By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 12, 2017
Last evening, Donald Trump was interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt on the growing controversy surrounding Trump’s motivations in firing the Director of the FBI, James Comey. Excerpts from the interview have been widely carried on numerous media channels.
In one particularly noteworthy moment, Holt queried Trump on his money ties to Russia with Trump responding that he had just given Republican Senator Lindsey Graham a letter confirming that he has no investments in Russia. The exchange between Holt and Trump went as follows:
Holt: Can you tell us whether you, your family, your businesses, your surrogates have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian individuals or institutions?
Trump: In fact, I just sent a letter to Lindsey Graham from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country — a tremendous highly rated law firm — that I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia. None whatsoever.
I don’t have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don’t have property in Russia and I am ah, in very, I mean I’m in total compliance in every way. Now I have to tell you, I file documents, hundreds of pages worth of documents, with the Federal Elections Bureau, everybody’s seen them. I’ve built a great company. But I’m not involved with Russia. I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe Pageant which I owned for quite awhile. I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that I have nothing to do with Russia.” [The Miss Universe Pageant took place in Moscow in 2013 — four years ago.]
There are multiple problems with Trump’s response to Holt, major among them being that Trump did not answer the question Holt asked. Holt was not asking if Trump owned properties located in Russia, he asked if Trump, his family, his businesses, or his surrogates “have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian individuals or institutions.” Trump was silent on that critically important subject.
There has been growing media attention to the interview that Donald Trump Jr. (Trump’s son and a key manager of his real estate empire) gave to Hazel Heyer in September 2008. In that interview, Trump’s son had this to say about Russian money flowing into the U.S. assets of the Trump empire:
“And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.”
In other words, Trump not owning property in Russia is beside the point if the Russian oligarchs are stashing their cash in Trump properties in Dubai and Manhattan.
In March of this year, Oren Dorell, an investigative reporter for USA Today, provided a detailed roadmap of Russian money flooding into Trump condo buildings across the U.S., including referencing Federal indictments that provided the specific details. Dorell reported the following:
“To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA Today review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.”
The article quotes Ken McCallion, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, who states that Trump’s SoHo project “was largely financed by illegally obtained cash from Russia and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers.”
McCallion goes on to tell the newspaper that he has “spent years looking into the Trump Organization and has arrived at the following conclusion: “The FBI is always concerned if public officials can be blackmailed,” McCallion said. “It’s Russian-laundered money from people who operate under the good graces of President Putin. If these people pull the plug on the Trump Organization, it would go down pretty quickly.”
Given the level of detail and the naming of names in the USA Today investigation, it’s not difficult to understand why a Grand Jury has been convened by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia and why the Director of the FBI has been abruptly sacked by President Donald Trump.