Email #165: “deals in Russia”?

Earlier this month, the President’s lawyers at the firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius released a statement declaring that the President has had no significant business ties to Russia over the last decade and that his latest tax forms include no income from Russia at all. Unfortunately, their statement wasn’t accompanied by any documentation. Ironically, the statement itself suggests a Russian business tie. The firm was named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” in 2016 by the London legal publication Chambers & Partners. According to their own website, its lawyers are “well known in the Russian market, and have a deep familiarity with the local legislation, practices, and key players” and are “particularly adept” on “sanction matters.”

According to the 104-page financial disclosure form that President Trump submitted to the Federal Election Commission while he was a candidate, he has at least $315 million in liabilities, most of which are mortgages and loans for six properties: Trump Tower, 40 Wall Street, Trump National Doral, Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, and Trump Old Post Office. The financial disclosure form indicates that each property has a debt of at least $50 million, but it does not reveal what banks or other institutions provided the money. Since the President has broken his promise to release his tax records, Congress does not know which if any of these business ties constitute a conflict of interest. How can you fulfill your constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch without this information?

Fortunately news agencies have been doing some of your work for you. The New York Times reported in April 2016 “a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians ‘in favor with’ President Vladimir V. Putin.”  They also found a history of business ties dating to the 90s: “Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.”

Reuters reported in March “that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records. The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.”

This would seem to contradict the claim the President made in February: “I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.” The Reuters report also contradicts statements made from Trump family members. The President’s son Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Golf writer James Dodson reported to Vanity Fair that the President’s other son Eric Trump said over a game of golf that his family had access to $100 million from Russia to construct their North Carolina golf course. According to Dodson, Eric said: “we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia… We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.”

Eric Trump has since denied this, and I personally don’t consider Vanity Fair a very credible news source. But the story reveals how little verifiable information we have about the President’s business ties to Russia or anywhere else. This is why members of your Judiciary Committee presented a resolution of inquiry requesting additional financial information from the White House. You and all of the Republican members of your Committee voted against. You called it “premature.” That was in February.

Would you still call the resolution of inquiry “premature” now? Do you still insist that Congress does not need to see the President’s tax records?

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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