In January 2017, BuzzFeed reported the existence of the unverified Donald Trump–Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), which alleged connections between Trump associates and Russia. Trump responded the next day, and again at a February news conference, that he has no financial connections to Russia. In response to ongoing questions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated in May that Trump has no business connections to Russia. Also in May, Trump’s tax lawyers sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Trump had not received any income from Russian sources over the past 10 years “with a few exceptions”.
Becoming well known[edit source]
In 1987 Trump visited Russia to investigate developing a hotel. In 1996 Trump partnered with Liggett-Ducat, a small company, and planned to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. Trump commissioned New York architect Ted Liebman, who did the sketches. In Russia, Trump promoted the proposal and acclaimed the Russian economic market. At a news conference reported by The Moscow Times, Trump said he hadn’t been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow” in contrast to other cities had visited “all over the world.”
By this time, Trump made known his desire to build in Moscow to government officials for almost ten years “ranging from the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (they first met in Washington in 1987) to the military figure Alexander Lebed.” Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, showed Trump plans for a very large shopping mall to be located underground in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The mayor complimented Trump’s suggestion that this mall should be connected to the Moscow Metro, a rapid transit system serving Moscow. Hence, Okhotny Ryad shopping center visitors now have access to the Metro (underground). Although the 1996 residential development did not happen, Trump was by this time well known in Russia.
Expanding the Trump brand[edit source]
A wide-ranging business stratagem included Russia in ventures intended to internationally expand the Trump brand. It was in the mid-2000s that Trump transitioned from building and investing in real estate to simply licensing his name to hotels, condominiums, and commercial towers. Although a strategy of taking a percentage from the sales was successful in other countries, his terms were not agreeable to Russians and conflicted with their way of doing business with American hotel chains.
Between 2000–2010 Trump partnered with a development company headquartered in New York represented by a Russian immigrant, Felix Sater. During this period, they partnered for an assortment of deals that included building Trump towers internationally and Russia was included. For example, in 2005 Slater acted as an agent for building a Trump tower alongside Moscow River with letters of intent in hand and “square footage was being analyzed.”
In 2006, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka stayed in the Hotel National, Moscow for several days, across from the Kremlin, to see promising partners, with the intent of doing real estate development deals. Sater had traveled to Moscow with Ivanka and Donald Jr.
Trump was associated with Tevfik Arif, formerly a Soviet commerce official and founder of a development company called the Bayrock Group, of which Sater was also a partner. Bayrock searched for deals in Russia while Trump branded towers were attempting to further expand in the United States. Sater said, “We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia,” on the scale of “…a large Vegas high-rise.” In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump International Hotel and Russian investors.
During 2006–2008 Trump’s company applied for a number of trademarks in Russia with the goal of real estate developments. These trademark applications include: Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home. In 2008, he said as a speaker at a Manhattan real estate conference that he feared the outcome of doing business deals in Russia, but he really prefers “Moscow over all cities in the world” and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times.
Business contacts[edit source]
In a 2015 interview, Trump said that his repeated attempts to launch business deals with Russians resulted in contacts with “…the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”
Trump Super Premium Vodka, bottles glazed with 24-karat gold, debuted in 2007 at the Millionaire’s Fair in Moscow. It was successful only until sometime in 2009. Trump attempted to create a reality show in St. Petersburg, starring a Russian athlete. However, this was not successful.
Business connections outside of Russia[edit source]
After his bankruptcies in the 1990s, Trump borrowed money from Russian financiers. At a 2008 Manhattan real estate conference Donald Trump Jr. said one of Trump’s main sources of income are Russian customers, noting “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
A 2008 home sale in Florida has received extensive scrutiny. Trump bought a 6.3-acre estate in 2005 for about $41 million, and sold it to Russian oligarch Dmitry Ruybolovlev in 2008 for $95 million, billed as the most expensive single-family home sale ever. Ruybolovlev eventually tore down the house and subdivided the property.
Individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump buildings and other real estate. One report said that 63 different Russians have purchased $100 million worth of apartments in Trump-branded Florida properties. This is probably an undercount since many of the properties were purchased by limited liability companies. The report added that there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Trump in these purchases, and that many Russians regard American real estate as a good, safe investment.
Trump’s responses[edit source]
On January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed reported the existence of the Trump-Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), a series of reports prepared by a private intelligence source in Great Britain. The unverified dossier alleged various connections and collusion between Trump associates and Russia before and during the 2016 presidential election.The next day, January 11, Trump tweeted, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”USA Today evaluated that assertion as “not exactly true”. At a February 16, 2017 press conference, Trump said, “And 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.”
On May 9, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “He [Trump] has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia.” Also on May 9, 2017, Trump’s tax law firm sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which said a review of Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years did not find income from Russian sources during that period, save for “a few exceptions”. The exceptions were the sale of a Trump-owned estate in Florida for $95 million to a Russian billionaire, and $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, plus a number of “immaterial” deals. No independently verifiable evidence was provided, such as tax returns, and it has been noted that even disclosure of tax returns would not necessarily disclose Russian-source income. The letter also said Trump had received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products such as wine, ties, or mattresses, which would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns. The letter was a response to earlier requests from Senator Lindsey Graham asking whether there were any such ties