“Red Notice,” a memoir by Bill Browder describing his experiences as the first major foreign investor in the Russian economy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was written in 2015, before the era of Trump.
But it is uniquely timely today, in the era of all-Trump-all-the-time.
Browder’s book recounts how he profited greatly from Russia’s transition from communism to kleptocracy by successfully challenging oligarchs who stole half of the Russian economy to line their own pockets.
At first, Putin was supportive of Browder’s clean-up efforts. But on Browder’s telling, when Putin decided to start taking his cut of the ill-gotten gains, Browder was summarily deported and declared a threat to Russian national security. Putin’s surrogates then confiscated Browder’s companies to create a shell operation that allegedly laundered $260 million of money stolen from Russian taxpayers. Browder’s employees still in Russia all fled to the West for fear of their lives.
Real-life corruption-fighter and martyr Sergei Magnitsky
All except one, Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s lawyer. He rigorously documented the illegal actions of the Putin regime and refused to leave Russia. Magnitsky was arrested, jailed, tortured, denied medical care for his gallstones and malnutrition, and then beaten to death in a private cell.
Throughout the process, Magnitsky filed over 400 reports cataloguing his abuse, making him the most thoroughly documented victim of Russian atrocities since the end of the Cold War. After his death, the Russian leaders staged a show trial against him. They convicted him, posthumously, of all the crimes of which Magnitsky had accused them.
At that point, Bill Browder made a transition from investment banker to international activist. He persuaded Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which froze the assets of all those involved in the Magnitsky incident and bars them from entry to the United States. Putin retaliated by refusing to allow Russian orphans to be adopted by American parents.
More disturbing than simply a meeting about adoption
Given that backdrop, Donald Trump Jr.’s attempted collusion with Russia takes on a great deal more weight, especially since he has effectively dismissed the revelations about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer as nothing more than a discussion about Americans adopting Russian babies.
If adoption really was the topic of conversation, the meeting was an attempt to get the Trump administration to support the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, item number one on Putin’s U.S. legislative agenda.
The Magnitsky Act hits Putin where it hurts the most, in his own pocketbook. There’s likely no limit to the lengths Putin would be willing to go to get that repealed. It’s certainly a principal reason that Russia might have attempted to collude in the first place.
Trump allies who seek to dismiss allegations of Russian interference with the 2016 election muddy the waters. Many will concede that Russia tried to meddle in America’s election. That’s just par for the course with them, they argue. There was no specific focus or intentionality on their part, the argument contingues. They were just seeking to make mischief.
Browder’s story casts severe doubt on the Trumpkin spin on Russia. The more likely reality is that Putin sees in Trump a similar oligarchical approach to international transaction. That could make him an ally in the effort to get the Magnitsky Act repealed.
It’s impossible to fall for the Trump-Russian spin on recent events after reading “Red Notice.” The fascinating book reads like a well-written spy novel, which makes it even more disturbing when you remember that this isn’t a work of fiction.
(Photo of President Donald Trump meeting with President Vladimir Putin during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany by BPA via Getty Images)