Trump and the Russia Money

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about healthcare, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, in King of Prussia, Pa. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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Folks following the Trump/Russia story have been talking about this article in the British Prospect, an interview with Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (1999-2004), the UK’s analogue to the CIA. The attention has been on this passage of the interview in which Dearlove talks about or speculates about whether Donald Trump may have been bailed out by loans from Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union during the 2008 financial crisis.

So [Dearlove’s] seen it all before. But the allegations that members of Trump’s staff had illegal contact with the Russian government during the election campaign are “unprecedented,” said Dearlove. As for the president’s personal position, he said, “What lingers for Trump may be what deals—on what terms—he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him.”

This is quite an interesting comment, to say the least.

But there are a few caveats to consider. Dearlove hasn’t been in government since 2004. Former top spies tend to remain fairly in the know, at least informally. But Dearlove was not in office during either of the key points, not in 2008 or 2016. More importantly, the interview as a whole is only partly about Trump and to the extent it is about him it’s about him as part of the ‘nationalist’ wave sweeping the EU and US, not about the Russia story itself. Finally, is Dearlove sharing some authoritative information, things he’s seen suggested or simple speculation?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions. It’s all rather unexplained, just put out there. Still, it’s relatively specific on 2008 as a crisis point. We are now led to believe that British intelligence was the first to get wind – in late 2015 – of questionable contacts between members of the Trump entourage and Russian intelligence operatives. So what are we to make of this suggestion?

First, it broadly lines up with a lot that we know. Before the ties between Trump and Russia became a story in 2016, it was already widely known that Trump had been effectively blackballed by all the big US banks for years. Deutschebank, which is of course a German bank, has been the only major bank to continue loaning Trump money for about twenty years. So we know most big banks wouldn’t lend to Trump well before 2008. So that part largely checks out.

We also know that in the decade before he ran for President, Trump became increasingly reliant on money out of the former Soviet Union. This was both for purchases of apartment units, to fund major projects like Trump Soho, in Lower Manhattan, in addition to many other projects.

We are close to adding the first members of our expanded investigative team to dig into stories just like this. And high on my list is putting together a comprehensive timeline of the myriad Russian connections Trump managed to put together over the last two decades. You can know almost countless individual stories, nuggets of information, clues and pieces of evidence. But sometimes seeing it all visualized is key to really understanding what’s going on. I’m eager to see that visualization.

Dearlove points to 2008, an economic crisis when lots of individuals and companies teetered on the edge of bankruptcy or collapse. My impression however, is that Trump starts really building up the big Russia ties a few years earlier – in the 2003-2006 period. Lots of the stories and connections you’ve likely heard about, they trail back to those years. There are some that come long before and others that come after. But it’s in that period when lots of different deals, connections, business partnerships and so forth come together. In other words, Trump seems to have had a lot of the relationships and partnerships and money flows in place a good couple years before 2008. Of course that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have drawn on those connections to weather 2008 too.

Of course, this may end up coming back to projects like Trump SoHo itself. It was happening during the financial crisis and seemed to get various infusions of money out of Russia to keep it moving forward. Quite a lot more digging is required to get to the bottom of Trump’s business dealings with Russia sources of money during the W. Bush and Obama eras. We still only know the outlines. Perhaps Dearlove knows more.

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