NEW: Eric Trump: “a lot of Russians” buying Trump SoHo

605

Eric Trump told the Russian publication Home Overseas that the “bulk of buyers” in Trump SoHo were “foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians.”

He also added that the Trump Organization was expecting Russian buyers in its planned tower on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. “We very much count on good demand from the Russians,” he said.

I haven’t seen these comments reported anywhere else before.

The comments from Eric Trump come in an article titled, “Luxury is Beyond Time,” on the website of the Russian publication. Although undated, it appears that he made the remarks around 2007-2008. Construction on the Dubai tower was halted at the end of 2008 as the financial crisis put the squeeze on the heavily-indebted Arab emirate.

Eric Trump’s comments in Home Overseas underscores what his brother Don Jr told eTurboNews in 2008: “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.”

Here is the full quote from Eric Trump:

In your projects, do you focus on domestic demand or are you looking for foreign investors? 

It depends on the particular project. So, in the New York hotel-condominium Trump SoHo the bulk of buyers are foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians. The fact is that New York is one of the centers of international business and tourism, many foreigners often come here and want to have real estate. Quite a different situation in Chicago, where most buyers are from America.
Another example – a golf resort in Scotland is interesting both to local golf lovers, and to Americans who want to play in European fields. Also in the case of the Dubai project, our Palm Jumeirah tower will certainly attract not only investors from the Gulf countries, but also Europeans, Americans, and representatives of developed Asian states. We very much count on good demand from the Russians.

The Trump Organization’s connections with Russia in the scandal-plagued Trump SoHo project have been exhaustively covered.

I’ve written before about how Dubai was a favorite destination for Russian criminals and international money lauderers here.

The Useful Idiots of the Left

cohenvdh2I’ve pointed out the useful idiots of the American right before like David Keene of The Washington Times and others. But Putin uses people who are useful to him, regardless of political ideology, and there are useful idiots on the American left as well.

Two that come to mind are Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, and her husband, Stephen F. Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU and a contributing editor to the magazine his wife edits.

On Aug. 9, The Nation published a lengthy “expose” that concluded that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t hacked by Russia or anyone else, as our intelligence communities tell us.  The article, titled “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack,” is dense, impenetrable, and ill-informed.  It takes author Patrick Lawrence 4,000 words to say that the DNC emails were downloaded at speeds faster than the internet could handle. Before that we are doused with Lawrence’s rhetorical sewage:

Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available.

“Absence of any credible evidence” — File that one away for later.

This article was quickly debunked. And it was ridiculed by Sam Biddle of the Intercept who found something interesting in Lawrence’s Twitter timeline:

Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel ordered a review of this article, which is the latest in a string of Russia-related embarrassments for The Nation, a still highly-regarded left-leaning publication that is in danger of disappearing into the loony fringe.  Things have gotten so bad that journalists at the magazine complained about the magazine’s Russia coverage in a letter to vanden Heuvel in June.  Here’s an excerpt from a longer version quoted in this column in The Washington Post:

As longtime associates of The Nation, we are deeply concerned that by making these editorial emphases and by likening calls for investigations into the Russia connection to “red baiting,” the magazine is not only playing into the hands of the Trump administration, but doing a dishonor to its best traditions. We have noted, too, with dismay, that Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter and other far-right adversaries have taken comfort in the writings of other Nation writers on the current crisis.

Ouch. The Nation being cited by Ann Coulter. Other Nation articles suggest that leaks pose a greater danger to U.S. national security than Trump himself. Odd choice for a magazine that exhorts its readers to the barricades with slogans like “Resist. Organize. Defend Freedom.”

[Update: Here is the Nation’s DNC article being used as Russian propaganda]

I don’t know how it happened but somewhere along the way Vandel Heuvel and her husband Stephen F. Cohen became Putin’s useful idiots. And I mean that in the same sense as Lenin did when he used it to describe liberals and Social Democrats who helped advance the Communist cause outside the Soviet Union.

Recall that “absence of any credible evidence” phrase in the article I noted above? It’s is a frequent refrain of Stephen F. Cohen, who uses it to shoot down all criticism of Putin.

The U.S. community’s findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign into the 2016 election aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton and helping Trump’s chances of winning? No evidence.

Cohen called the declassified summary released by the U.S intelligence community on Jan. 6  “embarrassing” and “worse than amateurish” on a podcast five days after the report’s release. The report contains “zero” evidence and Cohen says not incorrectly that U.S. intelligence has been dead wrong before. A summary of his podcast describes the report as “utterly bogus.”

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this mirrors the Kremlin’s response to the intelligence summary as well. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, said Jan. 12,  “Accusations are usually based on facts, dates and figures. This report is based on claims. There is nothing new in it for anyone, nothing but yet another compilation of absurd stereotypes.”

Echoing Donald Trump, Cohen also says there’s no evidence that Putin is “a killer.” This ignores the chairman of a UK panel who concluded that Putin “probably” gave the order to kill Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB agent poisoned with radioactive Polonium-210 in 2006 in a London hotel.

Similarly, Cohen argues there is no evidence that Putin kills journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya Gazeta — gunned down on Putin’s birthday — or the 33 others killed since he took office in 2000. Once again, Donald Trump makes the same claim.

“Trump [like Cohen] is technically right but wrong in spirit,” says Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies the Russian security state. “There is indeed no proof Putin has journalists killed. But he presides over a regime in which journalists are beaten, harassed and murdered, often with impunity.”

Cohen is arguing a legal technicality. Sure, there’s no evidence Putin ordered anyone’s death. But someone did order the murders Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, or Boris Nemtsov. Those killers aren’t punished in Putin’s Russia, even though Putin probably knows who they are.

Follow his line of thinking and one could make the logically-sound but completely absurd argument that there is no evidence that smoking causes lung cancer.

It goes like this: Not all smokers develop lung cancer, and not all lung cancer patients are smokers. And the link between cancer and smoking is purely statistical. No double-blind study has ever been conducted to prove that smoking and lung cancer. So, how do we know that smoking — and not, say, air pollution — causes lung cancer?

Silly, yes, but it’s the same argument employed used by tobacco makers in court. It’s also the logic of climate-change skeptics (“scientific consensus is not evidence”), and people who think the Earth is 5,000 years old (“Evolution is a theory, not proof.”)

No evidence. No proof.

It is the desperate logic of those unable to reevaluate a long held, but increasingly ridiculous position so as to avoid looking like a fool.

Mogilevich, Putin and Trump

after-el-chapo-the-worlds-10-most-wanted-drug-lords-body-image-1453494879

Semion Mogilevich remains a subject of fascination in the Trump-Russia story.

I’ve written before about Mogilevich’s ties to Trump Tower and how the man called the most powerful Mobster in the world may be a subject of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

I thought it would be worthwhile to take a deeper dive into the world of Semion Mogilevich to understand who he is and what it means for Trump to be connected to him.

If you want cut to the chase, here you go: Having a relationship with Mogilevich was in some ways like having a relationship with Putin himself.

Semion Mogilevich and Donald Trump both were born in June of 1946, only two weeks apart, in vastly different circumstances. Trump, as we know, was the son of a wealthy New York developer. Mogilevich was born to a Jewish family in Kiev and before he began his life of crime he earned an economics degree.

Calling Mogilevich a Mobster is a bit misleading. He is a Mobster, but he’s much more than a Russian version of Tony Soprano.

Mogilevich is better described as a secret billionaire who made his fortune in the murky gas trade between Russia and Ukraine. US Attorney Michael Mukasey said in 2008 that Mogilevich “exerts influence over large portions of the natural gas industry in parts of what used to be the Soviet Union.”

The man called “the Brainy Don” also ran a publicly-traded company that defrauded investors in the United States and Canada out of $150 million. He sells weapons and drugs, arranges contract killings, runs prostitutes — all on an international scale. He has connections and influence at the very top of the Russian oligarchy. But the biggest sign of his power and influence is that he today lives free in Russia.

How is this possible? How can an international criminal live openly in Moscow?

To understand this, consider this secretly recorded conversation between then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Ihor Smeshko, who was then head of Ukraine’s military intelligence:

Smeshko:  “So, this is why [the American FBI]  thinks that Mogilevich’s organization, it is working completely under the cover of SBU [Ukraine’s secret service.] This is why there is this kind of cooperation there!”

Kuchma: “He [Mogilevich] has bought a dacha in Moscow, he keeps coming.

Smeshko: “He has received a passport already. By the way, the passport in Moscow is in a different name. And what is level in Moscow is … Korzhakov [the head of Boris Yeltsin’s personal security] sent two colonels to Mogilevich in Budapest in order to receive damaging information on a person … He himself did not meet them. His organization’s lieutenant, [Igor] Korol, met these colonels and gave them the documents relating to ‘Nordex’. Mogilevich has the most powerful analytical intelligence service. But Mogilevich himself is an extremely valuable agent of KGB, PGU … When they wanted to … Mogilevich … When the Soviet Union collapsed UKGB ‘K’ command did not exist yet. When one colonel wanted to he is retired, he lives there when he tried to arrest him, he got his pennyworth, they told him ‘Stop meddling! This is PGU [SVR, Russian foreign intelligence service] elite’. He has connections with [Russian businessman and former Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly] Chubais.”

This conversation, which was secretly recorded by a Kuchma bodyguard, is difficult to follow, but it gives you a sense of Mogilevich’s power and reach. First, he ran his own powerful intelligence service that was useful to a  Russian president. He was an agent of the KGB in the days of the Soviet Union and remains a source to modern Russian intelligence. And he is protected by powerful interests in Russia.

These tapes were of great interest to Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian FSB officer who was poisoned in a London hotel in 2006 with radioactive Polonium-210. Litvinenko, who hated Putin, had a role in transcribing them and publicizing them.

The British inquiry into his death went into considerable detail of the conversations on these tapes and his writings, which contain a few other fascinating bits of information on Mogilevich. In an email, Litvinenko revealed that Mogilevich had sold arms to al Qaida:

“I know beyond the doubt that Mogilevich is FSB’s long-standing agent and all his actions including the contact with al Qaida are controlled by FSB — the Russian special services. For this very reason, the FSB is hiding Mogilevich from the FBI.”

In Russia, criminals and intelligence services aren’t adversaries. They are birds of a feather. They share information. The Mob helps the state, and in return, Russian criminals like Mogilevich get to share in the riches and remain free.

As Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian history and security issues, writes,

“The Russian state is highly criminalized, and the interpenetration of the criminal ‘underworld’ and the political ‘upperworld’ has led the regime to use criminals from time to time as instruments of its rule.”

Mogilevich’s ties to the Russian political “upperworld” go deep. Very deep.

 

In another  secretly recorded conversation in 2000, Ukrainian PM Kuchma discusses Mogilevich with  Leonid Derkach, the former head of the Ukrainian security services.

Kuchma: “Have you found Mogilevich?”

Derkach: “I found him.”

Kuchma: “So, are you two working now?”

Derkach: “We’re working. We have another meeting tomorrow. He arrives incognito.

Later in the discussion Derkach revealed a few details about Mogilevich.

Derkach: “He’s on good terms with Putin. He and Putin have been in contact since Putin was still in Leningrad.”

Kuchma: “I hope we won’t have any problems because of this.”

Derkach: “They have their own affairs”

According to Litvinenko, the poisoned ex-FSB agent, Putin was Mogilevich’s “krishna” or protector in Russian underworld slang.

And this was a relationship that dated back to the early 1990s when the future Russian president was a deputy mayor in St. Petersburg.

“Mogilevich have good relationship with Putin since 1994 or 1993,” Litvinenko says in broken English on a tape made before his death.

Back in 1993 and 1994, Putin was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. He was known in St. Petersburg as the man who could get things done. His approach to the criminal world  was a practical one, Karen Dawisha writes in Putin’s Kleptocracy.

The mafia and the KGB had always had points of intersection and conflict — the 1990s were no different, and the mafia had its uses. It was global, it could move money, it could hide money, and in any case, some of the money would come back to St. Petersburg for investment.  So how did Putin operate? First and foremost, he made illegal activity legal.

Most countries, even corrupt ones, go after their biggest criminals. But in Russia,  criminals have their uses.

One of these points where the interests of Mogilevich and Putin merge is in the natural gas trade. RosUkrEngero (RUE), a murky Swiss company that acts as an intermediary in gas sales between Russia and Ukraine is seen as a joint venture of sorts between the two men.

RUE is half owned by Gazprom, the Russian gas giant that is run by Putin’s cronies. The other half is nominally owned by two Ukrainian businessmen: Dmitry Firtash and a minority partner. But the U.S. government suspects that Mogilevich (see here) is the man behind the curtain at RUE.

The world was closely watching in 2008 when Russian police arrested Mogilevich on a tax evasion scheme. He posted bail and was released a year later.  Charges were dropped in 2011.

Mogilevich is part of the story, the tragedy really, of modern Russia.

Russia is a country rich in natural resources. It has great wealth below the ground. Above ground the wealth is shared by a small number of individuals who were close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin allowed this select few to enrich themselves by siphoning billions out of the country’s natural gas and oil fields, its steel and nickel mills, its fertilizer plants, the state railroads, and many more industries. In return for unimaginable wealth, these oligarchs pledged absolute fealty to Putin.

This is an operation that Mogilevich knew very well. Enriching yourself and your friends in exchange for loyalty — that’s the job of a Mafia Don. Which is exactly what Putin is.

As Sen. John McCain told late night host Seth Meyers, Russia is a “a gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.”

Trump’s Dubai Dreams

33710-hi-photo

As the cameras flashed, Donald Trump welcomed Demi Moore and Naomi Watts, Heidi Klum as they joined him at his party the Park Avenue Plaza in New York.

It was the summer of 2008 and Trump was launching his company’s newest hotel, The Trump International Hotel & Tower in Dubai.

This stunning 62-floor stainless steel and glass structure in the shape of a tulip would have sat in the center of Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s iconic man-made archipelago in the shape of a palm.

I say would have because Trump’s Dubai tower was never built. It was a castle in the air, a fever dream built on the belief that good times would never stop rolling. Which they did not long after the New York party.

As Trump officially kicked off sales of apartments at his party in New York, the Dubai tower was attracting a lot of interest halfway around the world.  Donald Trump Jr. famously said in September 2008, “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. ” (emphasis added)

And these Russian buyers, whoever they were, were loaded. At the time of the New York party, pre-sales of the Dubai tower had fetched an average of $2,450 per square foot, with some units receiving bids as high as $3,270 per square foot.

After learning a little about Dubai, I’m not surprised that Russian money was attracted to Trump’s $1.1 billion project, his first venture in the Middle East.

Dubai is known for its sun-splashed towers and its man-made archipelagos but it also has a darker side. Sitting at the junction of Europe, Africa and Asia, Dubai was a crossroads for international criminals. When the emirate opened its property market to foreign buyers in 2002, Dubai quickly became a place where dirty money could be washed clean, particularly through property sales.

“During the boom, Dubai was a good place for money laundering, through property, land sales and the big projects,” Hamdan Abdullah al-Sayyah, a managing partner at Al Sayyah Advocates and Legal Consultants in Dubai, told The New York Times (for a 2010 story headlined “Dubai Labors Under Money-Laundering Image.”)

Dubai was and is a bright place for shady people. The emirate’s laissez-faire attitude allowed the vice president of Afghanistan to arrive in Dubai with $57 million in cash and continue on his way. The chairman of Kabul Bank owned 39 properties on Palm Jumeirah.

Russian criminals, too, could relax in Dubai. At least they could until 2006 when Zahar Kalashov, a top Russian Mafia boss, was arrested after leaving a party attended by members of the Georgian and Russia Mafia.

Another Russian criminal exposed in Dubai was Olga Stepanova, who, together with her now ex-husband, acquired three properties in Palm Jumeirah, the site of Trump’s tower, worth a combined $7 million. Quite a feat considering the couple reported an official joint income of $38,000.

olga-stepanova-dubai-f48-photo-04

The Stepanova villa in Dubai

It turns out Stepanova was a Russian tax official who had authorized $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates for organized crime groups. The scam was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for financier turned human-rights campaigner Bill Browder.

Magnitsky was murdered in a Russian prison in 2009 and Browder has never forgotten him. The Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama three years later, seeks to punish those responsible for his death. (For details and photos of the Dubai properties, see the Website Russian Untouchables.)

Russians were well known for buying luxury properties that then sat empty. “Russians are still coming with suitcases of cash to buy flats which they never live in,” a UK financier working in Dubai told The Guardian of London in 2010 . “It’s easy to get resident permits. These sort of stories are rife. Russia is the biggest source. A lot of it is mafia.”  Today one in five Dubai luxury properties sits empty, with many owned by Russians.

Hamdan Abdullah al-Sayyah, the attorney quoted earlier by the Times, cited a case he dealt with, where a person claiming to be a businessman filtered $10 million from Russia into a Dubai land  deal. “The money arrived in small transactions, so the bank wouldn’t be suspicious, and he had a sales contract to show the bank,” Mr. Sayyah said. “At that time, nobody was looking into it because the country needed investors to come in.”

Given this background, it’s not surprising then that Trump’s Dubai tower was getting a lot of interest from Russian buyers.

Trump’s partner in the deal was effectively Dubai itself. The developer on the project was Nakheel, a subsidiary of Dubai World, a giant conglomerate owned ultimately by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  The terms of the deal made it a partial licensing deal and a partial partnership, Trump said during a 2010 deposition.

Trump and Nakheel were riding high in the summer of 2008. There was another party for Trump’s Dubai tower. This time it was at an even more star-studded affair in Bel Air, California. Christina Aguilera sang for the crowd of 1,000 guests at Tar’s home, which is known as the Cheateau d’Or , which included Pete Wentz, Orlando Bloom, Omarosa, P. Diddy, Hilary Swank, and Aaron Eckhart. The event was held at the estate of Yousuf Tar, a Pakistani who owns Bernini clothing company.

“The battle of the towers” was underway between Trump’s Dubai tower and the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, to see which one could sell the emirate’s most expensive apartment. (“Dubai high rises reach record prices as battle of the towers hots up,” Financial Trump was hoping to sell a penthouse in his tower for more than $30 million, which would smash the record.

No one seemed to notice danger signs. Nakheel itself had fueled its incredible expansion on debt and the credit markets were flashing red.  Although sign that things were spinning out of control came in August 2008, just before the Bel Air gala, when two Nakheel executives, including the top sales manager, were arrested on suspicion of bribery.  (Details on the case were not made public and Trump was never implicated.)

The end came quickly.

Within a few months of the Bel Air party, work on the project came to an abrupt halt, as Nakheel groaned under the weight of its massive debts. Trump’s Dubai tower, just one of the many mega-projects Nakheel had going. Planned and underway projects exceeded $310 billion (!) in 2008.  All were predicated on the availability of cheap finance.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing credit crunch forced Dubai to face reality and its massive debts. Its parent company, Dubai World, in 2009 ceased payment on its $59 billion in debts and had to be bailed out by neighboring Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, Nakheel revealed what everyone already knew. Trump’s Dubai tower would not be built.

Trump Estates Park Residences in Dubai: The Dream Never Dies

But Trump’s Dubai dream never died.

Today in 2017, his company is selling the Trump Estates Park Residences in Dubai. He has a new partner, Hussain Sajwani of DAMAC Properties in Dubai, and a new site on the outskirts of the city.

The prices are lower: $800,000 will buy you a  4-bedroom villa with a complimentary 3-year family membership at Trump’s nearby golf course.  DAMAC is also building a second Trump-branded golf course, designed by Tiger Woods, in Dubai.

I wonder who the buyers are.

Trump-Russia, 2008 edition

As my readers know, I see 2008 as the critical year when Trump found himself on the hook with Russia.

It was the year that the Russian fertilizer king Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million for Trump’s Palm Beach mansion, netting Trump more than $50 million in a shady transaction that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be investigating.

c4hxiu0w8aekvry

Donald Trump Jr. in Moscow in 2008

It was in 2008 that Donald Trump Jr. famously declared: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Click here for the full quote from eTurbo News.

By his own account, Donald Jr. made “half a dozen trips to Russia” between January 2007 and June 2008.

It was in June 2008 that he appeared in Moscow as the keynote speaker for the “Real Estate in Russia” conference.

Don Jr. tantalized the crowd by telling them that a Russian was interested in buying his father’s Palm Beach mansion and announced plans to build elite housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi and to license the Trump name.

The Russian projects never happened as developers balked at the costs of licensing the Trump name. Kommersant reported that, according to one Moscow developer, Trump was charging as much as a quarter of the project costs to put his name on the building.

But the money from Russia still poured into the Trump Organization. A man who claims to have sold Trump-branded properties in Russia at the time was a Belarusan American businessman named Sergei Millian.

“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” Millian told Russian state broadcaster RIA Novosti in April of last year. “Then, in 2007-2008, Russians bought dozens of apartments in Trump houses in the US. But I would not want to disclose specific amounts and names.”

Interestingly, Millian was also a source, apparently unwittingly, for former MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier.  (The White House and Trump consigliere Michael Cohen have dismissed him as a publicity-seeking hanger-on.)

Roger Khafif also hosted sales meetings in Russia for Trump for a property in Panama. “Russians like brands,” he told The Washington Post, “and Trump was famous in Russia” during the early 2000s real estate boom. “These were good days for Trump. He was the only man in town for real estate.”

And 2008 was also the year Trump invited a correspondent for Chayka, a Russian magazine, to breakfast at Trump Tower. Here is the lead of that story (translated by Google Translate):

Donald Trump invited us to report on a new project, which is largely designed for Russians.

The project was Trump SoHo, arguably the shadiest of all Trump’s shady deals. This was the project that employed Felix Sater, a felon with ties to Russian and American organized crime. Sater worked for Bayrock, a firm backed by Russian money close to Putin, according to a lawsuit filed by a former employee. Later, Sater worked for Trump himself.

The story goes on to quote Trump:

I have very good business relations with the Russians. A Russian recently bought a house for me in Florida for $100 million. Some Russians buy houses at 50 million each. Great buyers! People with good taste and good money understand the value of the Trump brand. It is always a guarantee of quality and a win-win location. Investing in “Trump,” you invest for sure. By the way, I really like Vladimir Putin. I respect him. He does his job well. Much better than our Bush.

Trump goes on:

Russian buyers got to taste the building we built in Palm Beach, Florida.

Maybe this is a mistranslation, but it’s not clear which Florida project Trump is referring to here.  Is he talking about  Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, a development known as “Little Moscow”?  Is he talking about his planned tower in Palm Beach that was launched in 2007. Or is he talking about a sales event attended by potential Russian investors and celebrity guests like Regis Philbin at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach in January 2008?

And 2008 was also the year when Trump assured the Scottish government that he had the funds to build the “greatest golf course in the world” on the northeast coast near Aberdeen, Scotland. “The money is there, ready to be wired at any time,” Trump attorney George Sorial said. “I am not discussing where it is, whether it is in a Scottish bank or what, but it is earmarked for this project. If we needed to put the development up tomorrow, we have the cash to do that. It is sitting there in the bank and is ready to go.”

But 2008 was also a very challenging year for Trump and this, more than anything, may explain his tilt toward Russia. The global financial crisis put the squeeze on his finances and pushed him to the wall.  Within a year, Trump-branded projects in Tampa; Vancouver, Canada; Dubai; and Baja California went bust or were put on hold. Trump Entertainment Resorts, the operator of the Trump Taj Mahal, filed (again) for bankruptcy.

In December 2008 Trump made the fateful decision to sue his lender, Deutsche Bank, when he failed to make good on a $40 million guarantee on a loan for Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. Amazingly, Deutsche Bank continued to lend to him. The bank now finds itself in the cross hairs of many Russia investigators.

Trump, of course, emerged from the wreckage of the financial crisis, and some think he did it with Russian money.  As Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, told Prospect Magazine, “what lingers for Trump may be what deals – on what terms – he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money” when other banks and lenders would not risk the money.

Something happened around 2008 that tied Trump’s future to Russia. Was Trump the subject of Russian kompromat or blackmail? Did he meet Putin, as he long claimed he did? Did Russia give him much-need capital when no other banks would in the midst of the financial crisis?

I don’t know the answer, but I hope that someday, we will find out.

Who is Lanny Wiles?

This is a guest post by Terry J. Clark, a frequent reader of this site who follows the Trump-Russia story.

lanny-66481-214x300

Lanny Wiles

As we now know, on June 9th, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., the future president’s son, met with several Russian operatives at Trump Tower in New York City.

The meeting is the best evidence yet of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Don Jr. had been lured to the meeting by a promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia.

One of the operatives at the June 9th meeting was a a former Soviet intelligence named Rinat Akhmetshin, who was working as a lobbyist in the United States. Akhmetshin, like everyone else who attended the meeting, has been the focus of intense scrutiny. A profile in The New York Times described him as a “master of the dark arts.”

A figure who has mostly escaped attention is a GOP operative working quietly behind the scenes with Akhmetshin. The operative is Lanny F. Wiles, a genial Southerner whose family is closely tied to Trump.

A week after the Trump Tower this meeting took place, Akhmetshin asked Wiles to hold a seat for someone at a June 14, 2016 hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee on “U.S Policy Toward Putin’s Russia.”

The person whose seat Wiles was saving at the June 14 hearing turned out to be Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian attorney who lured Don Jr. to the Trump Tower by claiming that she had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton which she had obtained from the Russian government.

Wiles told ABC News he has “absolute, zero connection” to any relations the Russian lawyer may have had to the Trump campaign.  But Wilkes clearly had a connection to Russia: He was working for it.

Wiles was working with Akhmetshin to undo the Magnitsky Act, a law despised by the Kremlin that sanctioned Russian officials connected to Sergei Magnitsky’s 2009 death. Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who had worked for American-born investor Bill Browder to uncover a $230 million Russian government corruption scheme

The night of the June 14 House hearing, Wiles organized a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a private social club for Republicans. The dinner guests included Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is seen as Vladimir Putin’s staunchest ally in Congress, and Paul Behrends, the congressman’s staff director (who was recently fired over his Russia connections).

According to this excellent Politico story, Rohrabacher and Behrends had, with Akhmetshin’s help, planned the day’s hearing to be a show trial of investor Bill Browder, the man behind the Magnitsky Act. That plan was nixed by senior committee Republicans and replaced with a panel that included two former US ambassadors to Russia.

170715105448-rinat-akhmetshin-exlarge-169

Rinat Akhmetshin

Akhmetshin had been hired by Denis Katsyv, the owner of the Cyprus-registered company Prevezon Holdings, Ltd., which was linked to the Magnitsky case. Some of the money stolen in the scam uncovered by Magnitsky turned up in US bank accounts controlled by Prevezon.

Together, Katsyv and Akhmetshin recruited Wiles to undermine the Magnitsky Act.

While Wiles was working on behalf of Russian interests, he did not register as a foreign agent as required by the US law. Wiles told Politico that Akhmetshin told Wiles he wouldn’t have to register because he would be working for the law firm BakerHostetler.

[Side note: Fusion GPS, the DC firm that commissioned former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele to produce what became known as the Trump dossier, was also hired by BakerHostetler to dig up dirt on Bill Browder. (See Browder’s letter.) The firm is the subject of a July 19 hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, at which Don Jr. is also expected to affair.]

Why Wiles was brought in for this anti-Magnitsky work is unclear. He was a longtime DC lobbyist for the PGA Tour and a Florida utility. Clients have included a companies that produce anthrax vaccines. His areas of expertise, while wide-ranging, don’t involve foreign affairs.

What may have brought Wiles into the world of Russian lobbying is his friendship Rep. Rohrabacher. The two men have been friends since their days in the Reagan administration, according to Politico.

Wiles got his start working on Ronald Reagan’s failed 1976 run for the White House. When Reagan won four years later, Wiles became a Reagan advance man. In 1983, Wiles was taken hostage inside the pro shop at famed Augusta National while Reagan golfed. Wiles managed to talk his way out.

Wiles went on to work on many campaigns, including Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 failed presidential runs. (McCain is a strong supporter of the Magnitsky Act). Both Wiles and his wife worked on the campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was asked about his former aide’s connections to Russia.

Wiles’ wife, Susie, is the former co-chair of the Trump presidential campaign in Florida. Trump credited Ms. Wiles with the crucial Florida victory.

Wiles’ daughter, Caroline, was named director of scheduling at the White House until February of this year when she was “escorted” out of the White House after failing an FBI background check.

Wiles heads Wiles Consulting LLC in Florida. He’s also listed as president and chief executive of TransEuro America, which he formed in 2015 after “seeing a need to assist US aerospace and defense companies to achieve greater market share in the dynamic Middle East and international business environment in the most efficient manner.”