Donald Trump caused renewed controversy when he said he hoped Russia obtained Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails during a press conference that came in the wake of numerous media reports that Russia might be behind the WikiLeak’s release of almost 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails.
Those emails included evidence that DNC officials favored Clinton during the primary over Bernie Sanders, leading to upset among Sanders’ supporters as the Democratic National Convention began in Philadelphia. WikiLeaks has said there is no evidence of a Russian hack but won’t reveal its sources.
Many media sites have noted that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have praised each other in the past, although Trump said in the news conference that he has never met Putin and merely wants to make sure the Russian president sees the United States as operating from a position of strength. Trump claimed that Putin does not respect President Barack Obama, even implying that Putin once called Obama the “n word,” a claim for which media sites say they can find no public evidence, if Trump was referring to the racially derogatory slur. Trump’s supporters, such as Newt Gingrich, have pointed out that Hillary said the deleted emails were personal and, thus, aren’t a national security issue.
A subtext in the Russian hack/Trump comments controversy that has emerged: Does Trump have financial ties to Russia? Does the self-proclaimed billionaire several times over have investments and money in Russia?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Trump Denies That He Has Business Dealings With Or Investments in Russia
On July 25, 2016, amid growing concerns that Russia could be behind the DNC email hack, Trump’s spokeswoman released an emphatic denial, saying that Trump does not have “any business dealings” in or with Russia, according to Newsweek.
The next day, on July 26, Trump used his Twitter page to issue an even more specific denial:
Trump told CNN affiliate WFOR in Miami that he has “nothing to do with Russia whatsoever,” including no Russian bank or investor loans, said WPTZ-TV. A CBS anchorwoman asked Trump’s top aide, Paul Manafort: “So to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs?” Manafort responded, according to The Hill: “That’s what he said, that’s what I said. That’s obviously what our position is.”
2. Trump’s Son Has Commented On Russian Money in a Speech & The Family Members Have Made Trips to Russia
According to The Washington Post, “Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.”
Trump considering building luxury hotels and condominiums in Russia, and mentioned a trip to Moscow with his first wife Ivana for that purpose in his book, “The Art of The Deal,” said The Post in an exhaustive investigation into any Trump financial ties to Russia.
The account of Donald Trump Jr.’s speech comes from eTurbo News, a trade publication. The 2008 article on the talk is entitled, “Executive Talk: Donald Trump Jr. bullish on Russia and few emerging markets.”
The article quotes Trump Jr. as saying, “The emerging world in general attributes such brand premium to real estate that we are looking all over the place, primarily Russia.” He also said that he would place Russia and China on his “top A-list for investments in the emerging world,” adding, “Given what I’ve seen in Russia’s real estate market as of late relative to some of the emerging markets, the country seems to have a lot more natural strength, especially in the high-end sector where people focus on price per square-meter.” Trump Jr. also said he preferred “Moscow over all cities in the world,” said eTurbo News.
Newsweek said the recent questions about Trump’s business dealings with Russia – or lack thereof – derived in part from a Twitter post from a fervent Trump critic named Rick Wilson. Wilson’s about me page says he writes for various national publications and “I make ads and do politics.” He asked whether Trump had any loans with Russian interests, writing:
The liberal blog Talking Points Memo has accused Trump of dodging the specific nature of the question when reporters asked it. The blog has accused Trump of appearing to “have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin,” backing this claim up in part by saying that a Trump development project in SoHo was accused of having financing ties to people from Russia and Kazakhstan.
The New York Times also reported on a lawsuit over the SoHo development, writing that it, “claimed that Trump SoHo was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.” The Times article said Trump said he might have gotten involved with Bayrock, a development company behind the project, through a Russian immigrant named Felix Sater. Bayrock, with offices in Trump Tower, was founded by Tevfik Arif, “a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan,” said The Times, adding the SoHo project’s other development partner was led by “Tamir Sapir, was from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.”
In addition, Politifact has reported that Trump’s top adviser Paul Manafort “has long and deep reported ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.”
3. Putin & Trump Have Praised Each Other in The Past, Although Trump Disavows Any Affection For Putin
The Washington Post reported that Trump invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to come to the Moscow debut of the Miss Universe pageant.
Putin declined but sent Trump a “decorative lacquered box,” said the Post. The Post said that Trump profited from the Moscow pageant debut by receiving a portion of “the $14 million paid by…investors to bring the pageant to Moscow” including a Russian investor. In 2015, CNN reported that Trump had lavished Putin with praise.
CNN said that Trump praised Putin as a “leader” with high favorability ratings after Putin called Trump “bright and talented” and the “absolute leader of the presidential race.” In 2016, Putin praised Trump again, calling him “smart,” said Politico. Trump called the comment a “great honor” and said that it would be good for America if Russia and America could work together on common interests. ABC News says Trump now says of Putin: “I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.” The New York Times says Trump’s anti-NATO stance pleases Putin.
4. Trump Appeared to Encourage Russia to Obtain Hillary’s Emails & Some Officials & Experts Suspect Russia Hacked the DNC Servers
At the July 27 press conference that caused controversy, Trump said in part, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He then made similar points on Twitter.
These comments led to a #treason hashtag on Twitter, and a statement from Clinton’s campaign accusing Trump of encouraging Russian “espionage.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded by saying, “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” according to The New York Times. Trump’s campaign says he didn’t mean to suggest that Russia should hack Clinton’s emails, The Times said, quoting the spokesman as saying, “To be clear, Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails today.”
Vox said that security experts found that malware infecting the DNC “used an IP address that had previously been used in a hack targeting the German parliament.” According to Vox, The German intrusion was “linked to Russian intelligence.”
5. Trump’s Net Worth Is Listed As $4.5 Billion But He Still Won’t Release His Tax Returns
On July 27, with the Russia controversy swirling, Trump’s top aide Manafort was asked on “CBS This Morning” whether Trump would finally release his tax returns. Manafort said that Trump will not release the returns and cited an ongoing audit that Trump has mentioned in the past as the reason, said The Hill. Mother Jones said other presidential candidates have released their tax returns.
Forbes Magazine lists Trump’s 2016 net worth at $4.5 billion. Trump has claimed he’s worth $10 billion, said Forbes, but that figure is disputed.
The Hill quoted Manafort as saying Trump will “not be releasing” the tax returns. Conservative columnist George Will, a strong Trump critic, has said that it’s possible Trump won’t release his tax returns because they would show “he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs,” said WPTZ. WPTZ interviewed tax experts who said Trump’s tax returns wouldn’t necessarily reveal such information.