A Hero's Legacy + The Backstory Regarding Trump Campaign Corruption
August 9, 2017 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Beginning just after the 17 minute mark,a remarkable and succinct interview with Bill Browder, author of the book Red Notice, about the murder of his friend and colleague Sergei Magnitsky. If you've been looking to understand this whole "Russia thing" and why meetings about Russian adoptions and why abolishing the Magnitsky Act is so damn important to Putin, invest 30 minutes in this interview. It's the backstory missing from most coverage.
posted by jbenben (23 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
The interview is super informative despite the sentence I mangled on the front page. I posted this from my phone, apologies.
posted by jbenben at 8:47 PM on August 9, 2017

"Strangely" a google search for interviews with Bill Broward isn't returning any (for me, at least). I heard him talking on the radio, and it was seriously important. He pointed out that Putin is the wealthiest person in the world, and how that came about.

I also heard (or read, I've a hopeless memory) that the Mooch's outburst was designed to deflect attention from Broward's testimony to one of the investigating panels.
posted by anadem at 8:49 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it should be 'Bill Browder' instead of 'Bill Broward'. He was on Planet Money last month and sounds like an amazing person who cared about his talented, dogged friend.

Thank you! I will be listening to this interview during my morning commute.
posted by Alison at 9:08 PM on August 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Strangely" a google search for interviews with Bill Broward isn't returning any (for me, at least).

Huh. I just tried searching interviws with him, same here.

The reason I posted this was because the story is so simple and linear, I have no idea why this information is not mentioned every time anything to do with Russia and Trump is referred to in the news. I had the wrong idea that whatever propelled the Magnitsky Act into being, it was fairly low stakes. Plus, I thought whoever Magnitsky was, what happened to him was probably similar to other Russian political assassinations. In fact, the Magnitsky Act gives the US the power to positively cripple Putin personally if it is used to full purpose, and Segei Magnitsky was a fucking hero. If not for Magnitsky's courage and perseverance in the face of extreme corruption and his resulting death, we might not now have the key to discerning and (hopefully) rectifying the government corruption and outrageous financial crimes that gave Russia Putin, and us Donald Trump.
posted by jbenben at 9:09 PM on August 9, 2017 [15 favorites]

Mod note: Fixed interviewee's name, carry on.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2017

Is there a transcript or a written summary?
posted by schadenfrau at 9:31 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

schadenfrau, I couldn't find one, but here are a couple of related reads:

Bill Browder's Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (The Atlantic): “I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.

Businessman Paints Terrifying And Complex Picture Of Putin's Russia
(NPR, Miles Parks, summary of testimony)

The Russians Killed My Lawyer. This Is How I Got Congress to Avenge Him. How one man convinced Washington to care about human rights in Putin’s Russia. (Politico, 2015)
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:57 PM on August 9, 2017 [21 favorites]

Bill Browder's Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (The Atlantic)

In addition to this prepared text version, the video/live version includes the rounds of Senators' questions and more details of Browder's take on Russia's role in current events. (I don't have the exact link but you can search for "Browder Senate testimony FARA" etc.)

For me, this was the thing that made a bunch of pieces fit. The adoptions pretext, Putin's motives, what Russia hoped to gain from the US Prez candidates, the back history among the cast of characters...
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 10:09 PM on August 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Putin is the wealthiest person in the world

This is actually not true, and an important talking point when speaking with anyone who is confused about "all the Russia stuff".

You simply need to ask "Who is the richest person in the world?" and "Who is the richest person in the world if the Magnitsky Act is repealed?".

Putin's personal, looted, wealth is largely tied-up and inaccessible until the USA and UK remove sanctions.
posted by Anoplura at 11:20 PM on August 9, 2017 [10 favorites]

Bill Browder was a guest on the Trumpcast podcast where he began with an amusing family anecdote. His grandfather Earl Browder ran for president twice as head of the Communist Party USA. As an act of teenaged rebellion he decided to be a capitalist and studied economics and earned an MBA. When the Berlin wall fell he decided that if his family were the biggest communists in the US then he'd become the biggest capitalist in the former Soviet Union. That's the path that led him to found Hermitage Capital Management which was at one time the largest foreign investor in Russia.
posted by peeedro at 11:27 PM on August 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

despite the sentence I mangled on the front page

'Trump Campaign Corruption - Beginning just after the 17 minute mark'

Is how it scanned at first glance. Then I thought, surely they mean 17 seconds.
posted by adept256 at 11:51 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

How Russia-gate Met the Magnitsky Myth (by Robert Parry, Consortium News, July 13, 2017)

"Near the center of the current furor over Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 is a documentary that almost no one in the West has been allowed to see, a film that flips the script on the story of the late Sergei Magnitsky and his employer, hedge-fund operator William Browder."
posted by Auden at 12:12 AM on August 10, 2017

"Has been allowed to see"?

It's too bad there's no way to post video on the internet, right?
posted by flaterik at 12:38 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Look, I'll save everyone the trouble of checking the commentary on that consortiumnews article: Browder is tax-dodging hedge fund scum! Also Hillary Clinton is somehow involved! And lastly Russia's problems are all the fault of Jews!
posted by um at 12:56 AM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

It just occurred to me - although I'm sure smarter people than I already noticed - that hatred of Clinton is common cause for both extreme left and right. Anti-semitism isn't normally an issue one associates with the left, whilst anti-capitalist rhetoric isn't something we'd expect from the right. But both sides are in total agreement about Clinton.
posted by um at 1:06 AM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Misogyny is a helluva drug.
posted by Sublimity at 3:13 AM on August 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

People calling things a "myth" has become, for me, a tell that they are full of shit
posted by thelonius at 3:54 AM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

See also: Jill Stein, who led the leftward flank of the campaign to keep Clinton out of the Whitehouse. And Julian Assange, who straddles anti-American Left and alt-right.
posted by acb at 4:28 AM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think Browder's story is the whole story or the only story (and I don't think he's claiming it to be). It is one strand in a tangled mess that helps to explain a significant chunk of the big picture.

People can read the articles and watch the testimony and decide for themselves how much of it to believe. And do the same for his detractors. It's like what happened with the Comey hearings--hear different sides and decide which parts to believe.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 4:36 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The University of Chicago Magazine was on this one back in 2013! Interesting to see the shape of events before the Kremlin ate the White House.
posted by homerica at 4:43 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Consortium News piece boils down to saying that there exists a film that is devastating to Browder's credibility, testimony, and motivations leading to the Magnitsky Act, but that this film cannot be shown because reasons. It is not possible to simultaneously maintain a prudent skepticism with regards to Browder at the same time as embracing the flimsiest counter-narrative and expect to be taken seriously.
posted by um at 5:16 AM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

"I don't think Browder's story is the whole story or the only story (and I don't think he's claiming it to be). It is one strand in a tangled mess that helps to explain a significant chunk of the big picture."


It wasn't hard to read between the lines when Browder refers to either Secretary of State Clinton or John Kerry - rising to certain heights within Washington means being beholden to other concerns and protecting those interests, and that's that.

What I appreciate this mess for most is that everyone is getting to see how the sausage is made. Hopefully, now we get to have more factually accurate discussions about how our government works today vs. how it needs to work if it is to do more than create and manage debt slaves. I don't know how to be any plainer about it. There are more of us than there are of them, for government and democracy to work in our interests we must get educated + get involved. It's not too late.

I remember when major campaign finance reform failed in the 90's, it was so disappointing and everyone just kinda sucked it up as "the way things are." Then, truly obscene amounts of money started flowing to the purpose of shaping public policy and any perceptions of those policies. There's discussion in this thread about how Browder's story is being discredited, or more importantly that some types of people believe the spin discrediting his testimony. Hey! That's OK! We've all been socially engineered at this point, none of us have the full picture! They're wrong, we are all wrong. This is (will be, just wait) such an exceptional conflagration, beyond previous political scandals, because the inherent corruption of the system itself is being exposed on the largest scale possible. It all boils down to the point that we put our faith and our tax dollars into institutions which do not support us. Now that we all know (or will soon know) this basic fact about our government institutions, what will we do about it?
posted by jbenben at 6:19 AM on August 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Back in university in the late 90s, I read several of the annual "State of the World" books out out by the WorldWatch Institute. I highly recommend them. These included articles, often on a central theme, by leading experts around the world. Eg. Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, member of The Elders group founded by Nelson Mandela) wrote an article that I may be getting mixed up with other articles from the same edition, but the gist of which has stuck with me.

The theme was new threats to democracy, sustainability, and world peace at the end of the 90s and approaching the new millenium. An increase in the global small arms trade, fueling internal conflicts eg. in states with lots of natural resources to exploit and weak, damaged political and cultural institutions in the aftermath of semi-healthy colonial rule and leading to large numbers of internally displaced or regional refugees was one of the risks identified.

That trade was enabled by weakening rules around international finance and flow of money, though (which, if I'm remembering correctly, is what Mary Robinson was writing about). Countries used to have tighter regulations around transferring money and capital across national borders, largely to prevent money laundering by organized crime, partly as part of a general regulatory system that also included checks against monopolies and other harmful business and banking/finance practices domestically (the sort that were enacted to prevent a repeat of the Great Depression). In the 90s, though, a lot of those rules were relaxed - at the behest of multinational corporations who wanted to avoid taxes, rich private citizens who wanted to avoid paying taxes, and neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank who pushed a (now debunked) program of domestic austerity and open borders and minimal regulation for foreign investment in exchange for the financial assistance that many post-colonial countries trying to rebuild or sustain themselves after being looted during the colonial era desparately needed.

This, of course, helped organized crime as well as a new generation of (more subtle, less cartoonish) dictators and repressive regimes. It helped fuel local and regional conflicts through increased availability of both funds and small arms as mentioned above. Relaxation of rules around banking, investing, and campaign finance in countries like the US were the domestic end of this same program. As the US is finally seeing or experiencing more clearly, those international banking and finance rules were actually quite important in preventing political corruption, and also in preventing the sort of economic corruption and instability that brought us the 2008 financial collapse. That is, weakened financial regulations are a thread running through most of the major political and economic problems we've had since then.

The Magnitsky Act seems to be a throwback to the old, pre-90s days of rules on international banking and finance. And we can see that it really is effective at preventing corruption and legalized looting, else Putin and co wouldn't be so worried about it! Many politicians seem to be tying themselves in knots trying to address political and economic corruption perpetrated by Putin and Russian oligarchs without calling the entire neoliberal deregulation project into question. And I'm totally cool with starting with Putin and Russia, since it provides a useful illustration of the larger issues that will be helpful I think in helping people understand issues around financial regulations that can be a bit arcane- and complicated-seeming. I hope that, as with the health care debate where opposition to the repeal of the ACA led to a growing push for single payer, we can use the Russia scandal to open up a national dialogue on finance reform (campaign-, international-, and domestic). A Universal Magnitsky Act, as it were!
posted by eviemath at 2:17 PM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

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