Friday, November 30, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went on the defensive after admitting he'd lied to voters about his Russia ties.

Reeling after a terrible news day in which he was forced to admit he lied to Republican primary voters about his ongoing business ties to Russia, Trump tried to mitigate the damage on Twitter. Addressing his now-unveiled 2016 plans to build Trump Tower Moscow, Trump characterized it this way:

Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail... ....Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!

Some of this is at least technically true. It was not illegal for Trump to seek out business in Putin's Russia, or even to repeatedly lie about whether he was doing that while running for president. (It probably would have been illegal if his proposed $50 million bribe of Vladimir Putin had happened—U.S. citizens aren't allowed to pay or even offer bribes to foreign governments—but prosecution seems unlikely on that point.)

And Trump's claim that he put up "zero money" is also true, at least as far as we know at the moment. The financing for what would have been a billion-dollar project was slated to come not from Trump (who was effectively blackballed from legitimate banks anyway), but from a Russian state-owned institution, VTB Bank.

VTB Bank was (and remains) under sanction by the United States, which would have put Trump's investment on legally shaky ground. But that didn't dissuade Trump from signing a letter of intent just two weeks after Putin's government guaranteed Trump's financing. Trump signed the letter the same day that he participated in the third Republican primary debate.

Whether pursuing the project for a full year after starting his presidential run, lining up financing from a U.S.-sanctioned bank, involving his adult children and a Trump Organization vice-president, and obtaining permission from Putin himself counts as "lightly looking" is a matter of opinion.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong for a presidential candidate to lie to voters about who is or isn't influencing them.
  • It's incredibly stupid and dangerous for a presidential candidate to give a hostile foreign country leverage over him—even if it might be good for the candidate's private business.