Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appears to have signalled during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that President Donald Trump’s business ties to Russia are being scrutinised by the intelligence community.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terror, asked Clapper on Monday if he ever found “a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia” gave him “concern.”
“Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence community assessment,” Clapper said in response.
Graham pressed Clapper on if he had ever come across such a situation, to which Clapper replied that he “can’t comment on that because that impacts the investigation.”
As Trump praised and defended Russian President Vladimir Putin along the campaign trail, many questioned whether the real estate mogul had any financial incentives — including business ties or outstanding debt — to seek better relations with Moscow.
The question came up again last weekend, after golf writer James Dodson told WBUR that Trump’s son, Eric, bragged in 2014 that the Trump family had secured access to $US100 million from Russian lenders to fund their golf courses.
“He just sort of tossed off that he had access to $US100 million,” Dodson recalled. “I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.'”
“He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. 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 took to Twitter to deny the story, which he called “completely fabricated.” But it’s not the first time one of Trump’s sons has boasted of their ties to Russia. In 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., said the Trump Organisation sees “a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he said at the time.
That was the year that Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian multibillionaire who was an early investor in one of the world’s most lucrative fertiliser companies, bought a Palm Beach property from Trump for $US95 million in 2008, two years after Trump had put it on the market for $US125 million (after purchasing it for $US41 million in 2004.)
The year 2008 was a rough one for Trump. According to PolitiFact, Trump Entertainment Resorts missed a $US53.1 million bond interest payment and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganise that year.
Rybolovlev’s cash infusion into Trump’s bank account is believed to be the most expensive home sale in US history. At that point, big banks were highly reluctant to loan to Trump, who had lost them money, as he wrote in his 2007 book, “Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life.”
“I figured it was the bank’s problem, not mine,” Trump wrote, according to The New York Times. “What the hell did I care? I actually told one bank, ‘I told you you shouldn’t have loaned me that money. I told you the goddamn deal was no good.'”
Rybolovlev has never lived in the mansion and has since torn it down. Both he and Trump have insisted that they never met at any point during the historic transaction.
As The Washington Post has reported, “Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities” since the 1980s, “and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.” The Trump Organisation is also believed to have received loans from Russia when it was struggling in the 90s, the Post report said.
The family’s bank of choice has long been Deutsche Bank, which was fined $US10 billion earlier this year over a Russian money-laundering scheme that involved its Moscow, New York and London branches.
Trump has strongly denied having any ties, business or personal, to Russia.
“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me,” Trump tweeted on January 11. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
More from Natasha Bertrand:
- Republicans and Democrats basically held 2 separate hearings with Sally Yates and James Clapper
- ‘He could be blackmailed by the Russians’: Sally Yates explains why she warned the White House about Michael Flynn
- Sally Yates and James Clapper testify before the Senate about Michael Flynn and Russia
- Sally Yates is set to give bombshell testimony about Michael Flynn and Russia — here’s what to expect
- Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn as national security adviser
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