WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions' alleged communication with a Russian diplomat is prompting Democrats to raise questions about President Trump’s sprawling global business and whether it ran afoul of anti-money-laundering and terrorism laws.
“President Trump’s refusal to disclose his business dealings makes it unclear whether he and his family may be exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, or money laundering risks through their relationships with investors and associates from Russia and other nations,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in regard to a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday, requesting that he investigate the matter.
Brown is the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, which has oversight of economic sanctions and illicit finance.
“It is in the interest of the American people and the Trump family that Treasury independently assess any risks associated with these investors to make sure they are not at risk of violating U.S. laws,” Brown said.
Any investigation could ultimately entangle banks that have done business with Trump and his various firms over the years.
Brown pointed to comments made by Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, during a real estate conference in 2008.
“In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York,” the younger Trump reportedly said. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Cash purchases of high-end real estate has become of particular concern for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Treasury’s anti-money-laundering department. It ordered a geographic targeting order in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County last year requiring U.S. title insurance companies to identify the “beneficial owner” or true purchase financing all cash sales. It was the first time Fincen issued such an order.
“We are seeking to understand the risk that corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals, may be using premium U.S. real estate to secretly invest millions in dirty money,” Jennifer Shasky Calvery, Fincen's director at the time, said last year. She has since left to join HSBC to lead its global financial crime threat mitigation group.
The younger Trump, who is now overseeing his father’s real estate businesses, said he was making a market observation about the economics driving the Russian investment and did not indicate whether the family had been involved in any specific dealings or all cash sales of real estate.
“There's indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble," he said.