By Steve Benen
Donald Trump declared this morning, “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy – yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!” It’s not clear why, exactly, the president made the comment – he probably saw something on television he didn’t like – and it’s even less clear why he thinks his observation makes sense.
For example, President Obama did not single-handedly reach an effective nuclear agreement with Iran; it was actually an international coalition that struck the deal – including Trump’s allies in Moscow. As for the idea that there was “no problem” in response to the breakthrough policy, the new president may not realize this, but the agreement was the subject of intense debate and controversy.
But it was Trump’s assertion that he has “no deals in Russia” that seemed especially noteworthy. He said something similar last month in a pre-inaugural press conference, telling reporters, “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”
To the extent that reality matters, Trump and his business team did not ”stay away.” The New York Times reported a few weeks ago: Mr. Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987, when he traveled there to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have appeared in Moscow over and over in search of joint ventures, meeting with developers and government officials.
During a trip in 2006, Mr. Sater and two of Mr. Trump’s children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, stayed at the historic Hotel National Moscow opposite the Kremlin, connecting with potential partners over the course of several days.
As recently as 2013, Mr. Trump himself was in Moscow. He had sold Russian real estate developers the right to host his Miss Universe pageant that year, and he used the visit as a chance to discuss development deals, writing on Twitter at the time: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”
Trump once told a biographer, “I know the Russians better than anybody.”
What about the president’s specific claim this morning that he currently has “no deals in Russia”? That may be true, but it’s difficult to know for sure. As the Washington Post recently reported, “It is not possible to verify whether Trump does not have current deals or loans with Russian entities because he has refused to release his tax returns.”
As for the Republican’s assertion that he doesn’t know Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s worth remembering from time to time that Trump has repeatedly said the exact opposite. Trump told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts in 2013, “I do have a relationship” with Putin. A year later, Trump said, “I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.”
As recently as late 2015, Trump said in reference to Putin, “I got to know him very well.”
Trump later decided to reverse course on his own claims on the Russian leader. Will he do the same in reference to his denials about Russian deals?