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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a guest post by Terry J. Clark, a frequent reader of this site who follows the Trump-Russia story.
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.
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.”
Bloomberg reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has decided that Trump’s sale of his Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire is worth a deeper look.
As readers of this site know, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian fertilizer king, bought the future president’s Palm Beach mansion in 2008 for $50 million more than Trump paid for it just a few years earlier. The mansion, called Maison de l’Aimitie (House of Friendship), was in such bad shape that Rybolovlev got permission to tear it down and sell off the land beneath it.
I’ve written how this transaction has the marks of a bribery case I followed here in San Diego.
Not long after the mansion sold, Trump was approaching default on loan from Deutsche Bank. And the $50 million Trump pocketed on the mansion sale was enough to cover the $40 million he had personally guaranteed to the German lender.
Here’s a bit more detail: The Palm Beach mansion sold in July 2008. That fall, Trump was desperately trying to get Deutsche Bank to extend a senior construction loan for the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. The Chicago project was already facing weak sales before the 2008 financial meltdown hit.
Unlike many other Trump Organization projects, the Donald was personally on the hook in Chicago. He hadn’t licensed his name. He had no partners. He arranged all the financing himself: He put $77 million of his own equity into the tower and had given Deutsche Bank a $40 million personal guarantee. (See “In Chicago, Trump Hits Headwinds,” The Wall Street Journal, 29 Oct. 2008.)
Trump’s Deutsche Bank loan came due Nov. 7, 2008 with an outstanding principal balance of $334 million, plus $251 million in interest. Not only did Trump not pay, but with his usual bombast, he sued Deutsche Bank to force them to extend the loan. Deutsche Bank countersued, and demanded Trump cough up his $40 million guarantee. Deutsche Bank ultimately extended the loan for five years and eventually Trump paid it.
There are a lot of dogs sniffing around this tree. The personal guarantees Trump made for his Deutsche Bank loans are also of interest to New York State regulators looking at the president’s relationship with the German lender’s wealth management division: according to The New York Times:
Additionally, the New York regulators recently requested information related to the hundreds of millions in loans Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management division provided Mr. Trump, one of the people said, paying particular attention to personal guarantees he made to obtain the loans. Those guarantees have declined as the loans were paid down and the property values increased, but it remains a source of interest to the regulators.
For those who want even more detail, I’ve embedded Trump’s Deutsche Bank personal guarantee at the end of this post. If anyone with some expertise in these matters finds anything interesting in there, please let me know.
Mueller’s team are also said to be interested in dealings involving the Bank of Cyprus. Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s Palm Beach mansion, became the bank’s largest shareholder in 2010 when he purchased a 9.7 percent stake through his British Virgin Islands holding firm, Odella Resources. (Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, invested in the bank in 2014.)
The shady mansion sale is just one of the things FBI investigators and others are examining:
- Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings
- Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates
- The 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow
- Jared Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for some of his family’s real-estate properties.
It seems that Mueller’s team is looking for evidence of a payment disguised as a real estate transaction, fee or gift that would give Russians what the intelligence community likes to call “levers of pressure” that could be used against the US president.
Trump’s Personal Guarantee
The operative’s name was Peter W. Smith. According to a pair of blockbuster articles (here and here) by The Wall Street Journal, Smith “implied” that he had a connection to retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s national security advisor until he was ousted for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.
Flynn’s name is mentioned in a recruitment document Smith passed around last year:
Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for President Donald Trump; Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor; Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign and now a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was a campaign adviser and briefly was national security adviser in the Trump administration.
A name people might not recognize on this list is that of Sam Clovis, a porcine former college professor from Iowa better known as host of the radio talk show “Impact with Sam Clovis.” We don’t know how Clovis’ name wound up on the list but I have a feeling we may hearing more about Clovis in coming weeks or months.
Clovis was an early backer of Trump in Iowa, where Clovis is something of a conservative power broker. It earned him a spot in the campaign as senior policy adviser and co-chairman.
Trump finished second in Iowa, but he soon ran the table in ensuing primaries, and, as the Trump train gathered momentum, Clovis took leave from his position as a professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa to devote himself to the campaign. FEC records show he was paid more than $198,000 during the 16 months he worked on the Trump campaign.
The FEC filings say Clovis was paid for “communications consulting.” He described his role on the campaign to his hometown newspaper, the Sioux City Journal, as a “utility infielder.” His job was to appear on TV as a Trump surrogate, write talking points for speeches and “help find key people who can inform Trump’s developing policies on economics, immigration and foreign affairs”
Clovis told Bloomberg he led a two-person policy team that worked with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to connect Trump to experts and former officials constantly.
In other words, Clovis was something of a gatekeeper for Trump. If you wanted to work on the campaign in a policy role or as a subject matter expert you went through Clovis.
“This whole notion that he is devoid of advisers is wrong. We have a lot of smart guys around us and a lot of smart people helping us,” Clovis said in January 2016.
One of the “smart people” whose name crossed Clovis’ desk was Carter Page, the head of an energy investment firm and a former banker with Merrill Lynch in Moscow. Clovis employed what The Washington Post described as the campaign’s “go-to vetting process” — a quick Google search — to check him out. Clovis gave Page his OK.
Page, we know now, was a disastrous choice. During his time as a Trump advisor, Page was the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant, meaning that a US judge found probable cause to suspect that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. He reportedly was one of the Trump advisors Russian intelligence tried to use to infiltrate the Trump campaign.
Foreign diplomats trying to figure out Trump also realized that Clovis was the man to see. He was one of the few Trump campaign officials authorized to speak on behalf of his boss.
Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, was one who called on Clovis. Hockey hosted Clovis and Stephen Miller, in March 2016 at his private residence. (See “Deep ties to keep relations on track,” The Australian, 11 Nov. 2016) It was the first of several meetings on defense, trade and immigration.
In April, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who described Trump as a “hate preacher,” sent his state secretary, Markus Ederer, to meet with Clovis. The two men met discreetly at a cafe in Washington where Ederer struggled to understand what a Trump victory would mean for German-American relations. According to a report in Der Spiegel, “The Iowa Republican sought to ease the German’s concern about a possible Trump victory. But whenever Ederer probed deeper, Clovis was unable to provide satisfactory answers.” (See “Merkel Anticipates Frosty Relations with U.S.,” Spiegel, 4 January 2017) Clovis also met with Germany’s US ambassador, Peter Wittig, as did Jared Kushner.
It remains to be seen what meetings, if any, Clovis had with Russian diplomats.
Meanwhile, Clovis’ formerly hardline views on Russia were evolving. During his long career in the U.S. Air Force, Clovis had trained and planned for combat with the Soviet Union. In 2014, when Clovis ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in Iowa, he advocated a “containment” policy against Russia. “I think we need to also make it very clear to Russia … that any incursions outside of Crimea, the Ukraine, would be met with great vigor,” Clovis told Radio Iowa.
Two years later during the Republican convention in Cleveland, however, Clovis angrily defended the campaign’s decision to remove language from the GOP platform that called for providing lethal defensive weaponry to Ukraine. It was too expensive, Clovis felt.
“It’s okay to go out here and load your mouth up and say stuff and say, ‘Yeah we are going to come to your aid, we’re going to provide you arms, we’re going to come out and do all these things. But nobody has taken the time to think this through to its logical conclusion,’” Clovis said. “What are the costs going to be to the United States, not just in Ukraine but also in NATO and also around the world?”
Although he doesn’t look the part, Samuel H. Clovis Jr. is a former fighter pilot. He grew up in rural Kansas and attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Clovis spent 25 years with the U.S. Air Force from 1971 to 1996.
His career included command of the 70th Fighter Squadron, at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. In the mid 1980s, he served on the staff of the Pentagon’s Project CHECKMATE, where he assessed the performance of the Air Force in a hypothetical war with the Soviet Union. Clovis also served as chief of the office of military cooperation at the embassy in Bahrain. (He considers himself an expert on the Middle East.) He retired as the Inspector General of NORAD and the United States Space Command with the rank of colonel.
After leaving the military, Clovis worked at Logicon, an Alabama-based subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp. Then, he entered academia, which led him to Iowa and eventually to his position at Morningside College.
Today, Clovis is Trump’s nominee to be the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist. Clovis is not a scientist. What he is is a hardcore Trump loyalist. He once described Trump as “one of the greatest men to ever walk the face of this earth.”
But his feelings for Trump weren’t always so favorable. Before he joined forces with Trump in August 2015, Clovis had signed on as Iowa state chairman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Emails leaked by the Perry campaign revealed Clovis as an opportunist who was scornful of Trump before switching sides. Trump’s remarks disparaging Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero particularly galled Clovis, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force.
“I was offended by a man who sought and gained four student deferments to avoid the draft and who has never served this nation a day — not a day — in any fashion or way,” he wrote.
Readers of this site will recall that in 2008 Donald Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. As we now know, Rybolovlev grossly overpaid.
This sale is remarkably similar to a real estate deal at the heart of a bribery scandal involving Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, who sold his home to a defense contractor for much more than it was worth. Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes and in 2006 was sentenced to prison.
Well, there are two ways this bribery-scam-disguised-as-a-real-estate-transaction can work. You can overpay for an asset. Or you can sell an asset for much less than it’s worth.
Buried in The Washington Post’s recent story about Jared Kushner’s loans from Deutsche Bank, Trump’s favorite bank are interesting details about a real estate transaction that should invite scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, who is said to be investigating Kushner’s finances.
Kushner, it turns out, purchased four floors of a New York City office building for $296 million in October 2015. Fast forward 12 months and — presto! — Kushner’s office space was appraised at $470 million.
That’s a 59 percent increase in a year. Not quite as impressive as Trump’s 231 percent markup on the Palm Beach mansion he sold to the Russian billionaire, but still. Not bad.
What was Kushner’s secret?
An executive at Kushner Cos. told The Washington Post that the company had a “vision for the property when we purchased it that no one else had, and are proud to say that we executed on it.”
Translation: Kushner Cos. leased the space. When the four floors in the former New York Times building near Times Square were purchased, the offices were only been 25 percent occupied.
A great business move. Or …
Is there another explanation? Indeed, there may be.
The firm that sold Kushner Cos. the space in The New York Times building was Africa Israel USA, part of the conglomerate owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Leviev keeps a framed photo of Vladimir Putin on a shelf in his office. In a 2007 profile in The New York Times, Leviev described Putin as a “true friend.”
Did Leviev give Kushner a — wink, wink — good deal as a favor from friends overseas?
Kushner isn’t Leviev’s only connection to Trump’s inner circle. He has tried to do business in Moscow with the man himself.
Leviev wanted to work with the Trump Organization on developing two hotels in Russia, according to Kommersant, the respected Russian business daily.
Astute readers of this site will recall that back in the 1990s, a corrupt Moscow city official named Vladimir Resin (aka The Russian with the Million-Dollar Watch) offered Trump the opportunity to develop a pair of decrepit hotels in Moscow, the Hotel Rossiya, just off Red Square, and the rundown Hotel Moskva.
During Trump’s meeting with Leviev, the Israeli billionaire offered Trump the chance to develop the very same hotels, the Rossiya and the Moskva, according to Kommersant.
The Moskva was a small, venerable Moscow hotel that is now run by the Four Seasons. The Rossiya was a 3,000 room concrete box that was plagued with vermin and organized crime. The hotel’s general director was shot dead in a December 1997 contract killing. The hotel has been demolished.
(I’m beginning to wonder whether the Rossiya and Moskva are some sort of code words, given how often they come up in Trump’s life.)
Nothing came of this meeting with Leviev. In a statement, Leviev said that he and Trump “never had any business dealings with one another, contrary to speculation.” [Trump sold his Palm Beach mansion to the Russian billionaire in July, a few months later after meting Leviev.]
Another coincidence overlooked by reporters: Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP represented Leviev’s firm Africa-Israel USA in the sale of the former New York Times building. The lawyer representing Trump in the Russia probe is Marc E. Kasowitz, a name partner at the firm.
Rotem Rosen, described as Leviev’s “right-hand man” in this press release for a circumcision ceremony or bris is a former chief executive of Africa-Israel USA and CEO of the Sapir Organization. The Sapir Organization jointly developed the troubled Trump SoHo, a 46-story Manhattan luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010.
Trump hosted Rosen’s wedding to Sapir’s daughter, Zina, at Mar-a-Lago in December 2007. Both Trump and Kushner attended the aforementioned 2008 bris.
It’s these interlocking links that must be driving Mueller’s office nuts. What is coincidence and what isn’t?
Maybe Kushner’s big gain on the old New York Times building is just savvy business. After all, when Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments purchased the building in June 2007 for $530 million. Just three years earlier, the newspaper had sold the property for $175 million, prompting this observation from the Donald: