Trump’s First Dinner Out in DC: His Own Hotel

Donald Trump picked a familiar spot for his first dinner out in Washington since becoming president: his own hotel.

Trump’s motorcade arrived at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a recently renovated property located less than a mile from the White House, shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The White House said Trump was dining with his daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is also a senior adviser to the president.

Scenes posted on social media from inside the hotel also showed Trump with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a campaign backer.

The group of White House reporters that trails Trump, known as the “pool,” was held in vans and not permitted to enter the building.

The visit is likely to add to buzz surrounding the president’s potential conflicts of interest stemming from his business empire.

The building that houses the hotel — the Old Post Office — was leased by Trump from the federal government.

Language in the lease says that no U.S. elected official “shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”

Critics have said that Trump is in violation of the lease agreement.

Trump has repeatedly denied that he has conflicts of interests. He announced at a Jan. 11 press conference he would take steps to distance himself from his businesses, but he has not divested in his companies.

Republican lawmakers, some of whom have been reluctant to probe Trump’s potential business conflicts, have flagged the hotel lease as a point of concern.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said last month he has requested a copy of the contract.

“I did request from the [Government Services Administration] the full, unredacted contract,” Chaffetz told reporters earlier this month. “I requested that the first part of December. I still don’t have it. It will be interesting to see what they produce and what their take on that is. But I don’t have that yet.”

Ethics watchdogs have said Trump could be in violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution if his properties take payments from foreign governments.

That clause, aimed at curbing corruption, says that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of the congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

An attorney representing the Trump said at the January news conference he would donate any hotel profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.

China Grants Trump a Trademark He’s Been Seeking For a Decade

The Chinese government has granted President Trump and his business something they had been seeking for more than a decade: trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry.

Trump fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years to try to gain control of the trademark, but his fortunes changed suddenly last year during the latter stages of his campaign for the White House.

China’s trademark review board announced in September it had invalidated a rival claim for the Trump trademark, clearing the way for Trump to move in. In November, soon after the election, it awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization. The trademark was officially registered this week after a three-month notice period for objections expired.

The sequence of events makes some ethics experts uncomfortable: Chinese authorities reversed their position as Trump’s political star rose.

“China is going to want concessions from Mr. Trump, and this is now the first in what will be a series of efforts to influence him,” said Norman Eisen, a White House ethics counsel under President Obama. Eisen is part of a group that has sued Trump for violating the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting foreign payments through his business ventures.

But Trump Organization attorneys told CNN that it was simply trying to protect the Trump trademark from someone who had been improperly squatting on it, and that any accusation that President Trump could be compromised by the trademark decision granted by the Chinese government is completely baseless and shows a disregard for the facts.

It is difficult to assess the value of the new trademark. It covers construction-related services, not for Trump’s core hospitality and real-estate businesses.

But even if construction-related services are not a core business for the Trump Organization, the company places a great value on anything with the Trump brand.

“The Trump brand is key to the value of the Trump Organization’s assets,” Sheri Dillon, a Trump lawyer, said last month.

Trump can also argue that he’s a lot more famous in China now than he was when he first started the trademark battle there in 2006, giving him a stronger claim to the Trump name. Trump already holds dozens of trademarks in China and is seeking dozens more.

“The Trump Organization has been actively enforcing its trademark rights in China for more than a decade and its latest trademark registration is a natural result of those efforts — all of which took place years before President Trump even announced his candidacy,” said Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer.

The ethics concerns are fueled by Trump’s decision not to completely sever ties with his company.

Before taking office, he bucked the advice of ethics lawyers who urged him to avoid conflicts by selling off his vast business interests and putting the money in a blind trust. Instead, he pledged to place his assets in a trust run by his adult sons.

Trump talked tough on China in his campaign rhetoric, but so far hasn’t followed through on his threats to label it a currency manipulator on his first day in office, or to impose heavy trade tariffs.

China legal experts say they think Trump’s political ascendancy most likely played a role in the trademark decision.

“I’ve got clients who have fought these same cases time and time again without success. For this rapid turn of events, it does seem to be more than just a coincidence,” said Dan Plane, a China intellectual property expert in Hong Kong. “What’s striking about the Trump decision is the timing. I think it’s reasonable to assume that politics played a part — without Trump even necessarily asking for it.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington told CNN that the case was handled in compliance with China’s trademark law.

“The Chinese trademark review board does not make its decisions publicly available, so we don’t know on what basis they made their decision,” said Matthew Dresden, an international trademark attorney. “I think these decisions were not made in a vacuum.”

The White House declined to comment, referring the question to the Trump Organization.

Another interpretation of the decision may simply be that China is becoming more responsive to Western companies that want to protect their trademark. In December, China’s top court found in favor of U.S. basketball start Michael Jordan, ruling that a Chinese company sportswear company, Qiaodan, had to stop using the Chinese characters that rendered the name Jordan.

“You could say there’s a nice ray of sunshine, that perhaps things are changing for foreign brands,” said Plane. “But [the Trump decision] really was a bit of a bolt out of the blue, particularly in relation to the case’s history and the decision’s timing.”

One remaining question is whether Trump will continue to find favor in future Chinese trademark decisions.

“If there’s a consistent pattern where you have ‘wins’ in every case to which Trump’s name is attached when normally, those cases would be non-starters for anyone else, then yes, I think there’s a real concern about his being given something that others wouldn’t receive,” Plane said.

(h/t CNN)

 

The White House Endorsed The President’s Daughter’s Business

Kellyanne Conway used her platform Thursday to urge Americans to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” prompting a wave of backlash for potentially violating ethics rules governing the executive branch.

Standing in the White House press briefing room, Conway, a counselor to the president, encouraged Americans to purchase Ivanka Trump’s products, one day after President Donald Trump himself lashed out at the luxury retailer Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s clothing line.

“It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it,” Conway told “Fox & Friends.” “I fully — I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Conway’s remark appears to violate the executive branch’s ban on staff endorsing products or companies. The regulation, from the Office of Government Ethics, also prohibits using public office for private gain of oneself or friends or relatives.

Under the regulation, OGE’s director can notify the employee of the violation and ask the agency to investigate. The director can recommend discipline, including suspension, loss of pay or termination, but would probably just issue a warning for a first offense.

At his daily briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had “been counseled on that subject, and that’s it,” declining to further elaborate on whether the White House believed the counselor to the president had crossed a line.

But lawmakers suggested that it did. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively, wrote in a letter to OGE Director Walter Shaub that Conway’s interview “raised extremely serious concerns.”

“As the director of OGE, you have authority to review potential ethics violations and notify the employee’s agency, which in this case is the White House,” they said. “In this case, there is an additional challenge, which is that the President, as the ultimate disciplinary authority for White House employees, has an inherent conflict of interest since Conway’s statements relate to his daughter’s private business.”

They asked that OGE “review Conway’s statement and act promptly on the basis of your findings,” as well as report back to the House panel with a recommendation for disciplinary action, if necessary.

Cummings earlier Thursday had said in a letter to Chaffetz, “This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee’s government position,” and asked for a committee “review and potential disciplinary action.”

Chaffetz seemed to agree, telling The Associated Press that Conway’s remark was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

“It needs to be dealt with,” Chaffetz had said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

A host of liberal, progressive and nonpartisan advocacy groups filed complaints against Conway, including the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed its complaint with both OGE and the White House Counsel’s Office.

“Ms. Conway appears to have violated both the letter and the spirit of these rules when she used her position to endorse the accessories and clothing line of Ms. Trump, the daughter of the president,” the CREW complaint says. “Furthermore, we are concerned about what appears to be a pattern developing of the use of official offices, particularly the White House and the Executive Office of the President, to benefit business interests of relatives and supporters of the president; Ms. Conway’s comments appear to be just the latest example of this trend.”

Ordinarily, a violation in the White House would be dealt with by the White House counsel. But it’s not clear how the regulation will be enforced under a president who, based on his own statement Wednesday, seems likely to approve of what Conway said. (The president himself is technically exempt from the regulation, but White House policy has long applied it to him.)

Likely sparked by Conway’s remark, web traffic to the OGE’s website surged Thursday to the point that it became inaccessible for much of the day. On Twitter, the office wrote that “OGE’s website, phone system and email system are receiving an extraordinary volume of contacts from citizens about recent events.” The office later added that it “does not have investigative or enforcement authority.”

An OGE spokesman said the agency was “looking at ways to redirect traffic and add capacity” to make its website accessible again.

Citing declining sales for Ivanka Trump’s label, Nordstrom announced earlier this month that it would no longer carry her line, a move that sparked anger from Donald Trump, who tweeted Wednesday that his daughter had “been treated so unfairly” by the department store.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have been highly visible members of the administration since Donald Trump took office just under three weeks ago. The president’s daughter accompanied him to Dover Air Force Base last week for the return of the remains of a Navy SEAL killed during a raid in Yemen and has advised him on policy issues, including the environment and parental leave.

Conway told Fox News she found it “ironic that you’ve got some executives all over the internet bragging about what they’ve done to [Ivanka] and her line.”

“Yet, they’re using the most prominent woman in Donald Trump’s — you know, most prominent — she’s his daughter, and they’re using her, who has been a champion for women empowerment, women in the workplace, to get to him,” she continued. “I think people could see through that. Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping. I’m going to go get some myself today.”

While Nordstrom claimed that the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and shoes was based solely on business, at least some of the decline in sales of her products could be attributed to the #GrabYourWallet campaign urging consumers to boycott Trump products.

Nordstrom also hasn’t shied away from voicing opposition to Trump’s policies, releasing a statement in support of immigrants in the wake of the president’s executive order temporarily banning individuals from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. in the name of national security. The retailer announced its decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line three days after releasing that statement.

On Fox News, Conway called Ivanka Trump a “very successful businesswoman” and an “incredibly confident, creative, talented woman” and indicated that should be welcomed into a role at the White House to work on women’s empowerment issues, if she so chooses.

“Obviously, she’s stepped away from it now, but in the past she’s helped to run her family’s real estate empire, and on the side she developed another fully, unbelievably, entrepreneurial, wildly successful business that bears her name,” Conway added. “And I think she’s gone from 800 stores to 1,000 stores or 1,000 places where you can buy — you can certainly buy her goods online. She’s just at a very good place.”

(h/t Politico)

Trump Blasts Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka’s Clothing Line

President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted luxury department store Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump’s label, a move that drew immediate criticism for further blurring the line between Trump’s administration and his family’s businesses.

“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

Nordstrom had announced on Feb. 3 that it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s label due to its performance.

“We’ve said all along we make buying decisions based on performance,” Nordstrom said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We’ve got thousands of brands— more than 2,000 offered on the site alone. Reviewing their merit and making edits is part of the regular rhythm of our business.”

While Nordstrom contends the decision was solely a business one, the publicly traded company has delved into the Trump administration’s controversial moves.

Nordstrom had issued an internal statement in support of immigrants following Trump’s executive order temporarily barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries just three days before dropping Ivanka Trump’s line.

The move also comes amid a broader #GrabYourWallet hashtag calling for a boycott of all Trump products.

Some Trump critics immediately pounced on Trump’s tweet, holding it up as further evidence that Trump is not respecting what should be a firewall between the White House and his sprawling business empire.

Norm Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics czar, called the move “outrageous” on Twitter and said Nordstrom should consider suing under the California Unfair Competition Law, which forbids “any unfair” business act.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) also replied to Trump’s tweet, by “CC”ing the Office of Government Ethics.

Casey’s press secretary Jacklin Rhoads said in an emailed statement that the senator “feels it is unethical and inappropriate for the President to lash out at a private company for refusing to enrich his family.”

The Office of Government Ethics and Nordstrom did not immediately return calls for comment.

Executive branch employees are forbidden from using their positions to promote any corporation, although the president is technically exempt. There does not appear to be an applicable rule that addresses the president impugning a company.

Trump also retweeted his tweet on his official @POTUS account, which reaches 15.1 million followers. By comparison, Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account reaches 24.2 million followers.

The president had pledged to fully step away from his private businesses, but he has also said he will not sell the companies nor will he place his assets in a blind trust while serving as president.

Instead, Trump has said his company will not enter into new foreign deals and will appoint an ethics adviser who must approve any new domestic deals in writing.

The president has also proven his desire and ability to influence companies through Twitter. He has regularly blasted corporations including Carrier, General Motors and Toyota, accusing them of moving jobs and production overseas. Lockheed and Boeing have also drawn his ire over the price tag associated with their defense contracts.

On Wednesday, Nordstrom’s stock took a brief fall following Trump’s tweet, from $42.69 per share at 10:50 a.m. to $42.50 at 10:55 a.m. However, it has since risen to $43.14 as of 12:30 p.m.

(h/t Politico)

Trump Has 2 Events Super Bowl Weekend — And Both Benefit His Businesses

President Donald Trump will attend two events this weekend: a charity ball at Mar-A-Lago, his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and a Super Bowl gathering at his Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach.

Trump will spend Saturday and Sunday nights attending private events where his presence, and the attendant press coverage of the president, stand to directly benefit the properties’ bottom lines. Given that Trump earns income from both of these properties, his decision ― as president ― to attend events there creates the appearance that he may be using the presidency to increase the visibility, prestige and financial value of his clubs.

This is the first weekend the president has spent in Florida since his inauguration last month. According to the White House, Trump also plans at least three weekend phone calls with foreign leaders from New Zealand, Italy and Ukraine.

Trump is scheduled to spend Saturday night at the International Red Cross Ball, held this year at Mar-A-Lago. The annual event has been hosted at Mar-A-Lago in the past. According to news reports and a review of Red Cross tax forms, the organization pays fees for such facilities, and catering that can run to more than $300,000.

Below, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attended the Red Cross Gala at Mar-A-Lago in 2008.

Trump will spend Sunday evening at his Trump International Golf Club, a members-only facility that hosts top-level pro golf tournaments. He’ll attend what the White House billed as, “The President watches the Super Bowl.”

It was unclear exactly what the Super Bowl event would entail, and who would be invited to attend. The White House did not respond to questions late Friday from The Huffington Post.

According to Trump’s May 2016 personal financial disclosures, the Trump International Golf Club had income of more than $17.5 million the previous year, while Mar-A-Lago raked in $30 million in membership fees and event costs. Both clubs offer memberships, as well event spaces and world-class golf courses, all of which are available to the public, albeit for top dollar.

Trump traveled to Mar-A-Lago on Friday afternoon aboard Air Force One ― a flight that was paid for with taxpayer funds. White House spokesman Sean Spicer repeatedly referred to the 126-room mansion this week as the “Winter White House,” suggesting Mar-A-Lago would be a Trump administration site of official business, and not simply a weekend retreat. Mar-A-Lago recently announced that it had doubled its membership fees, from $100,000 to $200,000.

According to the White House press guidance, Trump’s calls with foreign leaders this weekend will be closed to reporters. But both events at his clubs will be open to the press pool that travels with the president, and will be covered by the same photographers and reporters who cover the White House.

Both events at Trump’s clubs will take place against the backdrop of the president’s unprecedented refusal to divest himself financially from his real estate and hotel empire. Instead, Trump has promised that his sons will manage the company while he is president, and will not discuss the business with him. This is far less than any previous president has done to avoid business conflicts, and well short of what Trump’s own Cabinet members are required to do.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Eric Trump Sticks Taxpayers With $97,830 Bill for Uruguayan Business Trip

Eric Trump, who along with his brother Donald Trump Jr. has been put in charge of their father’s sprawling international business empire while he is president, has stuck taxpayers with an astonishing $97,830 bill for a recent business trip to Uruguay.

The nearly $100,000 tab for the visit, which may have been as short as two nights, included some $88,320 in hotel rooms for Eric Trump’s Secret Service detail and an additional $9,510 in accommodations for U.S. embassy personnel who accompanied them, the Washington Post reported. While in Uruguay, Eric Trump enjoyed high-priced meals, attended an “ultra-exclusive” party thrown in his honor and mingled with the real estate brokers behind the 26-story Punta del Este project, which paid between $100,000 to $1 million for use of the Trump brand name.

It’s a clear-cut case of how President Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses and instead simply shift management concerns to his children has created a situation in which “government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself,” according to the Post.

Despite the president’s investments posing an enormous array of potential conflicts of interests, Trump at first proposed setting up what he called a “blind trust” and then later simply settled on putting his two sons in charge. Top ethics officials including Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub have described the move as insufficient to meet basic ethical concerns, while the administration has insisted Trump’s holdings are too extensive and tied to the value of his brand name for the president to divest.

Documents recently obtained by the Post show Trump is the sole beneficiary of the trust he set up for his holdings and can revoke it at any time, thus meaning he is continuing to profit from his brand while in office.

Documents Confirm Trump Still Benefiting From His Business

Before taking office, President Trump promised to place his assets in a trust designed to erect a wall between him and the businesses that made him wealthy.

But newly released documents show that Trump himself is the sole beneficiary of the trust and that it is legally controlled by his oldest son and a longtime employee.

The documents, obtained through a public records request by the investigative news service ProPublica and first reported by the New York Times, also show that Trump retains the legal power to revoke the trust at any time.

The documents were filed to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Washington to alert the board that oversees liquor licenses at Trump’s D.C. hotel of the change in the business.

The documents show that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, were placed in legal control of the trust on Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office.

But they outline that the trust’s purpose is “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump,” who “has the power to revoke the Trust.”

The records provide documentary evidence of what ethics experts have been warning about since before Trump took office.

While Trump has promised he will observe a separation between his business and the presidency, he retains ownership of the business and will personally benefit if the business profits from decisions made by his government.

Further, the business will be run by family members who remain the most trusted members of Trump’s inner circle, raising questions about whether Trump’s promises to limit communication about the business’s fate are realistic.

“What I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” Trump had said at a news conference shortly before taking office. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”

Less than two weeks after returning to their New York City home following their father’s inauguration, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump, also assigned to run the business, were back in Washington this week to attend the announcement of Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Trump Organization representatives did not respond for comment about the documents Saturday.

The trust also does not dissolve other potential conflicts, including his title as executive producer of the NBC competition reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” He recently made headlines for criticizing the show’s new host, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the National Prayer Breakfast.

NBC representatives have not said whether Trump will be compensated for that role, or how much. But executive producers are traditionally paid, even when only retaining a passive credit.

The trust document obtained by ProPublica is attached to license filings tied to Trump’s Washington hotel, and it remains unclear whether other Trump businesses are governed under the same trust. The company has declined multiple requests to provide company trust agreements that could provide more clarity.

In recent weeks, corporate filings have documented that the Trump Organization has been removing the president as an officer or director of the more than 400 entities registered across the country associated with the organization.

The Trump Organization also provided a list, signed by Trump on the day before his inauguration, of more than 400 companies from which he had agreed to resign. Other companies have been dissolved in recent months, the company said.

Those resignations provide evidence the president no longer has official management responsibilities in the businesses, as he and his attorney pledged during a news conference last month. Still, Trump will continue to profit from their success.

The company has also named Bobby Burchfield, a veteran Republican lawyer who has advised both Bush presidential teams, to serve as an outside ethics adviser, indicating that some corporate transactions would not be undertaken without his sign-off.

The question of Trump’s continued ownership stake has been particularly nettlesome at his Washington hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building and is owned by the federal government. The terms of the 2013 lease agreement with the General Services Administration prohibit any elected official from benefiting from the property.

It is not yet clear whether placing his shares in the hotel under the control of the trust will provide sufficient legal separation to satisfy the terms of the lease. The GSA, which controls the lease, indicated on Jan. 27 that it had received new information from the Trump Organization and was “reviewing and evaluating this information to assess its compliance with the terms and conditions of the Old Post Office lease.”

Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), have been pressing the GSA to conclude that the Trump Organization is out of compliance with the lease.

“This legal concoction from President Trump’s lawyers does nothing to address his conflicts of interest or the breach of the lease for his hotel,” Cummings said in a statement.

(h/t The Washington Post)

Trump Opens National Prayer Breakfast Asking to Pray for ‘The Apprentice’ Ratings

At an event attended by thousands from countries around the world, President Donald Trump opened his Thursday remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast with talk of TV ratings.

The president noted his “tremendous success” as star of the reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump hosted the show for 14 seasons, and followed up the fact of his success by noting the show’s drop in ratings since his departure.

“We know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster,” Trump said. Actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has since rebooted the show.

“And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings,” he joked.

The Austria native was quick to respond to the president’s remarks, suggesting they swap jobs:

Millions in Campaign Funds Went to Trump Firms

President Trump’s campaign spent a total of $12.7 million at businesses run by him and his family members over the course of the 2016 presidential election, according to a tally of newly filed campaign-finance reports.

The largest sums went to Trump’s airline, TAG Air, which received $8.7 million as the Republican used his own jet to fly around the country, according to a USA TODAY analysis of year-end reports filed this week. Another $2 million went to Trump Tower, the Trump Organization skyscraper that housed his campaign headquarters.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, which Trump dubbed the Winter White House last month, received more than $435,000 during the campaign.

The spending at Trump properties, which continued after he won the election, underscores how much Trump was willing to mingle his political and business operations – from buying meals at his own Trump Grill to renting space at his own golf clubs.

More than $3,000 went to Trump ICE LLC, Trump’s bottled-water brand, for “office supplies,” according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In all, the amount spent at Trump businesses by his political operation represent a little more than 19% of the $66.1 million Trump himself donated to the campaign and less than 10% of the $133.6 million that flowed into his main campaign account from other donors.

The spending could well continue if he decides to seek re-election. Trump filed a statement of candidacy for the 2020 election on Inauguration Day because he had already surpassed the $5,000 fundraising threshold to require reporting contributions for the next election, he noted in a letter to the Federal Election Commission. That doesn’t mean he’s definitely running in 2020, Trump said in the filing.

CEO of Russia’s State Oil Company Offered Trump Adviser, Allies a Cut of Huge Deal If Sanctions Were Lifted

A dossier with unverified claims about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia contained allegations that Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered former Trump ally Carter Page and his associates the brokerage of a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia.

The dossier says the offer was made in July, when Page was in Moscow giving a speech at the Higher Economic School. The claim was sourced to “a trusted compatriot and close associate” of Sechin, according to the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele.

“Sechin’s associate said that the Rosneft president was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft,” the dossier said. “In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.”

Four months before the intelligence community briefed Trump, then-President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and the nation’s top lawmakers on the dossier’s claims — most of which have not been independently verified but are being investigated by US intelligence agencies — a US intelligence source told Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff that Sechin met with Page during Page’s three-day trip to Moscow. Sechin, the source told Yahoo, raised the issue of the US lifting sanctions on Russia under Trump.

Page was an early foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He took a “leave of absence” in September after news broke of his July trip to Moscow, and the campaign later denied that he had ever worked with it.

Page, for his part, was “noncommittal” in his response to Sechin’s requests that the US lift the sanctions, the dossier said. But he signaled that doing so would be Trump’s intention if he won the election, and he expressed interest in Sechin’s offer, according to the document.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump suggested the sanctions could be lifted if Moscow proved to be a useful ally. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us,” Trump asked, “why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”

Page has criticized the US sanctions on Russia as “sanctimonious expressions of moral superiority.” He praised Sechin in a May 2014 blog post for his “accomplishments” in advancing US-Russia relations. A US official serving in Russia while Page worked at Merrill Lynch in Moscow told Isikoff that Page “was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did.”

Page is also believed to have met with senior Kremlin internal affairs official Igor Diveykin while he was in Moscow last July, according to Isikoff’s intelligence sources. The dossier separately claimed that Diveykin — whom US officials believe was responsible for the intelligence collected by Russia about the US election — met with Page and hinted that the Kremlin possessed compromising information about Trump.

It is unclear whether Isikoff’s reporting is related to the dossier, which has been circulating among top intelligence officials, lawmakers, and journalists since mid-2016.

A scramble for a foreign investor

After mid-October, the dossier said, Sechin predicted that it would no longer be possible for Trump to win the presidency, so he “put feelers out to other business and political contacts” to purchase a stake in Rosneft.

Rosneft then scrambled to find a foreign investor, holding talks with more than 30 potential buyers from Europe, the US, Asia, and the Middle East. The company signed a deal on December 7 to sell 19.5% of shares, or roughly $11 billion, to the multinational commodity trader Glencore Plc and Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is Glencore’s largest shareholder.

The “11th hour deal” was “so last minute,” Reuters reported, “that it appeared it would not close in time to meet the government’s deadline for booking money in the budget from the sale.”

The purchase amounted to the biggest foreign investment in Russia since US sanctions took effect in 2014. It showed that “there are some forces in the world that are ready to help Russia to circumvent the [West’s] sanction regime,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an associate fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House.

“In Russia we have a marriage between power and business, and that is why all important economic deals need approval and the endorsement of the authorities,” Shevtsova said. “This was a very serious commercial deal that hardly could have succeeded without the direct involvement of the Kremlin.”

The privatization deal was funded by Gazprombank, whose parent company is the state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Page holds investments in Gazprom, though he claimed in a letter to FBI Director James Comey in September that he sold his stake in the company “at a loss.” His website says he served as an adviser “on key transactions” for the state-owned energy giant before setting up his energy investment fund, Global Energy Capital, in 2008 with former Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko.

There is no evidence that Carter played any role in the Rosneft deal. But he was back in Moscow on December 8 — one day after the deal was signed — to “meet with some of the top managers” of Rosneft, he told reporters at the time. Page denied meeting with Sechin, Rosneft’s CEO, during that trip but said it would have been “a great honor” if he had.

The Rosneft deal, Page added, was “a good example of how American private companies are unfortunately limited to a great degree due to the influence of sanctions.” He said the US and Russia had entered “a new era” of relations but that it was still “too early” to discuss whether Trump would be easing or lifting sanctions on Moscow.

Page’s extensive business ties to state-owned Russian companies were investigated by a counterintelligence task force set up last year by the CIA. The investigation, which is reportedly ongoing, has examined whether Russia was funneling money into Trump’s presidential campaign — and, if it was, who was serving as the liaison between the Trump team and the Kremlin.

The dossier claims that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort asked Page to be the liaison. That claim has not been verified. Manafort served as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from 2004 to 2012 and emerged as a central figure in both the dossier and the intelligence community’s early inquiries into Trump’s ties to Russia.

(h/t Business Insider)

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