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Rachel Maddow has the formula down pat. Several weeks ago she said on the air that she was changing the way she covers Mein Furor, she stopped covering what he said, and instead started covering what he does. This focus is working beautifully, and her staffs research is knocking it out of the park.
Last night was a perfect example. The whole first half of her show was a detailed explanation of what may be the next investigation into Trump, this one on his business practices. Just to summarize, over a number of years, Trump became involved in a deal in Baku, Azerbaijan for a luxury high rise hotel and living property. Like most deals in eastern European countries, you have a local “partner” for these projects. In this deal, his partners were relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister. This is where the problem comes in.
On a salary of about $12,000 per year, Mammadov is now a billionaire. One of the issues Rachel highlighted was a job in which a US company was solicited tor an estimate to build roads and highways in Azerbaijan. The quote was $6M per kilometer. They were sent packing. Instead, Mammadov signed a contract with another company to do the job for a paltry $18M a kilometer. Turns out that the company is controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. It’s a money laundering scheme for the Revolutionary Guard. They spend a couple of million per kilometer in sanctioned funds for manpower and material to build roads, and get $18M in “clean” money in return that they can move around and spend. And of course Mammadov gets his cut under the table.
This is not Mammadov’s first ride at the rodeo. He is so fabulously corrupt, even for an Azerbaijani official that his family is known as the “Corleone’s of the Caspian Sea”. And as powerful as the family is, that makes them dangerous for American companies to deal with.
The reason is the Foreign Corruption Practices Act, a law designed to keep American companies from bribing foreign officials for preferential treatment. And ignorance is no excuse. American companies are expected to exercise due diligence in choosing their overseas partners to ensure everything is aboveboard. Just ask Frederic Bourke, co-founder of the Dooney and Bourke handbag line. He got into a deal several years ago, investing $8M to get in on an oil deal in Azerbaijan, they were supposedly selling their state run oil company. The guy running the deal spread a bunch of bribes around, and Bourke got convicted to the tune of 1 year in prison, and a $1M fine. Bourke didn’t actually bribe anybody, claims he knew nothing, but they got him for not exercising due diligence in checking out his potential partner.
This is the family that Trump got into bed with on his high rise deal to the tune of at least $2.5M that he has declared. And it may not be able to lie fallow. Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democratic Senator on the banking committee has written to the Justice Department, asking them to investigate this whole transaction. It appears that this was a passive deal for Trump, simply renting out his name to grease the skids, but he got paid. He dropped the deal later, but the paper trail is there.
I wrote in a diary a couple of weeks ago that the problem with a scandal is that it mushrooms. You ask one question, and the answer you get ends opening up a whole new avenue of investigation. This is happening to Trump now. Russian hacking has spread out into possible investigations of his real estate deal in Azerbaijan. Who knows what next week will bring, or even tomorrow?
Here are the two portions of the Rachel show dealing with this last night. In total they are about 32 minutes, but you’ll be very well informed by the time it’s over with.