Trump’s entanglements with Russia are becoming more and more apparent – despite his ongoing attempts to deny any involvement with the Kremlin. The big story last week was about allegations that Russian hackers were responsible for the release of more than 19,000 DNC emails one the eve of the Philadelphia convention.
This has been causing some major embarrassment for the Democratic Party, leading to charges that Putin is attempting to influence the U.S. election in favor of Trump. In the wake of that event, Trump made a suggestion that the Russians attempt to locate 33,000 emails that disappeared from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Later, he backtracked and insisted that he was “being sarcastic.”
Donald Trump continues to deny that he has any involvements or interest in Russia, political or otherwise – but his record and even his own words tell a different story. In fact, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Donald Trump has seen the new, hyper-capitalistic Russian successor state as a prime market for his business interests.
One of his business associates in Russia is a gentleman named Aras Agalarov, a real estate magnate with a current net worth of $1.28 billion (USD). Agalarov is the head of a real estate development company known as Crocus Inter, which owns and operates four Moscow shopping malls. That company sponsored Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, when the event was held in Moscow. According to Trump, his experiences in presenting the pageant that year makes him an expert on Russia.
According to a story published in the U.K. Daily Mail and other media sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to meet with Trump. The Kremlin set up a meeting, but “The Donald” missed the appointment, so it didn’t happen. According to the Daily Mail, Trump was busy attending a birthday celebration for 95-year-old evangelist Billy Graham and wound up taking a later flight. Meanwhile, Putin was unable to reschedule with Trump due to a meeting with Dutch monarch King Willem-Alexander. Instead, Putin sent Agalarov’s daughter, Sheyla, to New York City in order to personally deliver a gift and a note to Trump.
Last week, Trump said to reporters,
“I have nothing to do with Putin…I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.”
But two years ago, back in 2014, Trump said something entirely different:
“I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.”
So, which is it, Donald?
It gets better. Almost a decade ago, Trump was more than a bit anxious over his Russian business prospects, as he met with prominent business leaders in that country, making plans to build a resort hotel in Moscow. In 2007, he said:
“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia…Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”
Last week, he changed that tune altogether, saying:
“I have nothing to do with Russia.”
Well-heeled members of the former Soviet republic’s new oligarchy have purchased condos built by Trump’s company. They number among his business associates in many of his real estate development deals.
One of the companies involved in those deals is the Bayrock Group, the managing director of which was one Russian-born Felix Sater – who recently was convicted for the part he played in a $40 million stock fraud scheme. According to an investigation by the U.K. Daily Telegraph, Sater had ties to a Russian organized crime syndicate as well. Sater also has a temper; in 1991, he was charged with assault for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass and served time in jail.
And what is Trump’s connection with Sater? In April 2007, “the Donald” signed off on a deal investing $50 million in Sater’s company. A few weeks after that deal was signed, it was revised and rewritten as a loan. The Telegraph obtained copies of the documents and had them examined by tax attorneys and accountants. Their conclusion: the deal was intended to deprive the United States government of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.
No wonder Donald Trump has been saying,
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I’m all for it.”
Now, of course, he’s denying any financial interests or connections with Russia.
Last Thursday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said his organization may be releasing even more hacked emails, which allegedly were obtained from Russian sources. If that is true and the emails do come out, it would bring up more questions about Trump’s business ties to Russia.
Of course, Trump could clear all of this up very quickly by simply releasing his tax returns, as Presidential candidates usually do. But so far, Trump is refusing to do that – at least, the ones that aren’t currently being audited by the I.R.S.. That’s his excuse: he’s being audited. No surprise there, but it’s an excuse that won’t fly: Richard Nixon tax released his returns during his campaign, despite being audited at the time.
On Saturday in an interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos, Trump essentially admitted that if he were to release his tax records, he would lose the election. Referring to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, he said:
“[Romney’s tax returns] made him look so bad…I think he lost because of a couple of really minor items in tax return where he did nothing wrong.” But he assured Stephanopoulos that “When I’m finished with the audit, I’ll do it.”
Chances are, the audit won’t be done before the election. In the meantime, we’re wondering just what Trump is hiding – and what those tax returns would reveal about his Russian business connections.