“Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal – Sean Illing Jul 18, 2017, 12:20pm EDT


Why the collusion story begins with money, not politics.

MAY 10, 2017: Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US President Donald Trump, and Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak (L-R) during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House.
Getty Images

“To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.”

That’s what Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto and the author of Aftershocks, told me in a recent interview. I reached out to Gunitsky on Monday after he posted a short but incisive thread on Twitter about the financial roots of the Trump-Russia collusion case.

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain.

I asked Gunitsky to lay it out for me as clearly as possible, and to explain the financial dealings between Trump and his Russian business partners.

Here’s what he told me.

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