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Speier writes: "In July 2008, Donald Trump undertook one of his most infamous transactions. He sold a mansion in Palm Beach for $95 million to Dmitry Rybolovlev, Russian oligarch and billionaire."

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Reuters)
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Reuters)

Did Putin Buy Donald Trump?

By Rep. Jackie Speier, San Francisco Chronicle

15 December 18


n July 2008, Donald Trump undertook one of his most infamous transactions. He sold a mansion in Palm Beach for $95 million to Dmitry Rybolovlev, Russian oligarch and billionaire. Trump had purchased it four years earlier for $41.35 million. The sale price was nearly $54 million more than Trump had paid for the property, even though he had made only modest improvements in it. Trump boasts about his dealmaking skills in this transaction, but the details suggest something more sinister.

July 2008 was the middle of the recession. The real estate market had tanked, especially in Florida. Despite the recession, not only was the price 230 percent of what Trump paid, but it was also $13 million above the highest price previously paid for a Palm Beach mansion, according to the Palm Beach Post. Rybolovlev did not conduct an inspection. He did not obtain an appraisal. He did not order any professional review or undertake any other form of due diligence before purchasing the property.

Five years after the sale, when the economy had made a significant recovery, Palm Beach County appraised the house for just $59.8 million. In other words, despite an actual recorded sale of $95 million and despite the economic recovery, the county determined that it was worth $35 million less than what Rybolovlev had paid five years earlier.

As of March 2017, Rybolovlev had never even lived in the house.

Why did Rybolovlev make this deal? There was publicity about a messy divorce and speculation that Rybolovlev was hiding assets from his wife (the divorce was not filed until five months after the purchase). Alternatively, he may have made the purchase as an investment.

Either way, the whole point would be to get his money back at some point. Overpaying for the property makes no sense. Nor does his complete failure to conduct even the most rudimentary due diligence.

There must have been another reason — a reason to give Trump tens of millions of dollars with no expectation of a financial return. One possibility is that Russian leader Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity to exploit Trump’s financial problems to obtain his loyalty and indebtedness.

There is no question that Trump was in financial trouble yet again and needed money.

The recession had seriously depressed sales at the not-yet-complete Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago. He was unable to make payments on a Deutsche Bank loan for $640 million. He had personally guaranteed $40 million of that debt.

And that was not all. Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owned the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, was also failing. The Taj was losing business to other Trump casinos in Atlantic City and to newer competitors. Trump Entertainment was facing a $53 million payment to bondholders. The company was plummeting toward its third bankruptcy.

Trump had no apparent source of funds to meet these crises. His father had died, and the estate had been distributed. Wall Street banks were shunning Trump.

Rybolovlev had gotten control of Uralkali, a state-owned potash-mining company, at the age of 29. Uralkali supplied about 30 percent of the global demand for potash, a fertilizer ingredient. Rybolovlev had once served time in jail for murder before being cleared. His wife alleged that he partied on his private yacht with other oligarchs and prostitutes.

In 2008, Forbes estimated his net worth at $13 billion.

Rybolovlev, however, was also in financial trouble. In 2006, a portion of the potash mine had collapsed. No one was killed, but there was enormous damage. Rybolovlev was facing tremendous losses.

Diana Pilipenko describes the relationship between Putin and the oligarchs in her Center for American Progress report “Cracking the Shell”:

“When President Vladimir Putin consolidated power after the fall of the Soviet Union, he established a social contract of sorts, sanctioning the unbridled self-enrichment of Russia’s new class of wealthy business tycoons — known as oligarchs — in return for their unwavering loyalty to his administration. Among other things, this loyalty to Putin meant the oligarchs would not attempt to challenge him politically or otherwise act counter to the Kremlin’s strategic interests. It also meant the oligarchy would act on behalf of the state, thus erasing the boundary between the two.”

As Trump’s financial empire was crumbling, Putin certainly had reason to believe that Trump might be susceptible.

In 1987, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, Yuri Dubinin, arranged for Trump and his then-wife, Ivana, to enjoy an all-expense-paid trip to Moscow to consider possible business prospects.

Only seven weeks after his trip, Trump ran full-page ads in the Boston Globe, the New York Times and the Washington Post calling for, in effect, the dismantling of the postwar Western foreign policy alliance.

He had another tour of Moscow in 1996.

Russian mobsters frequented and enjoyed the Trump casinos. Russians were heavy purchasers of units in the Trump Tower. So many Russians bought Trump apartments at his developments in Florida that the area became known as Little Moscow. The developers of two of his hotels were Russians with significant links to the Russian mob. The late leader of that mob in the United States, Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, was living at the Trump Towers. In various real estate deals, Trump, at the very least, had turned a blind eye to apparent Russian money laundering.

Though Trump had previously contemplated running for president, Putin had no idea whether that would come to pass. It was enough that Trump was a prominent figure and television star already sympathetic to Russia.

Rybolovlev’s purchase of the Florida mansion put about $74 million in Trump’s pocket. Trump suddenly had oxygen.

What had Trump done to earn such a favor? It may seem surprising, but the answer could be nothing. At least not then.

Trump was being enrolled in the Russian system of kompromat, of which Putin is a master. Grant a favor, ask for nothing. Both parties understand that someday something may be expected in return.

And Rybolovlev? Only four months after Rybolovlev bought Trump’s Florida mansion, the Russian government ruled that his mine had not caused the damage, blaming the collapse on long-dead Stalin-era planners. The stock price of Rybolovlev’s company soared. It was up long enough for Rybolovlev to recover his losses on the Palm Beach purchase, plus, presumably, an ample commission for his service.

This decision was made by officials who have been identified as key figures in Putin’s circle. Kompromat is the only explanation of these events that fits all the facts as we now know them.

Looking at Trump’s circumstances in 2008, Putin laid out bait in the form of an absurdly high purchase price for a piece of real estate. Trump took the bait. The snare snapped shut.

One deal was closed. Could there have been others?

Keith Darden, an international relations professor at American University who has studied kompromat, says about Trump: “He’s never said a bad word about Putin. He’s exercised a degree of self-control with respect to Russia that he doesn’t with anything else. ... He knows there are limits, there are bounds on what he can say and do with respect to Russia.”

Michael McFaul, a professor at Stanford University and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, observed, “The disconnect between President Trump and the Trump administration on Russia policy is unlike anything in U.S. foreign policy history. While the Trump administration had continued, and at times increased, the Obama’s administration confrontation of Putin’s malicious international behavior, Trump himself has never criticized Putin. On the contrary, President Trump consistently praises Putin. Why is that? Why is President Trump so eager to appease Putin?”

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+6 # laborequalswealth 2018-12-15 13:53
Gee. Are we all to think that this is anything unusual? Something new? Trump, Putin, the Clintons, the Bushes - all of them work for and with the oligarchs. Not one of them gives a fly's turd about the 99.999% of the rest of us.

If Spier really wants to do something, how about NOT voting for trillions of $$$$ for the American kleptocrat's muscle, aka the US military? Or actually getting a Constitutional Amendment pass invalidating Citizens United? Or taking back Congress' Constitutionall y mandated war powers?

One could go on and on. But I am nauseated by the pretence that only Trump or the Russians or Putin are morally corrupt when Jackie knows perfectly well that ALL OF OUR LEADERS ARE CONTROLLED BY THE KLEPTOCRACY.

And she and the rest of the neolib Demos do absolutely nothing about it. Because they are part of the problem, not the solution.

This absurd Russian bashing, withdrawing from treaties is RISKING NUCLEAR WAR AND OMNICIDE FROM NUCLEAR WINTER.

And all these $174K/year + perks politicos can do is whine about some real estate deals. Jesus F Christ.
+4 # HarryP 2018-12-15 17:11
Thanks for pointing out that Jackie is just as guilty as Individual-1, that she is just as much “part of the problem.” I’m sure that somewhere in her murky past she has been involved in money laundering and conspiring in a US election with Russian oligarchs. Everybody is guilty, especially that evil Clinton women. Why pick on Individual-1? It’s a question that ought to be asked of Mueller as well.
Also, thanks for explaining why Speier is doing nothing about overturning a Supreme Court decisions, seeing that ratifying a Constitutional Amendment is such a piece of cake. Until she does that, she could at least have the decency to shut up.
+8 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-15 17:57
labor -- I agree with you. Washington is for sale, or more precisely, the elected representatives we send there to do government work are for sale. They have been bought off by every oligarch, corrupt dictator, weapons maker, banker, and criminal you can imagine.

We just hardly pay any attention any more when Obama or Hillary (or Bill) gives a speech to some bankers for a half million or more. I read not long ago that Obama has made about $20 million on speeches since leaving the white house. These are "retroactive bribes." Maybe we should call it the "whore house." The people who live there sure will do a lot for some money.
+9 # yolo 2018-12-15 21:22
I remember talking once with a Mexican security official about the corruption in his country compared to the US. His response was the only difference between the corruption in his country and the US was in the US the corruption is legalized.
+29 # Elroys 2018-12-15 16:00
Let's see - why does trump lick Putin's boots?
A. He likes the flavor of leather, especially with the order of corruption and money
B. trump loves putin's money and will do and say anything for a buck
C. trump is so compromised that his only alternatives are to lick putin boots or go to jail and lose everything

D. trump wants to be caught, get fitted for his new pin stripes, live behind bars (iron, not gold) and he's looking for his next "girlfriends" in the new trump tower - the one with barbed wire and large men with AR 15s up in the tower.

Time to pul back the curtains on the wizard of ooze n' slime
-8 # Chipster 2018-12-15 16:32
A step too far? No connection of Putin to the sale in anything in Spier's article.
+10 # Salus Populi 2018-12-15 19:26
Imagine that Trump, instead, was in thrall to Israel, maybe through his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also close to Saudi Arabia, which feels entitled to torture and murder WaPo reporters as well as to commit genocide right next door to itself -- while the U.S. studies its nails.

Would there be equal outrage? After all, while the evidence of Russian "hacking" of the 2016 election has never been forthcoming, and seems likely not to exist in any reliable form, the evidence of Israeli political influence, and Saudi economic, is not only overwhelming, but right out in the open, even bragged about publicly by a former Israeli Prime Minister.

Oh, wait. Trump *is* kompromatted by Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which seem to have _de facto_ control over U.S. foreign policy. So why is there no outrage? Maybe because most of the folks who are most vocal about "Russiagate" are essentially on the tab for Israel and the KSA. The neo-cons are notoriously close to Israel, with some of them holding dual citizenship; they are the most droolingly eager for "regime change" in Russia, or, in the alternative, to carry out a nuclear sneak attack on Moscow. And the Clintons, and by extension their "base," are in debt to, if not in cahoots with, Saudi Arabia.

Given Russia's diplomatically close relations to Israel, perhaps the truth is that both Trump and Putin have been bought by Netanyahu, as well as by Mr. Bone Saw.
-3 # Salburger 2018-12-16 04:35
Ah, the old International Jewish Conspiracy theme right out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But of course no leftist could ever be Antisemitic, could they?
+4 # yolo 2018-12-16 15:16
Salburger is it possible to criticize Israel without being against the jewish religion or in other words anti-Semitic? If you criticize Saudi Arabia and/or its leader Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud would that make you against all those who are muslims?
-6 # yolo 2018-12-15 21:51
This opinion piece is classic example of confirmation bias. Rep. Speier gives examples, mainly speculation and innuendo with no evidence linking Putin to Trump, which confirm her beliefs while failing to give opposing evidence to the contrary. Evidence like the fact that Trump imposed new sanctions on Russia, and attacked Syria in spite of Putin's objections to name a few. Not to mention the British are also influencing policy in the US to get us to make Russia our enemy again, see here
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-17 08:32
yolo -- yes, you would think that after 2 years of investigation by the world's most sophisticated investigative bodies (FBI, CIA, MI6, NSA) there would be some real solid evidence. The NSA and CIA have transcripts of every money transaction ever made on earth, as long as those transactions were electronic.

If these agencies had anything significant, it would have leaked. They leak everything.

But there is huge evidence of the whole scandal having been fabricated by the CIA and MI6. Now that explanation has real legs to stand on. The Trump - Russia conspiracy theory goes back to the CIA and MI6. No one is talking about the illegality of these two agencies meddling in the 2016 election and in the presidency of Trump.

Selling real estate to Russians is not proof of anything other than rich Russians are taking their money out of Russia and making that country poorer. This is something the US government has encouraged for a very long time.
+2 # Wally2007 2018-12-16 11:58
Rodion Raskolnikov, fictional character who is the protagonist of the novel Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. An impoverished student who murders a pawnbroker and her stepsister, Raskolnikov embodies the author’s belief that salvation is possible only through atonement.
-4 # twestheimer 2018-12-17 02:04
Hello there is NOTHING to tie Putin to the paragraph in that piece other than fantastical speculation. Why does every negative/obviou sly corrupt monetary transaction need to lead back to Putin?

Russian Oligarchs are the same as US Elites

Here is the ridiculous quote:
"There must have been another reason — a reason to give Trump tens of millions of dollars with no expectation of a financial return. One possibility is that Russian leader Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity to exploit Trump’s financial problems to obtain his loyalty and indebtedness."

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