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Mueller Report Could Impact Trump's Business Empire Down The Road


So there were all the headlines from special counsel Robert Mueller's report, right? No conspiracy with Russia. President Trump not exonerated.


But buried inside the report were some oddities, like a $30,000 jar of caviar.

GREENE: That's right, caviar. It's one thing the team at "Trump, Inc." caught. That's the podcast from WNYC and ProPublica. They've been looking at the impact this report could have on the president's business empire. And we're joined by Ilya Marritz from "Trump, Inc." Hi, Ilya.

ILYA MARRITZ: Good morning.

GREENE: So a lot to chew on in this report. You guys are really looking at the business angles and Trump's businesses. What exactly caught your attention?

MARRITZ: Yeah. Well, when Robert Mueller got started, there was a lot of speculation that he was going to look at Donald Trump's tax returns or maybe his loans from Deutsche Bank. In the end, the thing that Robert Mueller has the most to say about involving The Trump Organization is this project called Trump Tower Moscow. Donald Trump wanted for many years to build a big tower in Moscow. And during the campaign, actually starting as early as 2015, his people, particularly Michael Cohen, were very involved in an effort to find a site, find a partner and begin building.

What's fascinating in Robert Mueller's narrative is the way the campaign takes off at the same time that this effort to build a Trump Tower Moscow is also taking off. In addition, we see for the first time - you know, a lot of the details here had been reported other places, but Mueller brings it together in a narrative that makes sense. And we learned for the first time that there was quite a bit of outreach from highly placed Russians to The Trump Organization saying we can offer help.

GREENE: But the president has always maintained like he was still allowed to do business. This was another business project. I mean - but so many questions here because of the country where it was happening, Russia. Like, did Mueller make ties in a way that makes something seem like it shouldn't have been happening, illegal or just sort of circumstantial stuff?

MARRITZ: I'd say there's just a lot of questionable stuff. For example, when Michael Cohen was looking into traveling to Russia, he would need an invitation actually to get there. Also he was talking with a sanctioned Russian bank - actually with a bank whose - one of whose major shareholders had been expelled from the United States. He was guilty of felonies here. So again and again, we see very irregular and unusual activity and not only irregular and unusual but also concealed from the American people. You'll remember in one of the debates, Donald Trump said he had no business in Russia. We now know that that was definitely not true, that Trump Tower Moscow was not canceled until after the election and after Donald Trump had won.

GREENE: Yeah, and the timing - I mean, it was going on longer than they were suggesting. What about the caviar?

MARRITZ: Yes, the caviar. So Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had a message exchange with a Russian Ukrainian named Konstantin Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign. It included the phrase black caviar. It actually referred to the guy who gave Manafort the caviar. We now know the answer to that mystery of what seemed like a very coded message. It turns out it was the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, someone Manafort worked for for a long time. I think what this incident really does is it just underlines the ways in which Manafort kept up his ties in the former Soviet Union while also working for Donald Trump for free - a lot of questions.

GREENE: A lot of questions, and you're trying to answer them for us. Ilya Marritz from the podcast "Trump, Inc.," thanks so much.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ilya Marritz