Donald Trump makes his money the old-fashioned way—he launders it

With everything that Donald Trump does, it’s tempting to think “distraction.” Is he really mad at Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Did he have it in for former chief of staff Reince Priebus? Why is he telling the Boy Scouts stories about sex yachts and what billionaires do in the south of France? Did press secretary Sean Spicer really go out the door for not sufficiently defending Trump’s inane policies, or was Anthony Scaramucci brought in (before quickly being ushered out) just because he provides better theater?

Even with something as large and serious as the ban on transgender personnel in the military, it’s hard to let go of the idea that this might simply be a feint. A misdirection. A ball tossed into the distance, so we don’t see what Trump is doing closer to hand.

But with Donald Trump it’s fair to say that nothing is a distraction. And everything. There are always so many outrages in progress that it’s easy to get engaged with any one of them and find that a dozen more have swung past with little notice. That’s the nature of a “Gish Gallop,” which by this point should really be relabeled a Trump Trot: never let the paint dry on one disaster before launching another. And another. And another.

So when something happens that seems to be genuinely important, and that thing gets buried under such a mound of other events that it barely gets noticed … did it happen because Trump wanted it that way? Yes. Because Trump would just as soon everything sail past with no attention.

But in the case of financier Bill Browder’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, it’s very hard to think that the heap of items that relegated it to an appearance on CSPAN-3 and near-complete disregard by the news networks was not entirely a coincidence.

Because what Browder had to say fills in important gaps in the story of that meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump’s senior campaign staff and representatives of the Russian government offering information designed to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. And on a normal day, that testimony would be at the top of the news.

Browder’s opening statement can be found here. Rather than transcribing Browder’s statements directly, I’ve tried to fit them into the information we already have in order to create a coherent narrative.

Bill Browder is a U.S. expatriate who split his time between London and Moscow until Russia sent him packing in 2005, declaring Browder a “threat to national security.” At the time, Browder was a major investor in the nascent Russian stock market, making investments mostly for those outside of Russia. But in 2005 Browder’s office was raided, he was booted from the country, and his assets were mysteriously handed off to someone unrelated to Browder’s firm. In an effort to recoup his funds and reveal what Browder saw as corruption within Russian law enforcement, he hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky worked for three years to assemble a set of documents detailing what had happened with Browder and with others. For six months Magnitsky was shuffled between increasingly harsh prisons while his health continually declined. At the end of that time he was sent to a final prison, supposedly to obtain medical care. Instead he was beaten to death. He was 37. No one was ever prosecuted for his death.

Magnitsky’s death spurred Browder to come to the U.S., where he urged Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and Republican Sen. John McCain to take action. That trip eventually led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, which placed sanctions on those directly involved in Magnitsky’s death, as well as other Russians who were involved in serious human rights abuses.

From the beginning, the Act was infuriating to Vladimir Putin and to the oligarchs who suddenly found moving funds out of Russia more difficult.

And really, that’s what this whole story is about.

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