For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia
Megan Twohey and Steve Eder of the NY Times probably join Trump’s rapidly growing blacklist for this report:
It was 2005, and Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant, was back in Moscow pursuing an ambitious plan to build a Trump tower on the site of an old pencil factory along the Moscow River that would offer hotel rooms, condominiums and commercial office space.
Letters of intent had been signed and square footage was being analyzed. “There was an opportunity to explore building Trump towers internationally,” said Mr. Sater, who worked for a New York-based development company that was a partner with Donald J. Trump on a variety of deals during that decade. “And Russia was one of those countries.”
The president-elect’s favorable comments about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the conclusion of United States intelligence officials that Moscow acted to help Mr. Trump’s campaign have focused attention on Mr. Trump’s business interests in Russia. Asked about the issue at his news conference last week, Mr. Trump was emphatic on one point: “I have no dealings with Russia.” And he repeated: “I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away.”
The project on the old pencil factory site ultimately fizzled. And by the time Mr. Trump entered the presidential race, he had failed to get any real estate development off the ground in Russia. But it was not for lack of trying.
Mr. Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987, when he traveled there to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have appeared in Moscow over and over in search of joint ventures, meeting with developers and government officials.
During a trip in 2006, Mr. Sater and two of Mr. Trump’s children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, stayed at the historic Hotel National Moscow across from the Kremlin, connecting with potential partners over the course of several days.
As recently as 2013, Mr. Trump himself was in Moscow. He had sold Russian real estate developers the right to host his Miss Universe pageant that year, and he used the visit as a chance to discuss development deals, writing on Twitter at the time: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”
As the Russian market opened up in the post-Soviet Union era, Mr. Trump and his partners pursued Russians who were newly flush with cash to buy apartments in Trump Towers in New York and Florida, sales that he boasted about in a 2014 interview. “I know the Russians better than anybody,” Mr. Trump told Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer who shared unpublished interview transcripts with The New York Times.
Seeking deals in Russia became part of a broader strategy to expand the Trump brand worldwide. By the mid-2000s, Mr. Trump was transitioning to mostly licensing his name to hotel, condominium and commercial towers rather than building or investing in real estate himself. He discovered that his name was especially attractive in developing countries where the rising rich aspired to the type of ritzy glamour he personified. . .
Late in the article:
. . . Mr. Trump said his efforts put him in contact with powerful people there. “I called it my weekend in Moscow,” Mr. Trump said of his 2013 trip to Moscow during a September 2015 interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” He added: “I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”
When asked about Mr. Trump’s claim that he had “stayed away” from Russia, Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said it was a fair characterization given that none of the development opportunities ever materialized. Mr. Trump’s interest in Russia, he said, was no different from his attraction to other emerging markets in which he investigated possible ventures. Mr. Garten did not respond to questions about whom Mr. Trump met with in Moscow in 2013 and what was discussed. . .