Trump’s references to Russia go back at least as far as his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, in which he wrote that he was in talks with the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin “about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government.” He attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to seal the deal with a visit to Moscow, during which, according to The Washington Post, Trump “met with a lot of economic and financial advisers in the Politburo,” the Soviet Union’s chief political body. The next year, the real-estate mogul personally hosted the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev at Trump Tower in New York.
According to The New York Times, Trump attempted to rekindle his Russian connections during one of his brushes with bankruptcy in 1996, saying he had never been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow.” Once again, the proposed development, this time an underground shopping mall near the Kremlin, fell through. In the process, though,Trump developed a partnership with a development company called the Bayrock Group, which was founded by a former Soviet official and a Russian-American businessman who has since been implicated in a stock-manipulation and money-laundering scheme involving members of the Russian mob. Over the next decade, CNN has reported, Trump contracted with the Russian law firm Sojuzpatent to file at least eight trademarks in the country. Also during the late 1990s, USA Today notes, “dozens of condominiums in Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan were bought by Russians” who “sought an audience with Trump, whose business acumen they respected.”
Throughout the 2000s, the Trump Organization continued to pursue projects involving Russians or Russian money. The New York Times enumerates attempts by Trump or his adult children to establish branding deals in the country every year from 2005 to 2008. Donald Trump Jr. in particular developed a significant presence in Russia during that period, including visiting at least six times in 18 months, telling the audience of a 2008 conference called “Real Estate in Russia” that his family was pursuing properties in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Sochi, and stating in an interview with a Russian newspaper that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Throughout the period, the Bayrock Group remained the Trump Organization’s intermediary in the region and was also a partner in the development of Trump SoHo.
The list goes on. In 2007, Trump introduced his (now-defunct) brand of vodka to the Russian public at Moscow’s “Millionaire’s Fair”; in 2013, he brought the Miss Universe Pageant to the city, funded in part by $20 million from a Russian billionaire, and tweeted wondering whether he would meet, and become best friends with, President Vladimir Putin. That same year, Trump went on The Late Show and explicitly told David Letterman, “I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians.” So, supposedly, did Eric Trump: According to a report on the radio station WBUR, a golf writer asked in 2014 how the family had managed to finance a new golf course in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the middle of the Great Recession. “Well, we don’t rely on American banks,” Eric allegedly responded. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (Eric Trump denied that this happened.)