have also served to highlight another thread among these officials and others who have investigated his campaign: their extensive experience in probing money laundering and organized crime, particularly as they pertain to Russia.

As Trump praised and defended Russian President Vladimir Putin along the campaign trail, financial analysts and money-laundering experts questioned whether the real-estate mogul had any financial incentives—including business ties or outstanding debt—to seek better relations with Moscow. Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed in May 2017 to investigate a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, assembled a team with revealing expertise in fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and other financial crimes.

Trump’s latest obsession is with Bruce Ohr, a career Justice Department official who spent years investigating Russian organized crime and corruption—an expertise he shared with another Trump target named Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative who provided valuable intelligence on Russia to the State Department and the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force prior to authoring the Trump-Russia dossier in 2016. Ohr and Steele met in 2007, according to The New York Times, and stayed in touch as a result of their shared interests and mutual respect. Trump has tweeted about Ohr nearly a dozen times this month alone, complaining about his relationship with Steele and Ohr’s wife’s past work for Fusion GPS—the opposition-research firm that hired Steele in 2016 to research Trump’s Russia ties.

“How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department?” Trump wrote on Thursday. “Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”

Trump’s fixation with seeing Ohr ousted from the Justice Department could be perceived as yet another attempt to undermine the credibility of the people who have investigated him. It could also be interpreted as an attack on someone with deep knowledge of the shady characters Trump and his cohort have been linked to, including Semion Mogilevich, the Russian mob boss, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to Putin who did business with Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (Incidentally, another Manafort associate, the Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, admitted that he only managed to be in business because Mogilevich allowed him to be, according to a leaked 2008 State Department cable.) Ohr was involved in banning Deripaska from the U.S. in 2006, due to his alleged ties to organized crime and fear that he would try to launder money into American real estate. Nearly a decade later, Ohr and the FBI sought Deripaska’s help in taking down overseas criminal syndicates.

And then there’s Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI who spent more than a decade investigating Russian organized crime and served as a supervisory special agent of a task force that scrutinized Eurasian crime syndicates. McCabe is a 21-year FBI veteran who handled aspects of the Russia investigation until Mueller was appointed last May, an appointment McCabe says he pushed for. He was fired in March, just two days short of being eligible to receive his pension and other benefits from the bureau. The official reason was that he had lacked candor when describing his interactions with the press to the Office of the Inspector General. But Trump and his allies’ relentless attacks on McCabe on Twitter and cable news made it difficult for many to believe that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to fire him was completely devoid of political considerations.

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