Is it the Russians or perhaps the gangsters that are coming?
Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Veselnitskaya admits she met with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 presidential campaign, but insists that she had no compromising information on Hillary Clinton to offer in contrast to what the email exchange released by Trump’s eldest son suggested. | Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

I haven’t been so flummoxed by Russian names since I struggled through “The Brothers Karamazov” as a teenager.  I was a voracious young reader, ripping through Dickens and even Steinbeck, but Dostoyevsky kept me flipping pages backward.

It wasn’t just the names, which are dauntingly multisyllabic,  but that each character had several.  Dmitri  Fyodorovich Karamazov was also Mitya, Mitenka and Mitri.  The beloved  Alexei was familiarly called Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alexeichik, Lyosha.  The lovely Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova was interchangeably known as Grushenka or Grushka  and so forth through a large and confusing if fascinating cast of characters.

I kept having to backtrack page by page to keep the story clear and the side sermons in focus. Never had I taken so long to get through a novel.

I wonder how many Americans feel similarly frustrated today.

Many are likely to flat give up as Natalias, Anatolis,  oligarchs and labyrinthine entanglements with Putin invade the daily headlines. We are also in a very Russian egg world of dolls nesting inside each other.

From denying any contact, the Trump campaign has retreated to denying collusion, or saying collusion ain’t that bad, or blaming enemies, yet every day brings another “connection” they conveniently forgot to report.

It may take months, even years, for special investigator Robert Mueller to sort this out, but you can’t blame the media for playing detective. The public does, too.

Here’s what we do know.  The numbers of Russian, including shady gangster connections are not normal. The frequency with which the Trump people conveniently forgot to remember has moved past claims of amnesia into an inescapable pattern of deception. The reading of sinister behavior stems from the Trump world itself.

Donald Trump Jr’s “nothing burger” of a June 2016 meeting in the Trump Tower seems to have more participants than attended his father’s inauguration.

As Jr.’s emails reveal, he thought the Russian lawyer was a government lawyer bringing official dirt on Hillary Clinton, though he originally said it was about adoption. Now apparently, documents about Hillary were left.

The meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was arranged by a British music publicist, Rob Goldstone, who was alerted to the goods by a client, Emin Agalarov, pop star son of billionaire Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov who is also a buddy and confidant of Vladimir Putin.

Emin was eminent in the Trump-run Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, where Trump guested in one of his music videos featuring the mysterious appearance in Emin’s bedroom and bathroom of various Universe beauties.  As shown by The New York Times, the video climaxes in Emin walking down stairs with all the Miss Universe contestants following him, an eerie Pied Piper echo of Trump’s escalator descent at Trump Towers announcing his candidacy.

Also present at the meeting and brought by lawyer Veselnitskaya was Rinat Akhmetshin, said to be a former Soviet military man now U.S.-based lobbyist who often represents Russian business interests.

Also there was a translator brought by Veselnitskaya, Anatoli Samachornov, and according to sources another “representative” for a Russian family. (Translators are just supposed to be part of the furniture, as anonymous as cameramen. But we saw how that worked out when the Sergeys, Labrov and Kislyak, visited with Trump at  the White House and only let in their own photographer.)

And oh yes, also at the meeting were the campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s ever more dominant advisor son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In a recent interview savaging Hillary for not helping the American economy by approving pipelines, Trump sent the pipeline oil to the wrong coast, didn’t seem to understand the U.S. wasn’t getting any of the Canadian oil and boasted that the pipelines would help American energy stand up to Russia.

He apparently did not know that healthy swaths of both Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines use Russian steel and enrich another Russian oligarch close to Putin, Roman Abramovich.

“Fathers and teachers,” Dostoyevsky wrote in his Karamazov sermon, “I ponder, What is hell?”  This may describe the American public’s new-found awareness of the billions of dollars flowing freely around Putin and his oligarchs.  While we’ve been preoccupied with money from China and Saudi Arabia, Russian gangster and oligarchical money has been flowing freely in our financial world – and now apparently in our politics.

Since Jr. is 39, it is silly to refer to him as a lad, even to a father of 70. In fact, his behavior in this case – either foolish and naïve or typical of how the Trump folks so cavalierly  conduct business – ought to make U.S. voters reconsider the comfort they’ve taken that Trump is surrounded by Generation X and Millennial kin.  This is not a family that deepens his intellect or modern awareness. The rubbing off may be in the other direction.

Many liberals have actually felt reassurance that at least Ivanka and her husband Jared are around to advise the president, leaning on press reports that Jared  thinks about stuff and Ivanka  has encouraged her dad toward tolerance on immigrants and even paid child care. So far her proposals seem more like protecting nannies for the rich. In terms of moderating Donald  she has come a cropper.

Even her business acumen raises questions since all her products are made overseas in cheap labor companies. In the Philippines she and her Dad have played footsie with government officials to land trademark protection, raising again the specter of foreign government gains for the Trump family. Both Kushners are tone-deaf to how their jet-set lifestyle plays with the voters.

Attendance at Jr.’s meeting is only the tip of the Kushner iceberg. His preference for intrigue and secrecy in real estate dealings was well documented in New York. Now his former methods seem to extend to the White House. Either he decides what not to tell Trump or neither is discussing the truth in their  relationship.


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.