Dispatch February 8, 2019

Four “Follow the Money” Questions We’re Closer to Answering This Week

A slew of new information in recent days has significantly advanced the investigation into the financial relationship between Trump and Russia—a thread we’ve been following at the Moscow Project for almost two years. Here are four questions we’re getting closer to answering this week:

1. Where did Donald Trump get the money he used to fund his campaign?

  • Trump used millions of dollars of his own money—$66 million, according to his disclosure forms—to finance his candidacy. At the time, this raised major questions from financial analysts who doubted such a famously debt-laden, illiquid businessman could find that much cash on hand.
  • The New York Times added to the mystery this week with their report that, early in his campaign, Trump sought a loan from Deutsche Bank to prop up his struggling golf courses in Scotland. But Deutsche Bank said no.
  • How did Trump have money to fund his campaign, but not his golf courses? Where did the golf course money ultimately come from?
  • Trump’s request, and Deutsche Bank’s refusal to grant that loan, highlights yet another unusual aspect of the relationship between Trump and one of the few banks willing to lend to him – a relationship that’s spanned decades, multiple lawsuits and under the cloud of the bank’s history of working with Russian money launderers and other corrupt institutions.

For more on Trump’s longstanding reliance on Russian money, read our report from last year, “Cracking the Shell.”

2. How involved was Trump in the negotiations to monetize his candidacy via Trump Tower Moscow?

  • A new cache of Trump Tower Moscow documents from BuzzFeed shows just how closely Trump’s pro-Russia rhetoric during the campaign mirrored his company’s efforts to build there.
  • Trump’s deputies behind the project, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen, discussed it in explicitly political terms, repeatedly suggesting building the tower would both show Trump’s strength as a dealmaker and pave the way for friendlier relations between the United States and Russia.
  • Meanwhile, new details of Trump’s past efforts to build in Russia, including never-before-seen footage of a 1995 trip to Moscow, highlight just how long Trump has been pursuing this multi-million-dollar dream, and how personally invested he was in seeing it through.

For more on Felix Sater and Trump Tower Moscow, see our detailed timeline here.

3. Why was so much money transferred to and from the people involved in the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower?

  • BuzzFeed has been reporting for months on a series of suspicious transactions surrounding the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower, including $20 million Aras Agalarov transferred to the U.S. that month.
  • The latest: transfers totaling half a million dollars to Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist and suspected former intelligence operative who attended the meeting.
  • The report also suggests a more direct link to the Trump campaign: According to BuzzFeed, at least some of the money was reportedly routed through a company owned by Lanny Wiles, a Republican insider whose wife Susie Wiles chaired Trump’s Florida campaign.

For a thorough accounting of Trump and suspicious Russia-linked transactions, read our December report “Following the Money.”

4. Where did all the inauguration money go, and more importantly, where did it come from?

  • Federal investigators have reportedly subpoenaed documents from Trump’s inaugural committee as part of an ongoing investigation into whether attendees—including possibly illegal foreign donors—were seeking to buy influence with the White House. New York prosecutors are also reportedly looking into potential violations of tax law.
  • A new ProPublica and WNYC report illustrates just how likely that is: a company owned by Tom Barrack, the head of the inaugural committee, reportedly drafted plans to profit from their access to the administration shortly after Trump took office.
  • Meanwhile, according to The Washington Post, the Belarusian businessman Sergei Millian was much closer to the Trump team than previously known, emailing associates about meeting with campaign officials and pitching business opportunities to George Papadopoulos during the transition.