Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says an exchange he had with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during a hearing on Monday stoked his curiosity about President Trump’s shady business dealings in Russia.
At one point during the hearing featuring Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Graham asked Clapper if he ever encountered a situation where “a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern.”
“Not in the course of the intelligence community assessment,” Clapper replied, referring to the assessment he helped put together that detailed how Russian officials worked to help Trump get elected.
“Since?” Graham followed up. “At all. Anytime.”
Clapper’s response was definitely not a no.
“Senator Graham, I can’t comment on that, because that impacts an investigation,” he said.
Clapper’s response suggests there could be an active investigation related to Trump’s business dealings with Russia. FBI Director James Comey has already confirmed that the FBI is taking a broad look into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian officials.
On Tuesday, Graham told CNN he wants “to know more about Trump’s business dealings.”
“The FBI — according to Clapper, I think they’re actually looking at that, so maybe that’s something we need to steer clear of,” Graham continued. “What I’m trying to do is find out what happened so we can prevent it in the future.”
Asked if the tax returns Trump steadfastly refuses to release would help shed light on Trump’s business dealing in Russia, Graham said, “could be, down the road.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump is aware of Graham’s interest in his business dealings with Russia and is “fine with that.”
“He has no business in Russia, he has no connections to Russia, so he welcomes that,” Spicer continued. “In fact, he has already charged a leading law firm in Washington, D.C. to send a certified letter to Senator Graham to that point — that he has no connections to Russia. So that should be a really easy look.”
Spicer says Trump "welcomes" Sen. Graham's inquiry into his ties to Russia because "he has no connections" there https://t.co/ouNKAdigfh
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 9, 2017
It appears Spicer isn’t being honest when he says Trump “has no business in Russia,” however. Last month, Last week, Mother Jones detailed how a “wide array of Russian oligarchs with links to Vladimir Putin have invested tens of millions of hard-to-explain dollars in Trump properties.” In 2008, for example, Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovev for $95 million — about $53 million more than he paid for it less than four years earlier, according to the Washington Post.
In January, Trump denied he has anything to do with Russia whatsoever.
Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
He has clearly, however, done business with Russian billionaires. Around the same time as Trump’s deal with Rybolovev was going down, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
On Sunday, Boston’s NPR affiliate reported that Eric Trump told golf journalist James Dodson in 2014 that the Trump family business relied on funding from Russia.
From WBUR’s piece about Dodson’s recollection of that golf course conversation.
“As we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.”
Graham made the connection between the Russia investigation and Trump’s tax returns after Democratic senators did the same thing last week during a Judiciary Committee hearing featuring FBI Director James Comey.
“We know that the Russians interference in our election and they did it to benefit President Trump — the intelligence agencies confirmed that,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). “But what I want to know is why they favored President Trump, and it seems to me that in order to answer that question, any investigation into whether the Trump campaign or Trump operation colluded with Russian operative would require a full appreciation of the president’s financial dealings. Director Comey, would President Trump’s tax returns be material to such an investigation?”