Will the Mueller probe examine Trump’s Russian business ties?

20 May 2017 12:05 pm

Robert Mueller, who was recently appointed as a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the Presidential election, will have the opportunity to look at the elephant in the room behind Donald Trump’s presidency and his links to Russia.

The bottom line is Trump has extensive business ties to Russia.

As Kevin Hall and Nicholas Nehemas point out for McClatchy, the former FBI director has been authorised to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with the Trump campaign and “any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

That means almost anything counts if it has come out of the look into potential collusion between Russia, Russians and the 2016 presidential elections.

Trump’s business ties to Russia go back 30 years.

In 1987, Trump was invited to Moscow by the Soviet ambassador to the United States to discuss luxury hotel developments. It didn’t work out but four years later, on Christmas Day, the Soviet Union officially dissolved, and Russians who had been allowed to buy state-owned enterprises amassed enormous fortunes.

When Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza began construction two decades ago as the tallest residential building in the country (90 stories), its most expensive floors attracted wealthy people getting their money out of what had been the Soviet Union. Trump needed their money because he was renegotiating $1.8 billion in junk bonds for his Atlantic City resorts, and the tower was built on a mountain of debt owed to German banks.

Trump made a large number of condominium sales to people with ties to former Soviet republics. “We had big buyers from Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” Debra Stotts, a sales agent who filled up the tower told Bloomberg.

Trump has a talked about his strong relationship with Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire and Putin ally. As detailed in the Washington Post, he partnered with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant that was held in Moscow, in 2013, and from which Trump made a multi-million-dollar profit. Out of that relationship came Trump signing an agreement to build a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow.

Adam Davidson in the New Yorker sums up where this investigation could go to

“Trump often did business with people known in banking as politically exposed persons, meaning government leaders or their family who might be using their power for personal gains,” Davidson writes. “His deals in Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Turkey, to name a few were with partners likely to trigger special scrutiny under US and international banking rules.

“In the past, the Trump Organisation’s chaff structure might have served the purpose of confusing a full-on investigation. But it is not structured to withstand the level of scrutiny that Mueller can bring to bear as special counsel. That calculation has, now and permanently, changed.