Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible contacts with President Donald Trump’s campaign could potentially expose a wide range of Trump’s real estate transactions.
Since election day, Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront properties for roughly $33 million dollars, many of which were sold to shell companies that effectively conceal the identity of the individuals behind the transaction, according to a USA Today report. The Department of Justice could potentially examine these dealings as part of its investigation into Trump campaign officials’ possible collusion with Kremlin-connected Russians.
Federal investigators are expected to closely examine Trump’s most closely held secrets, including who he does business with and how much money changes hands, in order to determine whether Trump’s businesses are benefitting from his political influence. Investigators will likely rely on phone and email records, tax forms and contracts, all of which they should be granted access to as part of their broad investigative mandate.
Trump has repeatedly slammed the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and has argued that Mueller and his team should not be permitted to examine his businesses’ financial dealings.
It’s possible that the Russia probe could expose nefarious business activities unrelated to Russian election meddling. The scope of Mueller’s investigation was codified in an order signed May 17 by acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who empowered Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian Government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
The luxury real estate market is a known haven for foreign criminals looking to hide assets. Trump has reportedly sold dozens of high end condos in New York and Miami to wealthy Russians. Seventy percent of Trump’s real estate sales since taking office have been to secretive shell companies, a clear shift from the two years proceeding his election, in which only four percent of sales were to shell companies, according to a June USA Today investigation .
White collar crime specialist and former staff lawyer for two U.S. Senate committees, Jack Blum, said that Mueller must investigate a wide spectrum of financial dealings in order to determine if Trump or his inner circle have used his political influence for financial gain.
“What you have to do is lay all this stuff out — lay out all the transactions — and then figure out, ‘Why did people do certain things?'” Blum said. “If I see a flow of money to somebody, I want to figure out, ‘Why is that money flowing?'”
Trump and his associates would not necessarily have had to intentionally violate corruption laws in order to be placed in legal jeopardy as commercial real estate brokers can indicted on conspiracy charges for simply failing to properly screen a buyer.
“The law of conspiracy reaches pretty far and every person in the conspiracy doesn’t necessarily have to be clued in to all the details,” John Tobon, a deputy special agent for the Department of Homeland Security in Miami, told USA Today. “So legally you’re exposed in these transactions if you don’t take that extra step of asking who is the person behind 123 LLC.”
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