PALM BEACH — A 2008 real estate deal between President Donald Trump and a Russian investor is raising eyebrows in the Senate.
The property conveyed—6.3 acres in a particularly ritzy part of Palm Beach (bordering the home of TV surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz)—was purchased by Trump in 2004 for $41.35 million. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million for the property just four years later.
While this might not seem untoward on the face of it (and, indeed, could even be viewed as proof of Trump’s normally-questionable claims about his outstanding business acumen), it becomes decidedly more suspicious with the revelation that the appraised value of the property was $30 million less than the sale price.
“In the context of the President’s then-precarious financial position, I believe that the Palm Beach property sale warrants further scrutiny,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote in a letter of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “It is imperative that Congress follow the money and conduct a thorough investigation into any potential money laundering or other illicit financial dealings between the President, his associates, and Russia.”
Wyden made reference to Trump’s difficulties getting loans from financial institutions “due to his business practices in the 1980s and 1990s,” implying that a dramatic overpayment for a piece of property by a Russian national against that backdrop appeared more than a little unseemly.
Wyden, as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, brings the weight of his position to his insinuations and his call for an investigation.
Trump, with his usual excellent legal instincts, actually volunteered information about the sale at a July 2016 press conference.
“You know, the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida,” he said. “Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt, and I bought the house for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million, including brokerage commissions.”
Trump claims never to have met Rybolovlev personally, though their paths crossed a couple of times during the presidential campaign, with their respective planes logged in Charlotte, North Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada at the same time. Rybolovlev called this a “pure coincidence.”
It remains to be seen if Wyden can get any traction for his investigation into the deal, though a news report from July indicated that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was looking into the sale, so it appears that base might already be covered.