Trump’s Russia ties date to Soviet era
House Republicans have been quick to do nothing about recent revelations, while the president rants about the media.
President Donald Trump on Thursday unleashed a rambling tirade against the media in which he claimed recent leaks about Russian ties to his campaign and administration were “real” but news about them is “fake.”
Trump also claimed he has “nothing to do with Russia.”
“I have no deals there, I have nothing to do with it,” Trump told reporters.
There is, however, plenty of evidence of Trump cozying up to Russia, dating to Soviet times. These connections to Russia and other former Soviet countries have been widely publicized thanks to dogged work by reporters from a host of media organizations. Here is a timeline.
Trump has lunch in New York with Yuri Dubinin, Soviet ambassador to the United States. The following year, Trump travels to the Soviet Union at Dubinin’s invitation to explore sites for luxury hotels in Moscow and Leningrad. They were never built.
Trump tries to partner with U.S. tobacco executives to build a luxury condominium complex in Moscow.
Trump tries to erect a giant bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, donated by the Russian government, at his development on the Hudson river. Several U.S. cities refuse to take the statue, which was taller than the Statue of Liberty. It eventually found a home in Puerto Rico.
Trump licenses his name for a Trump Tower in Toronto, partnering with developer Talon International, run by Russian-Canadians Val Levitan and Alex Shnaider.
Trump signs a deal with New York-based developer Bayrock Group, founded by Soviet-born developer Tevfik Arif, to explore building a Trump Tower in Moscow. Arif, who hails from Kazakhstan, got his start working at the Soviet commerce and trade ministry. The Moscow deal fizzled when Russian investors become concerned about a book questioning Trump’s net worth. However, Trump continued to do business with Bayrock.
Trump licenses his name, in exchange for an 18 percent share of the profits, to the Trump SoHo hotel in New York. The hotel is a joint-venture between Bayrock and developer the Sapir Organization, which was founded by Soviet-born businessman Tamir Sapir.
Trump’s partners in a Panama project travel to Moscow to sell condos to Russian investors.
Trump tells CNN’s Larry King that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing a “great job.”
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. tells a real estate conference that he has traveled to Russia six times over the previous 18 months. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he said. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
USA Today reported last year that Trump spent decades “courting wealthy Russians to buy condos in his luxury high-rises and invest in his other real estate ventures.”
Also in 2008, Trump sells a mansion in Palm Beach for $95 million to Russian Oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Trump had bought the mansion at a bankruptcy auction four years earlier for $41.4 million.
A Kazakh family accused of laundering hundreds of millions of stolen dollars pays $3.1 million to buy three apartments in the Trump SoHo, which is partly owned by Trump. The laundering network allegedly was set up by Viktor Khrapunov, a former minister accused of construction and real estate fraud in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state.
Felix Sater, a Russian-born convicted racketeer and FBI informant who worked at Bayrock until 2008, testified that he represented Trump in Russia. He later said he spent 2010 working at the Trump Organization as Trump’s senior adviser. Daniel Ridloff worked for Bayrock for five years until 2010, when he joined the Trump Organization, spending eight months in “acquisitions and finance.”
Trump hails Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times, criticizing U.S. military intervention in foreign countries, as “a masterpiece for Russia and a disaster for the U.S.”
Trump brings the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow. Leading up to the event, he tweets, “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” While there, Trump signs an agreement to partner on a Moscow project with Aras Agalarov, an Azeri billionaire who has won several Russian state contracts. Putin has awarded Agalarov the Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.
Trump announces a five-star hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state considered one of the world’s most corrupt regimes. Trump’s partner on the deal, Anar Mammadov, is the billionaire son of Azerbaijan’s transportation minister, who has been accused of using his position to enrich his family and is suspected by U.S. diplomats of laundering money for Iran’s military. The Trump Organization said in December that it had canceled this project and was “taking steps” to do the same with another project in neighboring Georgia.
We have no idea if this is all there is, because Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking with 40 years of tradition.
What we do know is that Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and refused to criticize the Russian leader, and that U.S. intelligence officials say Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win.
Trump’s secretary of state pick was Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil when the company inked a $500 billion deal with Russia that was blocked by the Obama administration’s sanctions. Putin awarded Tillerson Russia’s “Order of Friendship” in 2013.
In recent days, the scandal has started to snowball:
- National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after the Washington Post revealed he had discussed Obama administration sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office. The Justice Department told the White House about Flynn on Jan. 26, but Flynn retained his position for nearly three weeks, until after the story broke. The day after the Post story was published, Trump played dumb when reporters asked him about it.
- Trump associates — including members of his campaign — had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year leading up to the November election, the New York Times reported.
- Senior administration officials have asked national security agencies how to improve relations with Russia, “asking what Washington could offer Moscow and what Trump should seek from Russian President Vladimir Putin,” the Associated Press reported.
- One official said Trump national security aides asked for information about “Polish incursions in Belarus,” according to the AP story. No such incursions have occurred, outside of Kremlin propaganda. Russia-Belarus relations have soured as Belarus’ longtime authoritarian ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, has begun to improve relations with the West. Some experts fear Putin could be planning a coup in Belarus, a former Soviet state that borders three European Union member countries.
In response to all this, Democrats and some GOP senators have called for investigations. The House Republican leadership, however, has done absolutely nothing and apparently couldn’t care less.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California, who served on the Trump transition team, said the big question is why Flynn’s phone calls to the Russian ambassador were recorded in the first place. House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz of Utah said the matter has “taken care of itself.” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin dismissed calls for further investigation.
It’s unclear at this point if any revelations would budge House leaders from protecting Trump as long as he backs their political agenda. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at least put it honestly.
“We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans,” he said. “I think it makes no sense.”
Rob Dennis is the co-director of “Under the Hood,” a documentary about life in Belarus.