Hoooo boy, what a goat rodeo of a week this was. I won’t rehash it in real time, your head is spinning too, but for those reading this in the future, just know this is the week in 2020 our fascist president contracted COVID. Obviously it’s a big deal, but I believe it shouldn’t and needn’t distract from all the other clusterfuckery we’re having to digest, including the fact that Trump paid $750 total in federal taxes recently.
We should discuss Trump’s tax returns, but I believe it’s what wasn’t in that New York Times article that provides far more compelling What the Fuckery: a bizarre tax deal Trump might have made with the federal government in the 1970’s, which of course wasn’t mentioned by our illustrious paper of record (gasp, feigned surprise!). An unnamed informant who was involved with Czechoslovakian intelligence back in the 1970s has alleged to Czech television and a German tabloid that Donald Trump had some sort of agreement with the United States government, starting in 1977, to be completely tax-exempt for thirty years. If true, it’s entirely possible that he is so reticent for Congress or the public to see his tax returns because they could be a state secret. It’s also possible this contributes to Democratic Congressman Richard Neal’s feckless reluctance to use ordinary channels to subpoena them. We don’t know. We have a maddeningly scant amount of information now, and the sad truth is that we may never know. Czechoslovakia was of course behind the Iron Curtain, and after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Czech intelligence burned many, many of their files in an effort to protect their informants’ identities. So much information is lost forever. Now any journalist or researcher studying that time period must rely on the memories of former Czech intelligence agents; unfortunately the few who are still alive are tight-lipped octogenarians.
It certainly begs the question: why would Czech intelligence even possess such a document? That story begins on February 20, 1949 in Zlín, Czechoslovakia. On that presumably cold, winter day, a baby daughter was born to Miloš Zelníček and his wife Marie Zelníčková. They named her Ivana. Ivana’s childhood was filled with school and ski lessons, her early adult years with collegiate studies and a green card marriage to an Austrian skiing friend who could help her obtain an Austrian passport, enabling her to travel freely without being labeled a defector. All of this was at least semi-normal and of no concern to Czech intelligence.
In the early to mid-1970s, Ivana managed to divorce her platonic husband and then moved to Canada to pursue modeling work. In 1976, her modeling troupe traveled to New York City, and that’s where she met the playboy son of a real estate tycoon: Donald John Trump. They immediately began a romance, then married a year later, in April 1977. The wedding was in the US, officiated by the Trump family’s pastor, Norman Vincent Peale. Their eldest son Don, Jr. was born in late December of 1977.
To recap, a Czech native, whose parents still live in Czechoslovakia, just married an American, in whose country the family plans to live. And not just any American, but a rich, famous, mob-connected, large business owning, social climbing American. NOW Czech intelligence is interested in Ivana.
It was apparently somewhat typical for the Czech Ministry of State Security, or the StB (their version of the CIA), to spy on Czech citizens who relocated to western countries. Not only did they want to learn more about western society, they also feared those transplants might be recruited or manipulated by western intelligence agencies. And so initially, it seems like the StB merely saw an opportunity to keep tabs and glean a broader understanding of American high society when Ivana Zelníčková married Donald Trump.
In order to maximize their spying more effectively, the StB targeted Ivana’s father Miloš. He and his wife flew to New York in 1977 to attend their daughter’s wedding. Why wouldn’t they? Normal parent stuff, right? But unbeknownst to the parents of the bride, the StB had monitored them the entire trip, and were waiting at the airport for their return flight. Miloš was interrogated and his luggage searched. It’s unclear what information, if any, he gave the agents during that airport search; but the few Czech ex-spies with knowledge of those files and are willing to talk (forty-plus years later) make clear that Miloš was forced into cooperation with the StB after they threatened to never let him fly out of the country again. They wire-tapped his transatlantic calls with his daughter, monitored their mail exchanges, and spied on the Trumps whenever they visited Czechoslovakia. Miloš was an official registered confidant, but never an agent. In fact, one of the StB spies who used him to monitor the Trumps, Jaraslav Jansa*, attended his funeral, standing a mere 100 meters from the Trumps.
It is unclear whether the Trumps knew they were being spied on. It is also unclear exactly what information was given. We don’t know if Ivana’s father spilled any real tea, or merely said the bare minimum to keep them off his back. What we do know, however, is that at that time, it was commonplace for the StB to share their files with the KGB. Just saying! All snark aside, perhaps the most important unknown here, is what the StB found, and what they might have passed on to the KGB.
*Jaraslav Jansa has, with much reluctance, given journalists a few tidbits of information, but he mostly stays quiet, because even though he is 76 years old and retired from spying for a country that literally no longer exists, he still fears for his life.
Cabbage Soup with Gruyère-Rye Toasts
- 6 slices rye bread, seeded or not (I prefer a boule rather than a sandwich loaf)
- Olive oil
- 2-3 oz diced pancetta
- 1 ½ lbs about 2 medium-large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium head green cabbage, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- ¼ cup white balsamic or white wine vinegar
- 6 cups chicken stock
- Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- 8 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
- Snipped chives, for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 200 F. Lay the bread slices on a baking sheet and let them dry out while you make the soup, but for no more than 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat a large Dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, then the pancetta. Stir frequently to crisp up the pancetta and render its fat. Once the pancetta is mostly crisped, add more olive oil if needed, then the sliced onions. Season to taste with kosher salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened. Add the cabbage, season again to taste with kosher salt, and cook, stirring to incorporate with the onions. Once the cabbage is lightly wilted, add the garlic, caraway seeds, sugar, and vinegar. Stir briefly to combine. Now add the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. This is when the magic happens. During this ten minutes the soup will go from sliced cabbage floating and taking up space in a pot to a cohesive soup. Once it’s done, add black pepper to taste. Then taste for seasoning. Add more salt and vinegar as needed.
- While the soup is simmering, make the toasts. Remove the bread from the oven (if you haven’t already) and cut each slice in half crosswise. Return the bread halves to the baking sheet, making sure each half is close to but not touching its other half. Liberally sprinkle the grated cheese on and around the bread. Broil until melted and bubbling.
- Remove the cheese toasts from the broiler and immediately ladle your soup into bowls. Set the bowls onto plates, then use a thin spatula to remove a half of toast PLUS the melted cheese surrounding it and carefully place it on top of the soup. Lift up the other half of that toast, plus all the melted cheese surrounding it and place it on the plate. This way, you can place another piece of cheese toast on your soup when you’re only halfway through but have eaten the entire first piece.