"Russia has never tried to leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA-NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING" tweeted from Donald Trump on January 11, 2017. Nonetheless Craig Unger presents a very strong case that Trump was influenced by the Russians. There seem to have been links with Russian mobsters both directly and indirectly.
It seems quite reasonable to be suspicious of these many links. Craig Unger does have a reasonable amount of credibility. Who are we to believe? I would suggest that anybody not suspicious of what we know of the links must either be ignorant or have vested interests.
Putin and Trump have something in common. Both have had a lot of contact with mobsters and whether or not they would publicly admit it many of the contacts were beneficial. At one end we learn of some of the facts surrounding Putin's rise.
Trump has had many decades of contact with the Russians. By 1984 Russians were looking at Trump Tower and a number bought units. It is said when no one else would loan him money they did. But more likely he laundered millions of dollars stolen by Russian mobsters.
At the time of the Berlin Wall breaking down, Putin was an intelligence officer in East Berlin. He considered the collapse of the Soviet empire "the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century." What was very alarming was that 13 Eastern block nations joined NATO and later most joined the EU. He felt Ukraine could not be allowed to abandon the Russian dominance.
Putin ended back in his home town, lately renamed St. Petersberg and worked his way into the mayor's office. With careful maneuvering aided by mobster connections he gained power.
Russia was forced to privatize many state owned businesses many of which were picked up by criminal elements at discounted prices. In turn this created pressure to put money into safe havens.
When Trump invested in casinos in Atlantic City he was involved with mobsters. Many wonder how the casinos could end up bankrupt. Trump went for extravagance, broke state laws and did favors for mobsters. In the end he was desperate, but shortly after his finances recovered. The author gives credit to his laundering of Russian money. He sold Florida properties to Russians through shell companies.
He bought 3 beauty pageants and decided one of the pageants should go to Moscow. One of the mob connections wanted to promote a singer and used this event as a platform. Trump wanted to curry favor with Putin to help with his idea of a Moscow Trump Tower.
In 2004 Trump started with "The Apprentice" to boost his brand name. By this time he was not so much building, as selling his brand.
Putin stepped up his power, surging all the way to the top maintaining contact with criminal elements.
Ukraine was a focus of Russian attention. Paul Manafort who had a lot of Republican connections was hired to promote Russian interests in Kiev. Because he didn't speak Russian or Ukrainian he was dependent on Konstantin Kilimnik, who had ties to Putin. Manafort became in effect an intelligence officer working against American stated policy. For a few elections they managed to elect a pro Russian president who would keep Ukraine out of NATO and the EU. Hillary Clinton suspected skulduggery and actually supported Yulia Tymoshenko. Eventually the Ukrainians rebelled and Manafort had to flee as well. Later Hillary criticized a Russian election and earned Putin's enmity.
Donald Trump had visited Russia a number of times and had established himself as a person of interest decades ago. There is only circumstantial evidence that the Russians had a hold on Trump, but the Russians had a long history of developing compromising material on people they thought might be useful. After a 1987 visit to Moscow Trump took out full page ads in Boston, Washington and New York to criticize the American support for Japan. A strange topic for a real estate developer to be concerned with, but in line with Russian policy.
Donald Trump had had presidential ambitions for decades, but as 2016 approached his confidence rose. He had been instrumental in widening the birther claim. The Republicans had targeted Hillary Clinton as the likely Democrat nominee. The Benghazi campaign must have seemed unnecessarily vindictive and pointless, but Kevin McCarthy admitted that its purpose was to drive down the poll numbers for Hillary Clinton.
From my reading of the given narrative it was the Russians who sought Donald Trump. First Putin disliked Hilary Clinton for her remarks on his integrity. As part of his plan to regenerate Russia's glory Putin needed and sought American agents. One suggestion the author makes is that the Trump Tower meeting considered a dud by Donald Jr., was really a pretext to see how much co-operation the Russians could expect. Still it seemed Donald Trump was aware of the Russian efforts and encouraged them.
The reason he had years of problems trying to build a Moscow Trump Tower was that most of his other ventures were financed by laundered money from Russia which of course was not available for inside Russia.
The author suggests the Russians interfered with a number of European elections and had an impact on the Brexit vote. One motive for their involvement in Syria was that it created a refugee crisis which the Russians felt weakened Europe. Putin wanted to break up both the EU and NATO and drew a line at Ukraine which he considered in the Russian sphere.
Credibility is a concern, but the facts in this book have not really been challenged. At the end of the book the author lists 59 people that connect Trump to Russia. Most can be described as ethically questionable. The book was dedicated to the memory of Russians who died in the pursuit of investigating Putin's kleptocracy singling out Paul Klebnikov, Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky and Anna Politkovskaya.
You can view a Youtube clip after the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mIRcGeELN4
We are still learning of Russian connections, but it must be admitted there were other factors in Trump's unexpected ascent to power. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html