Donald Trump just released tweets saying that he has no investments in Russia and that the issue is a Democratic plot to divert attention from the emails released by hackers. The response on Twitter has been overwhelmingly “But what investments does Russia have in you?” Here’s what I’ve been able to pull out of articles on his financial dealings with Russia. There isn’t a lot. If you find more, let me know!
Trump’s statements on his finances are not to be believed, nor those by any member of his family or campaign staff. Various organizations have made estimates; for example, according to a Bloomberg report, Trump is wealthy in property, not so much in cash.
Articles by Franklin Foer in Slate and by Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum un the Washington Post describe some of Trump’s business dealings in Russia. As in my previous Trump and Russia post, I am trying to cut through descriptive material and inference to basic facts.
In the mid-2000s, Trump joined with the Bayrock Group and the Sapir Organization to purchase a property that he named Trump SoHo. The founder of Bayrock, Tevfik Arif, is a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan. Trump also worked with a Bayrock associate, Felix H. Sater, a Russian immigrant to the United States. The founder of the Sapir Organization, Tamir Sapir, is from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Sater had been involved in stock manipulation with Mafia and Russian criminals and had been an FBI informant. Other members of the Bayrock Group have been involved in questionable dealings, some involving Russian investment. Although Trump’s involvement with Sater included a deal with Bayrock for a project in Moscow, a visit by Donald Jr. and Ivanka to Moscow, and Sater’s testifying for Trump in a libel suit, when the Trump SoHo project was accused of fraud in 2013, Trump said he hardly knew Sater.
Trump’s partners on a Panama project traveled to Moscow in 2006 to sell condos to Russian investors, according to litigation filed in Florida. Trump also sold a mansion in Palm Beach in 2008 for $95 million to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, according to property records. Trump had purchased the mansion at a bankruptcy auction less than four years earlier for $41.4 million, records show.
Some of the quotes that are cited as indicating Trump interest or more in Russia come from that Washington Post article:
Donald Jr., in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump himself in 2007: “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.” “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
But later Donald Jr. said “As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world. It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who. . . . It really is a scary place.”
That article mentions the possibility of interactions between Trump and Aras Agalarov, including bringing the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in November 2013 and a putative agreement to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump has wanted to build a Trump Tower in Moscow since 1987, but that has never happened. Trump tweeted an invitation to Putin to attend the Miss Universe show, but Putin did not show up and sent Trump a gift instead.
Agalarov is an Azeri-born real estate developer who has received several contracts for state-funded construction projects, an indication of Putin’s favor. Top photo: Trump and Agalarov father and son.
A New York Times article cited by Foer indicates wariness on the part of many banks to lend Trump. Foer also enumerates some of the projects Trump has tried to start in Russia, the promotion of which has included many visits there.
It appears that Trump has an interest in extending his building empire to Russia but hasn’t been successful. He has partnered with some dicey firms with connections in Russia and some of the nearby states, but none of those seem to be close to Putin. The Agaralov connection seems to be the closest, but that is recent and seems not to be close. But, of course, this is only a sampling of Trump’s business activity. Most of this information is from public lawsuit releases. The rest of Trump’s dealings are private. There is no way to tell how many of them may be with Russian interests. That is why Trump must release his tax returns, just as other presidential candidates have done. It would also be highly desirable for reporters to follow the money.
Best articles so far on DNC hacking:
Russian hackers appear to have targeted a DNC researcher’s email after she started researching Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager.
Here’s another person sifting Trumpiana. A listing of Trump’s policy positions. All over the map, as you might expect.