THE MUELLER REPORT AND THE DEEP STATE
For two years Trump and Fox News have been attacking the “deep state” in Washington, usually referring to the intelligence agencies like FBI and CIA who have had Trump under investigation. But in American War Machine (2010) and again in The American Deep State (2018), my notion of the deep state also included private sources of power, outside government but able to influence it illicitly.
In both books I cited the influence in Washington of the Russian private Bank Alfa, whose dubious clout in Washington included protection from both senior Democrats like Richard Burt of Kissinger McLarty Associates and also senior Republicans like Dick Cheney (then CEO of the multinational oil field services giant Halliburton).
Bank Alfa was the creation of three Russian oligarchs, Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven. and German Khan. During the 2016 campaign, it drew the attention of the media, as in a story by Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” New York Times, October 31, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/us/politics/fbi-russia-election-donald-trump.html:
“In classified sessions in August and September, intelligence officials also briefed congressional leaders on the possibility of financial ties between Russians and people connected to Mr. Trump. They focused particular attention on what cyberexperts said appeared to be a mysterious computer back channel between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia’s biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin.
F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages — a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts. [END]
(For a fuller version see Dexter Filkins, “Was There a Connection Between a Russian Bank and the Trump Campaign?,” New Yorker, October 8, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/15/was-there-a-connection-between-a-russian-bank-and-the-trump-campaign.”}
When the Mueller Report was released, one of my top concerns was to see how it handled this Bank Alfa story. But although Bank Alfa had been discussed in the Steele Dossier, The Times story about it is not mentioned in the Mueller Report at all. Alfa Bank itself is in the Mueller Report (along with Pyotr Aven and Richard Burt), but very marginally, and in an account (based on Aven’s testimony!) that makes Aven and Alfa look outside any possible conspiracy, not inside.
German Khan (#3 in the Alfa Ban) is not mentioned. His son-in-law Alex van der Zwaan is mentioned, but only in a passive role:
“Gates suspected that Kilimnik was a “spy,” a view that he shared with Manafort, Hawker, and Alexander van der Zwaan,869 an attorney who had worked with DMI on a report for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
869 van der Zwaan pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to making false statements to the Special Counsel’s Office. Plea Agreement, United States v. Alex van der Zwaan, 1:18-cr-31 (D.D.C. Feb. 20, 2018), Doc. 8. [END]
The fact that Alex is the son-in-law of German Khan, #3 in the Alfa Ban, is not noted. Nor is there any clarification of his false statements. Yet the media had reported about him: “In early September, Paul Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates calls Alex van der Zwaan — an attorney at the Skadden Arps law firm — and tells him to contact an individual later identified only as ‘Person A’” (probably Konstantin Kilimnik).
Here is what I had to say about Bank Alfa in the Introduction to the paperback edition of The American Deep State:
Just before the election The New York Times reported that
“For much of the summer, the F.B.I. … scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, … and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank….
“F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. … But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.[END]
The next day the Jewish paper Forward raised a question, not yet answered, about Alfa Bank’s principal owner, the philanthropist oligarch Mikhail Fridman, listed as #73 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in 2016 (once #20), and the second wealthiest Russian:
“Is a Russian Jewish oligarch with Israeli citizenship and close ties to both Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu running a secret cyber-communications channel between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian authorities?” 
The various speculations about the Trump link to Alfa and Fridman, whether innocuous or shady, justify a closer look at the charges about Alfa’s influence two decades ago, when Alfa’s dubious clout in Washington included protection from both senior Democrats like Richard Burt of Kissinger McLarty Associates and also senior Republicans like Dick Cheney. As The Guardian reported in 2002, Alfa’s 1990s clout in Washington was demonstrated when its oil company, Tyumen,
was loaned $489m in credits by the US Export-Import Bank after lobbying by Halliburton…. The [Clinton] White House and State Department tried to veto the Russian deal. But after intense lobbying by Halliburton the objections were overruled on Capitol Hill [which then was Republican controlled]…. The State Department’s concerns were based on the fact that Tyumen was controlled by a holding conglomerate, the Alfa Group, that had been investigated in Russia for mafia connections.
Veteran newsman Knut Royce (a major contributor to three Pulitzer Prize-winning stories) reported the details:
Under the guidance of Richard Cheney, a get-the-government-out-of-my-face conservative, Halliburton Company over the past five years has emerged as a corporate welfare hog, benefiting from at least $3.8 billion in federal contracts and taxpayer-insured loans.
One of these loans was approved in April by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. It guaranteed $489 million in credits to a Russian oil company [Tyumen, owned by Alfa] whose roots are imbedded in a legacy of KGB and Communist Party corruption, as well as drug trafficking and organized crime funds, according to Russian and U.S. sources and documents.
[Two reports, one by “a former U.S. intelligence officer,” and one by the Russian FSB] claim that Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest and most profitable, as well as Alfa Eko, a trading company, had been deeply involved in the early 1990s in laundering of Russian and Colombian drug money and in trafficking drugs from the Far East to Europe….
The FSB report, too, claimed that the Alfa Group’s top executives, oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, “allegedly participated in the transit of drugs from Southeast Asia through Russia and into Europe.” [END]
I also wrote in my Introduction about the Russian connections of Exxon and its Chairman, Rex Tillerson. who became Trump’s first Secretary of State. Like van der Zwaan, Tillerson is mentioned in the Report, but innocently. Exxon, of course is not mentioned at all.
What Mueller did research, he did thoroughly. I suspect that his findings will create problems for Trump.and maybe other politicians. But I am concerned that its silence on the Trump-Alfa connection may be an indication that the bank’s clout in Washington has not diminished from what it was in the 1990s.