This One Piece of Paper Threatens Trump at His Very Core — And Explains Why He Needs Rosenstein Out Now

Trump’s “genius” for selling New York and Florida real estate at ridiculous markups actually disguises systematic money-laundering.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Monday’s sudden Rod Rosenstein “resignation” crisis didn’t come out of nowhere—it came out of planted stories designed to make the deputy attorney general look like an intolerable loose cannon. But the timing does seem curious. Donald Trump had already secured an agreement with Republican senators to pitch Attorney General Jefferson Sessions immediately after the midterm elections. That would allow Trump to sideline Rosenstein, with his new AG positioned to take care of the Russia investigation on demand. So why now? Because Trump couldn’t wait.

The Washington Post report on the morning’s confusion shows what happens when everything is about protecting the autocrat. White House sources are claiming that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein is not only planning to resign, but has already resigned. Meanwhile reports from the Department of Justice insist that Rosenstein hasn’t resigned, and won’t resign, but expects to be fired. A resignation would obviously play better for Donald Trump. Not only would it provide more possibilities for how Trump fills the vacancy, but it allows Trump to paint the situation in terms of Rosenstein acknowledging that he had done something wrong. 

Trump really, really wants that. Because he really, really needs to put someone like the Clinton-hating, FBI-skeptic, unitary executive-loving, Brett Kavanaugh friend Noel Francisco in charge. Then the Russia investigation can wind down gradually, whittled away to nothing, or otherwise silenced. Trump not only wants Rosenstein out—he wants to make Rosenstein part of his Deep State/Drain the Swamp/They’re all out to get me narrative. He wants it immediately. Because this thing is slipping away from him by the hour, and he knows it.

The last month has seen the conviction of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, the guilty plea from Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, the news that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was testifying under immunity from federal prosecutors, word that Cohen was looking to cooperate, and then the blasting surprise that Manafort had agreed to cooperate with the special counsel. Finally, there was an extra dash of news that Cohen was in the midst of spilling to the special counsel, in advance of any cooperation agreement.

Cohen, Manafort, and Weisselberg’s testimony threatens Trump at his very core. It threatens to reveal the layers of Russia-connected money laundering, tax evasion, and decades of conspiracy that turned Trump from a bankrupt also-ran into an oligarch-powered “success.” It’s a threat to not just Trump’s office, but to his money, his company, his image, and to everything he owns. 

A series of “deep reports” by the Financial Times in 2016 showed how Trump, bankrupted by his epic failure in Atlantic City, unable to secure more loans to support his lavish lifestyle, and hovering on the brink of being booted from his own “tower,” made critical connections that pulled him back into the sun. With the help of intermediaries like Felix Sater and Sergei Millian, Trump turned his organization from a bankrupt real estate firm that was unable to fund the building of a pup tent, into a powerhouse money-laundering firm that saw hundreds of millions pouring in from Russia and former Soviet territory.

That transition was directly connected with one of the people talking to Robert Mueller right now.

Mr Millian claimed Mr Trump then introduced him to Michael Cohen, the Trump Organisation’s chief legal counsel, who granted him rights to market Trump Organisation properties in Russia and the former Soviet Union. “You could say I was their exclusive broker,” he told Ria. “Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US.” He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received “hundreds of millions of dollars” through deals with Russian businessmen.

Trump’s “genius” for selling New York and Florida real estate at ridiculous markups actually disguises systematic money-laundering in which the lax regulations around real estate allowed him to bring in illegal funds from Russia filtered through LLCs and banks in Cyprus. While Trump’s personal wealth is in doubt, there seems little doubt that the money involved in these transactions was eventually in the billions.

The details of this money-laundering operation were explicitly spelled out in Mueller’s indictment and conviction of long-time Trump associate and campaign chair Paul Manafort. The eventual agreement reached with Manafort isn’t just shocking in his level of agreed-on cooperation, and the detailed way in which Mueller has limited Trump’s ability to pardon Manafort’s crimes, but in the explicitness with which it describes how Mueller’s money-laundering for Oleg Deripaska worked. By most accounts, replacing Manafort’s name with Trump’s and Deripaska’s with any number of Russian billionaires could describe the majority of Trump’s income, at least over the critical period of his recovery from bankruptcy.

Manafort’s agreement to flip was a shock to Trump. Both he and Rudy Giuliani were still praising Manafort just hours before word emerged that a deal was in the works. Even when Manafort walked into the courthouse, few people realized that he was not only signing a deal to cooperate in full, on any topic, but was ready to deliver under-oath testimony to a closed courtroom. And Manafort’s deal included massive, personal losses—agreements to hand over most of his real estate, cash, and other assets.

The seizures that Manafort faced scared Donald Trump sh#tless.

Manafort’s cooperation agreement came on Sept. 14. It took exactly one week before the New York Times ran with a planted story turning a joke made by Rosenstein into a scheme to overthrow the government. And two days after that, before the White House picked up the phone to announce that Rosenstein was resigning. Or had resigned. Will resign. Was definitely resigning.

The scariest thing about Rod Rosenstein isn’t that he protected the continued existence of Robert Mueller’s investigation: it’s that he signed an order expanding the scope of that investigation to include the money-laundering scheme on which Paul Manafort was convicted. Most of the document that contained that expansion was redacted. It’s not hard to guess what was under all that black ink: authority to investigate Trump’s business dealings. 

Trump wants that authority ended now. And based on what he’s seen from Mueller in the agreement with Manafort, he cannot afford to wait. This is a part of the authority that Rosenstein extended to Mueller.

That’s the document that Trump needs to kill—but quick. Those two paragraphs that are visible covered all the money-laundering, tax evasion, bank fraud, and conspiracy on which Manafort has been convicted.

What’s behind the rest of that ink … is everything.

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Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."