I’ve been tracking the trouble #painting has been getting itself into for a while now. I’ve always imagined sitting down and sorting them out some day, when there weren’t pandemics or multinational criminal enterprises masquerading as governments running amok. Of course, #painting didn’t want to wait.
In Volume 5 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s bipartisan report released today [pp. 373-78], paintings turn up at the center of the secret meetings between the Trump family and campaign and Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 presidential election. In June 2016, the day after Emin and Aras Agaralov, a pop singer and his real estate oligarch father, respectively, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower, they gave a giant painting to Trump as a birthday present, with a handwritten note attached. Four days later, on Trump’s birthday, the Washington Post reported that the DNC servers had been hacked; Guccifer 2.0, the Russian operative working with Roger Stone to release the stolen DNC files, dropped Hillary Clinton’s opposition research on Trump the next day. Two days after that, Trump sent the Agalarovs a note thanking them for the gift, and the best birthday ever.
This much has been known since 2018, when Democratic senators released an interim investigation into the Trump Tower meeting. The latest report documents the Agalarov’s closer connections to Russian intelligence; the voluminous post-meeting communications between the Russians and the Trumps to conceal and coordinate their activities; and the details of the paintings themselves. This blog post will mostly concern itself with the latter.
Roman Beniaminov and Jason Tropea, high school friends and employees of Emin Agalarov in northern New Jersey, said that three paintings, a triptych, in a large crate “four or five feet tall” were chosen by Emin and flown to the US as checked baggage. The crate was so big, the two yahoos meeting it couldn’t fit it in their car, and had to rent a truck to take it home. “We’ve never flown paintings in before,” Tropea testified to the Committee.
Which is wild, because Tropea and Beniaminov share an office in NJ with an Agalarov business called Russian Art Mall, Inc.* and the Agalarovs’ money launderer, who attended the Trump Tower meeting. Beniaminov reportedly said the paintings were worth $100,000. Aras Agaralov instructed Beniaminov and Rob Goldstone, a publicist he’d used to set up the Trump Tower meeting, to deliver one of the three paintings to Trump Tower, and to hold the other two for Trump’s next two birthdays. [They have not, as yet, been delivered.]
So here we literally have a triptych of paintings being delivered at considerable logistical effort, and with great speed, in the time between a crucial collusion meeting, and the first release of hacked documents–and by literally the same people.
Forget the idea that these paintings are worth $100,000. What the AF are they? How are they a triptych? A protestor in a Rolling Stones sweater holding a mic in front of a stage? One protestor comforting another next to a banner for [World Revolution] For Real Democracy? The note on the back, is signed, “Your friends in Moscow, Emin and Aras.” Or is that “your friends in Moscow AND Emin and Aras?
The other, ungifted two seem to be one painting chopped in half, with women marching in front of…the Cuban, Bulgarian, and Czech flags? Is this a parade celebrating the Moscow-led International Investment Bank?
Is this all some elaborate opsec to seal the deal? Gift-giving pantomime to cover for the real gift that was coming via Wikileaks? Are they like giant bond coupons waiting to be redeemed, or game pieces to be won? Are the women depicted the underage girls Trump assaulted on Putin’s tape? It this how kompromat is done these days? Or just treason?
* As intrigued as I am by the possibility of Trump selling out his country to spies running a schlock social realist painting conglomerate, it’s possible that Russian Art Mall is just a low-grade money laundering front; it’s also likely, frankly, that it is just the English-cool name of a mall project in Russia.
Previously, only somewhat related: Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017