Josh Rogin | Opinion
August 10, 2016 at 7:01 AM
This week Donald Trump released a new roster of economic advisers, including a businessman with extensive investments in Russia who tried to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. It's the latest in a long list of relationships that give Trump a financial stake in warm U.S.-Russian relations.
Businessman and investor Howard Lorber already donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory fund, has been named as one of Trump's "best friends" and even appeared once on "The Apprentice." He is also president and chief executive of the Vector Group, a holding company that has various business interests in Russia. In 1996, Lorber brought Trump to Moscow to look for opportunities for Trump to lend his famous name to development projects there.
"Howard has major investments in Russia," Trump told Russian politician Alexander Ivanovich Lebed after his trip to Moscow with Lorber, according to a 1997 profile of Trump in the New Yorker. "See, they don't know you," Trump told Lorber. "With all that investment, they don't know you. Trump they know."
At that time, Trump and Lorber were discussing Trump building a huge luxury residential tower in Moscow as part of a project owned by a subsidiary of Lorber's firm. The project never took off, but it was only one in a long line of projects Trump tried to start in Russia during his string of visits there dating back to the time of the Soviet Union.
Trump's visits to Russia began in 1987 and lasted until 2013, when he brought the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow and famously wondered on Twitter about Vladimir Putin, "will he become my best friend?" Trump was also deeply involved in discussions to work on the reconstruction of the Moskva and Rossiya hotels in Moscow's city center. He has bragged about his ties to Russian businessmen connected to the Kremlin.
"The Russian market is attracted to me," Trump told Real Estate Weekly in 2013. "I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room."
In November 1996, Trump spent three days in Moscow with Lorber and visited Ducat Place, a site being developed by Liggett-Ducat Ltd., a cigarette company that was owned by Lorber's Vector Group at the time.
"We're looking at building a super-luxury residential tower … which I think Moscow desperately wants and needs,' Trump told the Moscow Times at the time.
Lorber's business partner Ben LeBow was also involved in arranging Trump's trip to Moscow. He bragged about bringing the Trump Organization to Russia in a 1996 interview with the Moscow Times.
"Donald is the preeminent marketeer and developer in the world," said LeBow. "We want the best for Moscow — and Donald's it."
A spokesperson for Vector Group declined to comment. (Update: After publication, Emily Deissler, a spokesperson for Vector Group, said that Lorber and Vector Group do not currently have any business in Russia.)
Trump's plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and reconstruct the Moscow hotels eventually fizzled out. But 15 years later, Trump was still at it. In 2013, while he was organizing the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Trump tried to restart the Moscow Trump Tower project. He entered talks with Russian billionaire Araz Agalarov, who happened to own the Crocus City Hall, where the Miss Universe finals were held.
Lorber is only the latest Trump adviser to have long ties to Russia and a financial stake there. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort was a paid adviser to Russia's client Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade. Foreign policy adviser Carter Page is a consultant for Russian state-owned energy firm Gazprom.
Donald Trump Jr. has been a huge proponent of expanding the family business to Russia, making half a dozen trips there on behalf of the Trump Organization during the latest U.S. financial crisis.
This weekend, a list of wealthy Trump supporters, including Lorber, will throw a fundraiser for Trump in the Hamptons. If Trump gets elected and makes the changes to U.S.-Russia policy he is promising, their prospects for making money in Moscow stand to increase dramatically.