Seth Hettena is an acclaimed award winning investigative journalist who has taken time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his most recent book, “Trump/Russia: A Definitive History”. You can follow him on Twitter, @seth_hettena.
Thank you Mr. Hettena for taking the time out of your schedule to answer a few questions. Your latest book, “Trump/Russia: A Definitive History” was most definitely a very analytical and meticulously well researched book which helps the reader better understand the various characters and individuals that have crossed Donald Trump’s life from past to present. I think most people do not understand how deep and how far back these ties and connections go. What made you decide to undergo this project and to spend the countless hours doing interviews and research in order to write this one of a kind book?
Well, it’s a privilege to write a book like this and to make a contribution to one of the most important issues of this presidency — and perhaps of any presidency in recent memory. The book started as a blog. Russia was a theme running through the 2016 election, of course, and after Trump’s victory, I just started writing my thoughts down to try and understand how a man like Donald Trump could be connected to Russia. I like writing and publishing on the Web because having an audience helps keep me intellectually honest, but I was just writing for myself and didn’t know if anybody would be interested. People were interested and sometime last summer, a book agent contacted me and suggested I do a book.
IT’S a privilege to write a book like this and to make a contribution to one of the most important issues of this presidency – and perhaps of any presidency in recent memory
What about your life background growing up and your early career in journalism do you think might have compelled you to take such a passionate interest in both investigative journalism and specifically in your book on the long-lasting relationships and connections between Donald Trump and other individuals associated with first the Soviet Union and then modern day Russia?
I’ve always loved investigative journalism. It’s why I got into journalism in the first place. It’s a vocation that is part exploration and discovery. At its best, it can change the way we know and understand our world. In a sense, all journalism should be investigative and should produce stories that matter. Otherwise, what’s the point? This is my second book and I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re going to write a book, make sure it’s a project that will interest you for a long time. I’ve always gravitated toward espionage. The Trump-Russia story and its twin elements of organized crime and espionage was an incredible set of worlds to explore and an amazing story to uncover.
In your book, you quote individuals whom have had a long-lasting relationship with either Donald Trump or to those close to him. These individuals range from those with ties to the Russian Mafiya (your spelling) to individuals associated with U.S. law enforcement and U.S. intelligence. Was it relatively easy or difficult for you to get access to the individuals in your book whom helped provide you with unique access in terms of both factual and contextual information?
i used the freedom of information act and interviews with retired fbi agents
There’s a remarkable amount of information available in the public record about Trump’s connections to Russian organized crime. His connections with Felix Sater, for example, were explored in depth years ago. There were hints of other connections such as his links to Vyacheslav Ivankov, the Russian vor who hung out in Trump Tower and at the Taj Mahal in 1990s. I used the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with retired FBI agents to flesh out that story. In the case of Michael Cohen and his ties to organized crime and other criminals like David Bogatin, who bought a block of Trump Tower apartments with laundered money, I got lucky. I tapped into a network of former federal investigators and ex-cops who had investigated Russian organized crime in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s one of those moments you hope for as a journalist. They had a story they wanted to tell. They had come across Trump in their investigations and they were just waiting for the phone to ring.
I found your background quite interesting and intriguing. Many people may not know, but your family roots originated from Baghdad as Baghdadi Jews. It is obvious that you love researching things meticulously into fine weaves of grain and detail. Where do you think that this motivation and drive originated and sired?
I love research and documents. Putting stories together is, for me, a giant puzzle that I am trying to solve. My exploration of my family history was a way of getting to know myself and uncovering new things to which I had a personal connection.
Felix Sater is quite an interesting character in terms of both his life story from a one-time con man to an intelligence asset that purportedly saved lives and provided countless of invaluable information to our country. Based on your knowledge and background of your research, do you think that he is a source of valuable information and/or Intel to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
Felix Sater certainly is an amazing person. He’s managed to live several lives in the space of one. He did perform a valuable service for this country when he risked his life as an undercover intelligence asset. But he’s not black-and-white. He is an operator and while he helped the U.S. government, he enriched himself and his friends. And I’m still learning more and more about him. (Stay tuned!) He certainly could have provided information about Donald Trump and his Russian organized crime ties. Whether he did or not, I don’t know. Robert Mueller runs the tightest of ships.
Thank you for the time that you have spent in answering some of my questions. I would like to finish by asking you as to what readers should know as to why your book is unique as a book on Donald Trump compared to other Donald Trump related books?
I wrote my book to explain why Russia was such a theme in Trump’s life and his presidency. If you want to understand what’s happening today in Washington, you have to go back and understand how these relationships began. Most Trump books focus on the campaign. But the story of Trump and Russia is much older and deeper and that’s what my book is about.