Semyon “Sam” Kislin is a Ukrainian-born businessman who has been associated with President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, for more than two decades. He contributed to Giuliani’s campaigns when he ran for Mayor of New York and served on Giuliani’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Kislin has been accused over the years of having connections to Russian mobsters. He has also confirmed that he has been the subject of FBI investigations. But Kislin has never been charged with any crimes.
The House Intelligence Committee has been interested in questioning Kislin as part of the formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Kislin’s attorney, Jeffrey Dannenberg, says that his client is cooperating with lawmakers.
Here’s what you need to know about Semyon Kislin.
1. Lawmakers Believe Kislin Has Information Related to Guiliani’s Alleged Efforts In Ukraine, But Kislin’s Attorney Insists He Has ‘No Knowledge’ Relevant to the Impeachment Inquiry
Semyon Kislin, at this time, does not have to testify in-person before House lawmakers. His attorney, Jeffrey Dannenberg, says that Kislin was cooperating fully with lawmakers from the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
But Dannenberg has insisted that his client doesn’t have any useful information. He told CNN, “I continue to communicate with the Committee’s counsel to satisfy the Committee that Mr. Kislin has no knowledge of any matters relevant to the pending impeachment inquiry.”
House Democrats may disagree. The committee sent a letter to Kislin on September 30, 2019, asking for information and documents related to Rudy Guiliani’s alleged efforts to push Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The letter states that lawmakers believe Guiliani also pushed for the “prosecution of Ukrainians who provided evidence against Mr. Trump’s convicted campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.” Lawmakers stated that they have “reason to believe” that Kislin has “information and documents relevant to these matters.” You can read the full letter here.
Kislin has known interests in Ukraine. According to Bloomberg, Kislin has been attempting to negotiate reimbursements for investments he made in the country. Kislin accused former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of stealing more than $23 million from him.
2. Semyon Kislin Was Born In Ukraine, Immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s & Started a Commodities Firm As the Soviet Union Fell
Semyon Kislin was born and raised in Odessa, Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union while Kislin was living there. According to his LinkedIn profile, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Moscow State University in 1961.
Kislin immigrated to the United States in 1974, according to the Center for Public Integrity. He and his wife, Ludmila, and children Regina and David, reportedly first lived in Boston, Massachusetts. The family eventually settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which had a large immigrant population from the former Soviet Union. He owned and operated an electronics store for several years.
Kislin got into commodities trading as the Soviet Union fell. OpenCorporates.com indicates that his business, Trans Commodities Inc, was established in 1990. The company appears to have focused primarily on metals in Ukraine and Russia.
3. The FBI Investigated Kislin On Allegations That He Had Laundered Money For Members of the Russian Mob
Semyon Kislin has been the subject of thorough investigations by federal law enforcement agencies. The Center for Public Integrity detailed the allegations against Kislin in a 1999 report. The agency explained that Kislin had acknowledged that he had relationships with known Russian mobsters.
Kislin admitted that he hired a man named Mikhail Chernoy to work at his company, Trans Commodities Inc. Chernoy and his brother Lev were reportedly mob associates. International investigators accused the Chernoys and Trans Commodities Inc of laundering money from the Soviet Union, a charge Kislin denied.
Kislin also acknowledged doing business with Babeck Seroush, who was born in Iran and moved to the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Rudy Guiliani, while he was serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, charged Seroush for attempting to smuggle military equipment to North Korea. Kislin told the Center for Public Integrity that he and his wife had known Seroush through Seroush’s former wife.
The Center for Public Integrity also obtained an FBI intelligence report from 1994. The former head of the Russian mob in Brooklyn, Vyacheslav Ivankov, had identified Keslin as a “member/associate” of his organization. Kislin told the FBI that he had never met Ivankov.
As referenced above, Kislin has never been charged with a crime.
4. Semyon Kislin Reportedly Met Donald Trump In the 1970s & Refers to Himself as ‘Trump’s Old Friend’
Semyon Kislin reportedly met Donald Trump in the 1970s when he was running his electronics store. Kislin told Bloomberg Businessweek that Trump purchased dozens of television sets for a hotel project and that Trump had paid for the TVs in full within 30 days.
Kislin and Trump’s paths likely crossed again years later because Kislin got involved in real estate. According to Bloomberg, Kislin began supplying mortgages to people who wanted to move their money out of the Soviet Union as the value of the ruble fell. The Daily Beast reported that one of the places wealthy people from the Soviet Union chose to invest their money was Trump’s residential Trump World Tower in Manhattan.
Kislin appears to have maintained a positive opinion of President Trump. The Daily Beast spoke with Leonid Nor, the vice president of the Odessan diaspora office in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He told the outlet that Kislin had recently described himself as “Trump’s old friend.” Nor added that the community has remained loyal to the president and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
5. Semyon Kislin Has Donated to Both Republican & Democratic Candidates
Semyon Kislin and his family members have donated to political candidates on both sides of the aisle over the years. According to a New York Post report from December of 1999, Kislin and his companies contributed more than $46,000 to Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns in 1993 and 1997.
The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity also reported in 1999 that Kislin had “lavished thousands of dollars in contributions” to Democratic campaigns. The organization stated that Kislin donated to President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign as well as the 1998 congressional campaign for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
A search of the New York State Board of Elections shows additional contributions made by Kislin and other family members. For example, he donated $2,700 to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s campaigns when he ran for New York City Mayor in 2007 and 2010. There are also multiple donations to New York State Assembly representative Alec Brook-Krasny, who served as a Democrat.