Donald Trump, revealed as a Mob godfather
That was certainly a buoyant and beaming Donald Trump in the early hours of Thursday morning as he greeted three happy American prisoners newly freed from North Korea. It was a perfect TV moment in the Trump Age.
So, will wonders never cease? Could this week prove to be pivotal in the history of the Trump presidency?
Just the day before, when a reporter asked him whether he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his handling of North Korea, Trump replied with a smile: “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.”
Actually, few people think so but that’s beside the point.
However, Trump is right in believing this may be remembered as a significant week in his presidency — but not for the reasons he thinks.
Sadly, we are not on the brink of an era of global peace. And Trump will not get his Nobel.
After all, this was also the week that Trump defied the world’s other major powers and pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. It had the dangerous effect of increasing tensions in the Middle East and, as if in response, Israel and Iran suddenly found themselves engaged in direct military conflict for the first time ever.
Even on North Korea, with the high stakes summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un now planned for June 12 in Singapore, there is virtually no possibility the two men will agree on what “denuclearization” means on the Korean Peninsula unless the U.S. president softens his stance. And if the summit fails, which is likely, who knows what a humiliated Trump will do?
No, this week won’t be remembered for advancing the cause of world peace in any way. But, through a series of dramatic new disclosures in The New York Times and The Washington Post, it may be remembered as the week when the breathtaking corruption that made the Trump presidency possible became clearer.
At the heart of it, unsurprisingly, were Russians — oligarchs, mobsters and shady business types with close ties to the Putin government. For several years, they are said to have kept the near-bankrupt Trump business empire afloat and then, once Trump’s route to the presidency became clear, they gained in power and influence.
We learned this week that a company linked to a Russian oligarch gave more than $1 million to a shell company — effectively a slush fund — set up by Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, who previously had dealings with Russian mob figures.
But even more revealing, Cohen’s shell company was selling access to the Trump administration, receiving millions of dollars from companies doing business with the government. It has been described as a form of “protection racket.”
These disclosures raised suspicions that this money was, in fact, flowing through Cohen directly to the Trump organization and to Trump himself.
We also learned that Trump, who always called himself the “King of Debt,” dramatically stopped borrowing in the decade before the election. His business empire seemed awash in cash all of a sudden. Although Trump has consistently denied any investment from Russian sources, his son Donald Jr. was quoted in 2008 as saying: “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
These latest reports help explain why Trump’s advisers believe the investigation into Michael Cohen — and the recent FBI raids on his office and home — pose a greater danger to the president than charges of collusion with the Russians in the presidential campaign.
Buried in Cohen’s papers may be evidence about what many have long suspected.
Americans in the 2016 election may have unwittingly swept into power what amounts to be an organized crime syndicate — with Donald Trump more as its Godfather than as a leader of a healthy democracy.
Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at .