While the president-elect’s finances remain murky, due largely to his refusal to release his tax returns, the newspaper reports that he owes at least hundreds of millions of dollars, that the debt is held by more than 150 institutions, and that some of it is backed by his personal guarantee. “As a result, a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president,” it states. “If the Trump businesses were to default on their debts, the giant financial institutions that serve as so-called special servicers of these loan pools would have the power to foreclose on some of Mr. Trump’s marquee properties or seek the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump personally guaranteed on the loans.”
Either way, Trump’s decision to hold on to his opaque business empire while president, rather than liquidating his interests to focus on the good of the country, has created unprecedented conflicts of interest that even a saint would have difficulty navigating in office. In a prior column, I noted a New York Times investigation into a portion of Trump’s business dealings in foreign countries, arguing that in India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries besides, there will be countless occasions where the interests of the United States and the interests of the Trump organization diverge.
If the Times story was the best look we’ve gotten at specific conflicts of interest abroad, the Wall Street Journal article is the domestic analog, highlighting facts like this:
Wells Fargo & Co., for example, runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt, according to an analysis of mutual-fund data conducted by Morningstar Inc. for the Journal.
The bank also is a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump. And Wells acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns, according to securities and property filings.
Wells Fargo is currently facing scrutiny from federal regulators surrounding its fraudulent sales practices and other issues. Once he takes office, Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.
The article lists other specific conflicts.
And then there’s this alarming detail: “It is impossible to identify all the firms or individuals that now hold Trump businesses’ securitized debt, as these investments often don’t have to be disclosed.” As a result, it is easy to imagine Trump covertly benefitting or punishing one of his creditors (depending on his analysis of what’s preferable). He needn’t be in a position to directly appoint regulators to do so. He often posts tweets that laud or vilify corporations with huge consequences for their stockholders. How many corporate leaders would quietly forgive debt if the stock of their biggest competitor would be tanked, rather than their own?
This should concern even Americans who voted for Donald Trump. The underlying case here isn’t that he is unusually corrupt, but that the extreme power of the presidency requires a responsible country to put anyone who rises to the position under a microscope. Trump’s unusually big business conflicts create even more problems than usual, temptations to which the vast majority of humans might succumb. If Trump merely behaves as most people would, the country will lose, bigly.
Tens of millions of people will be harmed.
Trump is nevertheless offering less transparency than any predecessor in the modern era, and entering office with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans who show no inclination to fulfill their responsibility to scrutinize his conflicts. Until members of Congress launch a full probe into Trump’s financial assets and debts, so that at the very least they can understand where his interests and America’s interests diverge, there is no way that they can adequately represent their constituents.
And it is particularly ironic that their historic abdication of responsibility is rooted in partisanship, given that it will benefit a man with no loyalty to the Republican Party.
Since late may, extending up to the November election, Russian intelligence agencies digitally broke into four different American organizations that are affiliated either with Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party since late May. All of the hacks were designed to benefit Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations in one fashion or another.
When asked about this, and his affection for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump said any inference that a connection exists between the two is absurd and the stuff of conspiracy. “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted after the Democratic National Committee was apparently hacked by Russia and the emails released by Wiki Leaks on the eve of the DNC convention to nominate Clinton as its 2016 presidential candidate.
Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.
The truth, as several columnists and reporters have painstakingly shown since the first hack of a Clinton-affiliated group took place in late May or early June, is that several of Trump’s businesses outside of Russia are entangled with Russian financiers inside Putin’s circle.
So, yes, it’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.
“The Trump-Russia links beneath the surface are even more extensive,” Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
Trump’s de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Manafort also has done multimillion-dollar business deals with Russian oligarchs. Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has his own business ties to the state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom. … Another Trump foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin.
Manafort denounced the New York Times for a deeply reported story that broke over the weekend showing that secret ledgers in Ukraine contained references to $12.7 million in payments earmarked for him. The Times report said that the party of former Ukraine president and pro-Russia ally, Viktor Yanukovych, set aside the payments for Manafort as part of an illegal and previously undisclosed system of payments.
“Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report,” Manafort said in a statement first reported by NBC News. Manafort said that he has never done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia—but that “political payments directed to me” in Ukraine were for his entire political team there that included operatives and researchers.
In response, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, issued a statement: “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”
But it is Trump’s financing from Russian satellite business interests that would seem to explain his pro-Putin sympathies.
Journalists who’ve looked at the Bayrock lawsuit, and Trump Soho, wonder why Trump was involved at all. “What was Trump thinking entering into business with partners like these?” Franklin Foer wrote in Slate. “It’s a question he has tried to banish by downplaying his ties to Bayrock.”
But Bayrock wasn’t just involved with Trump Soho. It financed multiple Trump projects around the world, Foer wrote. “(Trump) didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Bayrock put together deals for mammoth Trump-named, Trump-managed projects—two in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a resort in Phoenix, the Trump SoHo in New York.”
But, as The New York Times has reported, that was only the beginning of the Trump organization’s entanglement with Russian financiers. Trump was quite taken with Bayrock’s founder, Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan.
“Bayrock, which was developing commercial properties in Brooklyn, proposed that Mr. Trump license his name to hotel projects in Florida, Arizona and New York, including Trump SoHo,” the Times reported. “The other development partner for Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization, whose founder, Tamir Sapir, was from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.”
Trump was eager to work with both financial groups on Trump projects all over the world. “Mr. Trump was particularly taken with Mr. Arif’s overseas connections,” the Times wrote. “In a deposition, Mr. Trump said that the two had discussed ‘numerous deals all over the world’ and that Mr. Arif had brought potential Russian investors to Mr. Trump’s office to meet him. ‘Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors, and in some cases I believe they were friends of Mr. Arif,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘And this was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, etc., Poland, Warsaw.’”
The Times also reported that federal court records recently released showed yet another link to Russian financial interests in Trump businesses. A Bayrock official “brokered 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,’” the Times reported. “The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a ‘strategic partner,’ along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”
Trump Soho was so complicated that Bayrock’s finance chief, Jody Kriss, sued it for fraud. In the lawsuit, Kriss alleged that a primary source of funding for Trump’s big projects with Bayrock arrived “magically” from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan whenever the business interest needed funding.
There are other Russian business ties to the Trump organization as well. Trump’s first real estate venture in Toronto, Canada, was a partnership with two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs, Toronto Life reported in 2013.
“The hotel’s developer, Talon International, is run by Val Levitan and Alex Shnaider, two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs. Levitan made his fortune manufacturing slot machines and creating bank note validation technology, and Shnaider earned his in the post-glasnost steel trade,” it reported.
Finally, for all of his denials of Russian ties, Trump has boasted in the past of his many meetings with Russian oligarchs. During one trip to Moscow, Trump bragged that they all showed up to meet him to discuss projects around the globe. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room” just to meet with him, Trump said at the time.
And when Trump built a tower in Panama, his clients were wealthy Russians, the Washington Post reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to a trade publication, eTurboNews.
The only instance that Trump acknowledges any sort of Russian financial connection is a Florida mansion he sold to a wealthy Russian. “What do I have to do with Russia?” Trump said in the wake of the DNC hack. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida… for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions.” (NOTE: At the time Trump sold this mansion to his Russian friend for $100 million, he (Trump) had a $40 million loan payment coming due that he was not able to cover — until he got the money for the sale.)
But it should be obvious to anyone trying to pay attention to these moving targets that Trump is saying one thing and doing something else. When it comes to Trump and Russia, the truth may take awhile to emerge.
Bloomberg reported in June that the Clinton Foundation was breached by Russian hackers. “The Russians may also have acquired the emails that Hillary Clinton sent as secretary of State. Putin might be holding back explosive material until October, when its release could ensure a Trump victory,” it reported.
In the 1970s, burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, was forced out of office for the White House cover up of its involvement in the DNC break in.
Now, a generation later, a digital break in to the national headquarters of one of our two major parties by a foreign adversary in order to leak information that benefits the other national party’s presidential candidate seems to be just the normal course of doing business. The Trump era, it is safe to assume, is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
The bank that Donald J. Trump turns to more often than not when it comes to financing his real estate dreams is also the bank with some of the biggest reputational problems in the world.
Deutsche Bank AG (db, -4.26%), Germany’s largest bank, has led or participated in loans of at least $2.5 billion to companies affiliated with the Republican front-runner and extended loan commitments of at least another $1 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. And that is despite the bank’s most important decision refusing to do business with him since they fell out in 2008.
One of the most conspicuous features of Trump’s campaign to date is the way that the securities and investment industry, traditionally a big backer of Republican candidates, has steered away from Trump. The WSJ cites calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics that Trump has received less than $18,000 from Wall Street to date. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has received roughly $19 million, it said.
The corporate lending arm of Deutsche itself has been shunning him for years since the two sued each other over $334 million loan related to build the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago (a deal that netted Deutsche $12.5 million in fees, according to the WSJ).
Deutsche had cited Trump’s own capriciousness in its lawsuit, quoting his own words, as penned in his 2007 book, “Think Big And Kick Ass In Business And Life.”
The case was settled out of court in 2009. After that, Deutsche’s private bank, which caters to the ultra-rich, took up the baton of dealing with Trump, extending the loan by five years, according to the WSJ.
In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that
Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.
As it turns out, that may have been an understatement. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose work in the region goes back to defending Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents, has gone through a series of studies by the Financial Times to show how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after yet anther bankruptcy. The conclusions are stark.
Among the powerful facts that DNI missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade—the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. …
The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.
He was their man.
Yes, even that much seems fantastic, and the details include business agencies acting as a front for the GRU, billionaire mobsters, a vast network of propaganda sources, and an American candidate completely under the thumb of the Kremlin.
It reads like the a B-grade spy novel, a plot both too convoluted—and too bluntly obvious—for John le Carré. The problem is it may not be a conspiracy theory. It may be a conspiracy.
Horton’s analysis comes from piecing together information in three Financial Times “deep reports.” One of these focused on Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US at the time of Trump Jr.’s “money pouring in from Russia” claim.
Mr Millian insists his Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) has nothing to do with the Russian government. He says it is funded by payments from its commercial members alone.
Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website.
Why was RACC’s background filled with so many holes? The Financial Times quotes former Russian MP Konstantin Borovoi in tagging the chamber as a front for intelligence operations that dates back to Soviet times.
“The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network . . . Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this.”
Millian helped arrange for Trump to visit Moscow in 2007, and had other outings with Trump in the states, including a visit to horse races in Miami. Millian claims that he had the right to market Trump properties in Russia.
“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” he told Ria. “Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US.” He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received “hundreds of millions of dollars” through deals with Russian businessmen.
Despite documents and photos showing Trump with Millian, Trump denied their association during the campaign.
Hope Hicks, Mr Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, said Mr Trump had “met and spoke” with Mr Millian only “on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening”.
The second Financial Times article puts Trump at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.
Among the dozens of companies the Almaty lawyers say the Khrapunov laundering network used were three called Soho 3310, Soho 3311 and Soho 3203. Each was a limited liability company, meaning their ownership could easily be concealed.
The companies were created in April 2013 in New York. A week later, property records show, they paid a total of $3.1m to buy the apartments that corresponded with their names in the Trump Soho, a 46-storey luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010 in a chic corner of Manhattan.
Why would Trump’s organization make such a good means of laundering funds? Because real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account. And while some businesses require due diligence in looking at the source of funds, real estate is a bit more … flexible.
The laws regulating US real estate deals are scant, experts say. Provisions against terrorism financing in the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks, obliged mortgage lenders to conduct “know your customer” research. But money launderers pay in cash. Sales such as those of the Trump Soho apartments have passed through this loophole, which was partially closed only this year.
Converting funds stolen overseas into property in the US and cash in the account of an LLC represented a win for both the oligarchs and Trump. Best of all, Trump’s sole requirement was that he pay scant attention to the deal—something at which he was already a proven master. For example, the actual owners of the Trump Soho were another limited liability company, Bayrock. Trump was a partner in the LLC and Bayrock cut the checks Trump received when those apartments were sold. And yet …
In a 2011 deposition, given in a dispute over the Fort Lauderdale project, Mr Trump said he had “never really understood who owned Bayrock”. Jody Kriss, a former Bayrock finance director, has claimed in racketeering lawsuits against his former employer that Bayrock’s backers included “hidden interests in Russia and Kazakhstan”. Bayrock has denied Mr Kriss’s allegations but declined to answer questions about the source of its funds and its relationship with the Khrapunovs.
The third article digs more deeply into the origins of Bayrock and its connection with Trump. That connection … was very close.
The Republican presidential nominee and Bayrock were both based in Trump Tower and they joined forces to pursue deals around the world — from New York, Florida, Arizona and Colorado in the US to Turkey, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Their best-known collaboration — Trump SoHo, a 46-storey hotel-condominium completed in 2010 — was featured in Mr Trump’s NBC television show The Apprentice.
This is the same group about which Trump said he “never really understood” the ownership.
“I don’t know who owns Bayrock,” Mr Trump said. “I never really understood who owned Bayrock. I know they’re a developer that’s done quite a bit of work. But I don’t know how they have their ownership broken down.”
At the very least, Trump confessed to partnering with, taking money from, and acting as a representative for a corporation whose ownership he didn’t know, in deals that totaled hundreds of millions in countries around the world. However, it seems far more likely that Trump knowingly worked with oligarchs, groups associated with the Russian government, and plain old mobsters. Why? Because he was desperate.
By the 2000s, the property developer and casino owner with ready access to the capital markets and the biggest New York banks was no more. A series of corporate bankruptcies had limited his financing options. Mr Trump had become an entertainer who portrayed a tycoon on television and licensed his name to businesses looking for a brand, leading to fee-making opportunities as disparate as Trump University and Trump Vodka.
The Trump Organization was a hollow shell and Trump was bankrupt, but Donald Trump the public figure was a “successful businessman,” a screen behind which criminal activity could be carried out on a massive scale. Throwing his name at every scheme in existence wasn’t a strategy, it was a fire sale on Trump’s respectability. Steaks? Water? Vodka? Fake real estate school? You pony up the cash, and Trump will slap his name on it. Because by the early 2000s, Trump wasn’t just broke, he had nothing left to pawn. He wasn’t a successful businessman, but he still played one on TV. His image had more value than his real estate portfolio.
But the apartments and buildings where Trump held some degree of ownership could be turned into value again. All it took was partnering with foreign crime bosses looking for a place to stash their cash. To inflate the value of his portfolio, Trump had to do nothing other than look away as the dirty money poured in from one LLC to the next. Citizens in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet states lost hundreds of millions, but Trump got a cut as looted funds flowed through offices and apartments in buildings that carried those critical gold letters.
Horton’s evaluation of this material in coordination with the declassified DNI report is that Trump actively worked with and for Russian interests.
What these exposes showed, is that Trump pursued the projects hand in glove with Russian mobsters who worked closely with Putin’s Kremlin …
But based on the information in the Financial Times report, it appears that there are actually two possible answers. Trump may have been actively involved with and working for Russian sources. He might also have simply played the role of useful idiot, displaying his readiness to feign ignorance about any deal … so long as it generated some funds to float his sinking boat.
In the end, there’s not a lot of difference in the outcome. Trump got money. Oligarchs cleaned their cash. Russia got their man.
Donald Trump’s debt problem is two fold. The first is a money problem: he’s so deeply in debt to various banks around the world that the billions he’s been documented owing to these banks may well exceed the value of his assets — which would mean he’s broke. The second is a perception problem: his financial debt to Russia, combined with allegations that Russia is blackmailing him, and his oddly pro-Russia political policies, create a perception problem. Now it turns out these two problems may be the same thing.
One of the institutions to which Donald Trump is deeply in debt is Germany’s Deutsche Bank. The bank has a rocky history over the past decade of high risk investments and financial instability which mirror those of Trump’s own finances. At last count, Trump owed Deutsche Bank and its subsidiaries a combined $1.3 billion. It never made sense why the bank in question, which has been struggling financially, would have loaned so much money to Trump — who has a long history of not repaying his debts.
In fact the loan from Deutsche Bank is almost certainly one of the primary reasons Trump hasn’t fallen into personal bankruptcy over the past seven years, after American banks stopped loaning him money. And now according to the Independent, it turns out the German bank in question has been busted for running a Russian money laundering scheme.
The money laundering scheme in question involved Deutsche Bank clients illegally moving more than $10 billion out of Russia and into New York among other places. Nothing has yet been publicly disclosed about the identities of these clients, whom they were working with in Russia, or their motives. But the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility that the money which Deutsche Bank loaned to Donald Trump may have illegally come from Moscow.
This is crucial because, while Trump’s massive debts to banks in places like Germany and China have been well documented, there is no definitive evidence that Russian banks have been loaning money to Trump. Donald Trump Jr bragged awhile back that money was pouring into the Trump Organization from Russia, but despite that admission, Russian banks have made a point of covering up whatever money they’ve been putting in Trump’s pocket, and how they’ve been doing it.
And so a German bank inexplicably put more than a billion dollars into Donald Trump’s pocket, even though it’s been struggling financially, and he’s long been known for not repaying his debts to the point that other banks long ago stopped keeping him afloat. It never made sense why Deutsche Bank would have taken such a risk it couldn’t afford. Except now it turns out Deutsche Bank was secretly funneling money from Russia to New York. It’s not proof, but it’s one hell of a new perception problem for Trump.
For years, Donald Trump has used a powerful tool when dealing with bankers: his personal guarantee.
Now that guarantee — employed to extract better terms on hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to the Trump Organization — is at the center of a delicate loan-restructuring discussion at Deutsche Bank AG, which is under investigation on several fronts by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The bank is trying to restructure some of Trump’s roughly $300 million debt as part of an attempt to reduce any conflict of interest between the loan and his presidency, according to a person familiar with the matter. Normally, the removal of a personal pledge might lead to more-stringent terms. But there is little normal about this interaction. Trump’s attorney general will inherit an investigation of Deutsche Bank related to stock trades for rich clients in Russia — where Trump says he plans to improve relations — and may have to deal with a possible multibillion-dollar penalty to the bank related to mortgage-bond investigations.
The scramble to restructure is the latest chapter in Trump’s fraught relationship with Deutsche Bank, one of the few financial institutions on Wall Street that still does deals with a man long known as a publicity-seeking and unconventional real-estate developer who didn’t hesitate to sue his lender eight years ago.
Deutsche Bank also lends to Trump’s extended family, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Weeks before the election, the bank refinanced most of the $370 million of debt against retail spaces Kushner’s company owns in midtown Manhattan.
Today, the president-elect owes about $300 million to the bank, nearly half of his outstanding debt, according to a July analysis by Bloomberg. That figure includes a $170-million loan Trump took out to finish his hotel in Washington. He also has two mortgages against his Trump National Doral Miami resort and a loan against his tower in Chicago. All four debts come due in 2023 and 2024. Garten said the Chicago loan no longer has Trump’s personal guarantee because the project has been completed.