President Donald Trump is warning special counsel Robert Mueller to stay out of his family business dealings. But if Mueller is following the money, it will lead from the Trump family to a lot of people and transactions in Russia — often with ties to the Kremlin.
Trump's closest business partner in Russia is likely Aras Agalarov, a real estate mogul and friend of Vladimir Putin, who reportedly paid Trump $20 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. Agalarov's son, Emin, is a Russian pop star who helped set up a controversial meeting in Trump Tower between a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who led Trump's campaign. Trump had also appeared in the younger Agalarov's music video featuring contestants from the pageant.
Ilya Zaslavskiy, an expert on Russian corruption and money laundering, told Newsy that Americans should be concerned about such ties to Russian billionaires because "they want to subvert the legal system here in this country and they want to lobby on behalf of the Russian government against sanctions. So they really want to start influencing parties, political decision-making, political discourse which is dangerous. That really hits America at the heart of politics."
Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, has a lot of financial history to unpack, including from his time as an adviser for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine. The New York Times reported Manafort was $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests before he agreed to run Trump's campaign for free.
The FBI is looking at Russian investment in Trump properties, including the sale of Trump's Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire. Trump bought the mansion for $41 million and sold it to a Russian oligarch for $95 million.
And in at a real estate conference in 2008, Trump Jr. himself said, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets." He added, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."
Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort are all set to testify in Congress about their dealings with Russia and its government.