During the course of a week which has seen nearly nonstop controversy relating to Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, much of it initiated by Trump himself, a development went under the radar in New York that might have been a major media story under less chaotic circumstances. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Preet Bharara’s old district settled the case he’d been bringing against Russian money launderers. Readers keep asking me what I think it means.
The short answer: I’m not sure. There’s not enough context to this development, at least not yet, to get a feel for why both sides would suddenly decide to settle. But two distinct possibilities come to mind. One is that, as some of you have said you fear, Trump and his administration put pressure on the Southern District of New York to let the Russians off easy. The other possibility is essentially the opposite: the Southern District was willing to let the Russians off easy because they provided useful evidence against a more important target.
Both sides are naturally declaring victory in the settlement (CNN), so that doesn’t tell us much. Instead, check in with Preet Bharara to see what he thinks of how his old case was ultimately handled. The acting U.S. Attorney who took Bharara’s place, Joon H. Kim, tweeted “We will not allow the US financial system to be used to launder proceeds of crimes committed anywhere-here or in Russia,” prompting a response from Bharara himself.
Here’s what Preet Bharara had to say about the settlement: “Congrats to Joon & team in Russian money laundering case (underlying fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, died suspiciously in Moscow jail)” (link). If you’re wondering about Magnitsky, Palmer Report has covered the Magnitsky Act and its significance in detail the past (link). But as far as Preet’s response, he’s publicly giving the thumbs up to the settlement.
Preet Bharara is a private citizen now, and if he thought that the Trump administration had meddled in this settlement, I suspect he’d say so. Instead, his tweet suggests that he has no such suspicions. And if that is the case, then it would mean we’re looking at door number two, where this settlement was indeed a result of the Russian money laundering suspects having given up evidence on Trump’s operation in exchange for leniency. Keep an eye on the Senate Intel Committee’s burgeoning investigation into money laundering at Trump’s casino (link), as it may or may not be directly related to this settlement.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report