A businessman working with the Trump Organization as it sought to expand into the former Soviet Union told congressional investigators this week that he suffered personal and financial costs as a consequence of his work with the president and his associates.
Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a native of Georgia who is a U.S. citizen, was quizzed Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee’s staff during a day-long closed-door interview about his role in several Trump projects, including his interest in a short-lived Trump Tower Moscow development in 2015.
Questions about those projects probably will be raised publicly next month when the former special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, appears before the Intelligence Committee. Its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), has said he sees Trump’s potentially lucrative projects in Russia as “a counterintelligence problem of the first order,” noting that Mueller’s inquiry had a counterintelligence component but that much of the work in that field was not included in his final report.
“What were those findings? What were the risks? Have those risks been addressed? Do those risks involve people that got security clearances by dint of nepotism? Are there still threats or compromises that we should be aware of that we need to take steps to mitigate? Those are some of the more important questions we have,” Schiff said during a recent appearance at the National Press Club, reminding his audience about the potential compromise that could be associated with a presidential candidate who actively seeks to expand his fortune overseas.
In an interview following his appearance on Capitol Hill, Rtskhiladze presented an alternative view, noting that seemingly lucrative Trump projects overseas were problematic, in part, because they mixed business with politics.
“I am collateral damage,” he said.
“Looking at my situation and my partners’ situation since Donald Trump became president — unfortunately we see nothing but losses,” Rtskhiladze said, describing the collapse of a planned Trump Tower project in his native Georgia and reputational harm that resulted from efforts to be helpful to Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Rtzskhiladze was a footnote in the Mueller report, which mentioned his connection to video tapes reportedly circulating in Moscow and a text message he sent to Cohen in October 2016, shortly before the election. The text said Rtskhiladze had “stopped the flow of some tapes from Russia,” a presumed reference to reports of material that might be embarrassing to then-candidate Trump.
Rtskhiladze disputed the Mueller report’s characterization of his message and said he was incensed that the report referred to him as a Russian.
Cohen told lawmakers earlier this year that he was part of an effort to chase down rumored tapes of Trump. He said, however, that he had no knowledge any exist.
Rtskhiladze said the footnote in Mueller’s report included only excerpts of his texts and failed to make clear that Rtskhiladze thought the tapes were fake.
“It was important to tell the committee that Michael Cohen knew exactly what I was talking about,” Rtskhiladze said, noting he had told Cohen that video recordings were the subject of gossip and “there was nothing to these tapes.”
He said the period since Trump’s election has provided him with a grim education on what can go wrong when politics and business become intertwined.
“We had no idea what would happen if a private business person who’s well known in the world becomes president,” he said, adding that he and his partners lost millions since they started worked on a proposed Trump Tower in Georgia in 2010.
He said that he was quizzed extensively by the Intelligence Committee staff about his decade of experience working with Trump. He told his interviewers that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Georgia project after the election left him angry. He said he bears no ill will toward the president, adding, “I wish him well in his very important job.”
He said he believed that, throughout the inquiry, he had to stay focused on his discussions with Trump. “Without him,” Rtskhiladze said, “there was no decision made, ever.”