ICYMI: Trump’s Russian Business Ties and Campaign Were Inextricably Linked
March 19, 2018
Special Counsel Mueller has asked for Trump’s business records in his investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia – a move that Trump once said could be a “red line” for him. While Trump and his allies will argue that his business has nothing to do with his presidential campaign, the truth is that the two are inextricably linked. For decades, Donald Trump’s businesses have had deep financial ties to high-powered Russians close to the Kremlin, and we know his efforts to pursue business in Moscow continued well into the campaign. See for yourself:
By Ben Protess, Mike McIntire, Steve Eder and Jesse Drucker
March 17, 2018
The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has expanded to include President Trump’s family business, with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, subpoenaing the Trump Organization for documents related to Russia.
For more than 30 years, Mr. Trump has repeatedly sought to conduct business in Russia. He traveled to Moscow in 1987 to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have met with Russian developers and government officials on multiple occasions in search of joint ventures.
But the company says nothing has come of it. Mr. Trump tweeted in January last year, shortly before his inauguration: “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
So what about the Trump Organization’s Russian connections might be of interest to Mr. Mueller?
There Was a Moscow Hotel Deal in the Works During the Campaign
Perhaps the closest Mr. Trump came to launching a real estate project in Russia was during the presidential campaign, when he signed a letter of intent in late 2015 for a Trump hotel to be built in Moscow. Ultimately, the deal never materialized.
In email exchanges with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, a Russian émigré who had previously helped develop Trump SoHo in New York, talked about securing financing for the Moscow project from VTB, a major state-owned Russian bank under American sanctions. He also mused about how the deal, if supported by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would “fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics.”
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote in one of the emails.
Mr. Trump signed the letter of intent with Andrey Rozov, a developer of retail and residential projects in the Moscow region. If the deal went through, Mr. Trump would receive a $4 million upfront fee in exchange for licensing his name, and his company would manage the completed hotel.
By January 2016, the project seemed to have stalled. At one point, without success, Mr. Cohen emailed an aide to Mr. Putin seeking help jump-starting it. There is no evidence the Kremlin provided any assistance for the project.
The Trump Organization has said that it received no government approvals or financing and that the effort was abandoned in early 2016.
Mr. Trump Took Miss Universe to Moscow and ‘Met the Top People’
Mr. Trump’s business opportunities in Russia got little traction until he took the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.
A father-son pair of real estate developers, Aras and Emin Agalarov, paid nearly $20 million to license the Miss Universe name, bringing the contest to their Crocus City Hall in Moscow. As an owner of the pageant, Mr. Trump flew to Russia in November 2013 to participate. He became friendly with his partners, who were known to have been helpful to the Kremlin.
The visit left an impression on Mr. Trump and had him contemplating future endeavors with the Agalarovs.
“I had a great weekend with you and your family,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter in a message to Aras Agalarov. “You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next,” he wrote, before referring to Mr. Agalarov’s son, a pop star: “EMIN was WOW!”
While the plans for the tower were apparently shelved during the campaign, Mr. Trump and the Agalarovs maintained their friendship.
In June 2016, a publicist for Emin Agalarov requested that Donald Trump Jr. meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. That meeting, at Trump Tower in New York, first reported by The New York Times last July, included other campaign officials and has been the subject of considerable scrutiny.
After the disclosure of the meeting, the president downplayed his ties to the Agalarovs in an interview with The Times. But in a September 2015 interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” he had made the Miss Universe pageant seem far more important.
“I called it my weekend in Moscow,” Mr. Trump said. “I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”