The three biggest scandals in American history- Teapot Dome, Watergate and Iran-Contra- all involved money to some degree.   All led to either a weakening of a President, a black eye on a President’s legacy, or a presidential resignation.  Although “follow the money” is a figment of Hollywood’s imagination in the depiction of the Watergate affair, it in no way lessens the fact that payoffs to the burglars and the Plumber’s Unit was financed mainly through nefarious campaign contributions.  People like Bebe Rebozo and other financiers were collateral damage in Watergate.

Unlike many on the Left and the MSM- and some on the Right- this writer does not believe Trump is a puppet nor dupe of Vladimir Putin.  A greater case can be made that it is the Left and the MSM who are the true dupes.  Trump is merely an unknowing pawn in Putin’s geopolitical power game to undermine confidence in Western values and the democratic process.  It is why they are most likely behind the Wikileaks revelations on the DNC’s collaboration with the Clinton campaign to show that her nomination was “rigged” from the start.  The fact he got Trump is simply a byproduct of that information campaign.

There is much speculation on Trump surrogate meetings with Russian officials during the campaign and transition, but these are hardly groundbreaking stories.  Foreign officials of various stripes talk to campaigns.  Some of it is intelligence gathering and some of it is a feeling out of the candidates with respect to issues that interest the countries involved.  Flynn’s “firing” was not so much that he talked to a Russian ambassador about sanctions as it was that he lied to Mike Pence about it.

Regarding those other contacts involving Manafort, Stone and Page, again these came in the midst of a heated campaign.  They may have been innocuous meetings for all we know.  The Left is trying to portray it into some scandal of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the scales in favor or a Trump victory.  This is based on the mistaken assumption that Putin somehow “feared” a Clinton administration.  Less anyone forget, Russia flexed its muscle in Georgia and the Ukraine mainly on Clinton’s watch.  They tested Clinton’s State Department wherever they could and won every battle.  They had nothing to fear from Clinton, nor did they have anything to gain from a Trump victory other than the reflexive reaction by the Democrats, the American Left and the MSM chasing Russian bogeymen where none exist.  This is classic Putin.

The relationship between Putin and Trump is asymmetric if anything.  Trump is a weak leader in a strong country; Putin is a strong leader in a weak country.  Trump is a former reality TV star; Putin cut his teeth in the KGB.  Most importantly, Putin knows when to shut up.

To understand the dynamic, one has to understand Trump’s narcissist personality coupled with his bankruptcies.  Although he stated that he, as a businessman, took advantage of a legal tool to advance his interests, it is also a fact that after those well-publicized bankruptcies many banks refused to lend money to Trump.  It was called the “Donald risk” in the financial industry.  Yet, he survived and persevered and it was then that he likely turned to Russian money.

In fact, in 2008 Trump’s own son, Donald, Jr. said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”  Part of this was due to the mass flight of capital out of Russia due to Yeltsin’s economic policies.  For ordinary Russians, this was a disaster, but if you were a Russian bank or oligarch, it was a bonanza.  It created a class of indiscriminate investors looking to park their money and Trump was someone who needed indiscriminate investors to feed his real estate empire.  He had a dismal record and trail of failed ventures, yet continued to attract money to his projects.

We know that Russians invested in his SoHo project and his hotel in Toronto- Canada’s tallest building.  There is the curious case of Bayrock, a massive Russian money laundering scheme that Trump became the face of and who testified he never knew who really was behind the company.  Of particular interest is the celebrated case of Felix Sater, a known Russian shady operator who shows up behind some deals and is known to be a financial associate of Trump.  Despite the government convicting him of various financial crimes, he avoided sentencing for years given his work for the FBI and CIA in the aftermath of 9/11.  Further, it was none other than Loretta Lynch who in her role as prosecutor in Manhattan who vouched for his service and he got off with a slap on the wrist.

Trump Tower itself has been home to a series of nefarious characters.  Bayrock called it home.  Anatoly Golubchik ran an illegal gambling operation out of Trump Tower.  David Bogatin, a known Russian Mafia member, owned five condos in Trump Tower and Trump personally sold him the condos.  Trump had spent two decades cultivating nefarious Russian characters and they had cultivated him as a useful idiot in return.

Not all Russian oligarchs are beholden to Putin, but most of them are and most have dealt with Trump to some degree in the past.  The connections are mainly unsubstantiated theories, insinuations and innuendo, but where there is smoke there is usually fire.

The one thing in Trump’s favor is the fact that the concept of secret Trump dealings are almost laughable.  The man thrives on publicity.  If anything, he overstates his business successes.  Further, Trump has been quite open about breaking into the Russian market and those attempts came to nothing.  But then again, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s every businessman from China to New York was trying to get into Russia.  Think about this fact:  if Trump has kept his Russian dealings secret for this long, perhaps he is the man in which we want to entrust national security.

Few outsiders have successfully navigated Russian politics and their economy deftly.  If Trump did so and kept it a secret all these years, then he is a better businessman than anyone suspects.  However, there can be no doubt that he has cultivated relationships with various Russian officials, oligarchs, kelptocrats, legitimate businessmen and mobsters.  Other than perhaps China, Russia is a world class kleptocracy.

So what is Trump “hiding” in his tax returns?  The man is all about business success even in light of contradictory evidence.  He claims to be worth about $10 billion and has stated so on his FEC filings.  However, an FEC filing is one thing and a tax return quite another.  There is a picture of him signing one of his tax returns as the papers are stacked in front of him.  My best guess is that revealing to the world in the form of a tax return that he is worth less than the $10 billion he claims would be a huge blow to his over-inflated ego and persona.

After a forensic audit that would likely last years given the byzantine nature of his business dealings, they may turn up evidence of investments by shady Russian characters.  But then again most businesses likely have the same characters somewhere buried in their tax returns.

While Congress investigates Russian influence and contact between Russian ambassadors and Trump campaign operatives, they are chasing ghosts and leading an investigation that will lead down a rabbit hole of wasted money and bombastic headlines based on innuendo.  Instead, Trump should call the bluff of the Democrats, the Left and the mainstream media.  In exchange for his tax returns, Congress investigates the influence of George Soros in the American political process and his web of finances.  One supposes they may back off and let the business of government turn to more important matters than a handshake, phone call and off-chance meeting.