As Trump Enters Year Two In Office, Mueller Looking At Money Laundering Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian influence in U.S. elections. While his probe's details are unknown, one focus may be links between President Trump and Russian money launderers.
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As Trump Enters Year Two In Office, Mueller Looking At Money Laundering

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As Trump Enters Year Two In Office, Mueller Looking At Money Laundering

As Trump Enters Year Two In Office, Mueller Looking At Money Laundering

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As President Trump marks one year in office, NPR is checking on ways that his private business interests have fit with his public role. One area to consider involves his financial dealings with Russians. Special counsel Robert Mueller has brought money laundering charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and there are signs that Russian money laundering has become a big part of the Mueller investigation. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When Mueller assembled his team of investigators, he included several people with experience prosecuting money laundering. Kenneth McCallion is a former federal prosecutor who has written about Trump.

KENNETH MCCALLION: They have substantial decades of experience in the area, and I don't think he would have brought them onto his team if that wasn't going to be an area that would be focused upon.

ZARROLI: And these investigators will have their work cut out for them. Over the years, huge amounts of money have poured into the United States from foreign dictators, drug dealers and Mafia leaders. And McCallion says since the 1990s, much of the dirty money has come from the former Soviet Union.

MCCALLION: Russian money was looking to really find a home outside Russia in Western Europe and the United States, and real estate was one of the investments of choice.

ZARROLI: Banks and real estate companies are required by law to know who they're dealing with, but much of the money coming from the former Soviet Union has come through offshore companies that are difficult to trace. President Trump has denied doing any deals inside Russia, but Russians have been big buyers of his condominiums, and several of his real estate deals in New York and Toronto, for instance, have been financed with money from oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin.

ERIC SWALWELL: You see a number of financial contacts over the years that individuals have had with Russia.

ZARROLI: Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California says there's nothing illegal about doing business with investors from the former Soviet Union. But Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, says Trump's friendliness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin does raise questions about his motives.

SWALWELL: He certainly is acting in their interests. And what we want to find out is, is there a nefarious reason for that?

ZARROLI: Swalwell says the Russian government has a long history of using money to buy influence.

SWALWELL: Oftentimes it's through real estate dealings. Sometimes it's through preying on people in financial distress.

ZARROLI: Swalwell points out that Trump himself has gone through numerous bankruptcies and is said to have had difficulty getting credit from major banks. The one big exception was Deutsche Bank, to which he owes more than $130 million and which has paid big fines in New York state for money laundering. Jonathan Winer is a former State Department official.

JONATHAN WINER: It's important that Mr. Mueller find out what happened there because Deutsche Bank was known as having extensive, intensive relationships with money from former Soviet republics generally and Russia in particular.

ZARROLI: Now, as Trump enters his second year in office, there's evidence Mueller is examining his ties to the bank. Mueller's team reportedly subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank involving people tied to the Trump Organization. What all this means is unclear. The Trump Organization is a privately held company that releases few public records, and Trump himself has refused to release his tax returns. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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