Trump’s Business of Corruption
Our bad! It looks like we're experiencing playback issues.
The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 1
Trump’s Business of Corruption
Adam Davidson follows the money trail in one of the President’s past deals all the way to Vladimir Putin.
Read the story.
Released on 08/17/2017
I'm not a legal reporter.
I'm not a crime reporter.
I'm a business reporter.
And when a business is doing things
for years that just don't make sense,
it just makes me keep wondering.
What's going on?
What am I missing?
(speaking foreign language)
Well thank you very much Mr. President.
I think the theory of the case is pretty simple.
This is right after the financial crisis.
There's not a lot of real estate deals to be had.
It was this paradoxical period
in Trump's life.
♫ Money, money, money, money
Because of the Apprentice,
because of his TV stardom,
he had never been more famous,
he had never been more thought of as
the model of a successful businessman,
of a successful developer.
And his business was in a lot of trouble.
You know, there were multiple bankruptcies,
he was loosing control of his casinos.
There was a real need for cash.
The Trump organization really is no longer
a developer in the traditional sense.
It's not building buildings.
It's not buying land and then constructing a tower.
It's really becoming a marketing company.
It has this brand, Trump,
and it goes around the world
and around the country
and sells that brand.
There's a few reasons why
these Georgians were interested
in the Trump brand.
So part of it I think,
is people have told me is
it really clicks with what
wealthy Russian men,
or former Soviet Union men
think of as manliness.
He may be the most eligible bachelor in America.
Please welcome Donald Trump.
They love the gold.
They love the marble.
The flash, you know, the old guys with flashy clothes
and the young, beautiful wife.
And there's a real brand synergy there
that maybe there isn't in other parts of the world.
Remember, the Trump organization
is switching to an international posture
with like four or five people
doing these international deals
with very little experience overseas.
And they're going into very complicated countries
with deeply corrupt economies,
and really problematic interactions
between business and politics.
And eventually what happens though is
you are in bed with some really bad people.
Yeah, so, the reason that
I started getting passionate about this story
is when Donald Trump,
in an interview with the New York Times,
basically hinted that if
Robert Mueller, the special counsel begins
investigating his business deals,
he would consider that crossing a red line,
and hinted that he might fire him.
Now, I already knew a fair bit about
how the Trump organization worked,
and i had the strong suspicion
that if there was any kind of collusion,
we don't know if there was,
it probably had it's roots
in a business deal.
So I thought to look more carefully
at deals in the former Soviet Union.
And what I saw here is
that the connection to Putin is
just a few hops, you know,
the shin bone's connected to the ankle bone.
I could not have done it without
these two Columbia University,
they were journalism students,
and now they're investigative fellows.
They spent unbelievable amount of time
on the Georgian government's business registry.
But then they find out
that most of the companies involved
are actually registered in these offshore jurisdictions.
Malta or the Netherlands,
or the British Virgin Islands.
And so that's a process of trying to find those companies.
Ultimately, billions and billions and billions of dollars,
countries all over the world.
We really needed to choose,
no, okay, what really matters
is that people are doing business with Trump,
who were they?
Where did they get their money?
How did they get their money?
And how are they connected to Putin?
That's what matters.
99 out of a 100 people won't talk to you but,
once in a while,
and it only takes a few,
you find people who will tell you some real information.
Probably the weirdest moment
was I was meeting a source
who asked to meet
on the waterfront.
Insisted that I
leave my phone in the car.
This person turned off both of their phones.
It had that kind of cloak and dagger feeling
I'd say the toughest thing about reporting on Trump now is
everybody is terrified of
being mentioned in a tweet,
being attacked in some way.
Now, nobody's threatened me.
Nobody has said they want to hurt me.
But, it is a scary time
to be somebody who's reporting
negative stories about the president.
And I do live
in some degree of fear.
I mean I was a reporter in Iraq and I,
I had other fears in Iraq,
but I've never had that kind of
someone could just decide that I'm somehow
the personification of the enemy,
and ruin,
you know, cause real damage.
And that's scary.
There's almost no question
that some of their business,
some of the money they made came
from money launderers.
Trump's not alone.
I think he's probably an outlier.
I think he takes on riskier deals
with more troubling people than most would.
But he's not alone.
But now he's president.
And when you have this kind of promiscuous approach,
this broad approach to being available financially
to some of the most problematic people in the world,
people who are from a part of the world
where there is no separation
between politics, intelligence,
and military and business.
They're all one intertwined elite.
You have a disaster.
You have a president
who could, it's reasonable to fear,
be seriously compromised.
Doing a story like this,
I'm like boy, we have barely scratched the surface.
Alright, thanks guys.
(groups chatter)
Up Next
NewsBooks & CultureFiction & PoetryHumor & Cartoons​Magazine​Crossword​Video​Podcasts​Archive​Goings On
Customer CareShop The New YorkerBuy Covers and CartoonsCondé Nast StoreDigital Access​Newsletters​Jigsaw PuzzleRSSSite Map
About​Careers​Contact​F.A.Q.​Media KitPressAccessibility HelpCondé Nast Spotlight
© 2021 Condé Nast. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement and Your California Privacy Rights. The New Yorker may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. Ad Choices
All VideosCaption That CartoonThe BackstoryAnnals of ObsessionThe New Yorker DocumentarySubmit your film