Day 6

How deep are Donald Trump's ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin?

This week, 20,000 leaked e-mails from top Democrats clouded the party's efforts to unite at its national convention. Security experts blame Russian hands for the hack, leading to questions about whether Vladimir Putin is trying to tip the scales in favour of Donald Trump. Washington Post reporter Philip Bump has been digging into Trump's personal, political and business ties to Russia. Here's what he found.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This was the week of the U.S. election campaign when attention was supposed to shift to the Democrats. That's not exactly how it played out.

On the Friday before the convention, Wikileaks posted 20,000 Democratic National Committee personal e-mails online in a searchable database. The content embarrassed party officials and infuriated supporters of Bernie Sanders, widening a rift the convention was supposed to heal. Within hours, tech experts found evidence that implicated Russian hackers as the source. Russia sharply denied it.

Trump trumps everything

But on Wednesday, Day 3 of the convention, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared to invite Russia to keep hacking, to try to find the e-mails erased from Hillary Clinton's server when she was Secretary of State.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing," he said. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press," he told a press conference in Florida.

Trump calls on Russia to hack Clinton's email during news conference

6 years ago
Duration 2:07
Republican candidate says Russian president will respect him

If it was a statement that designed to grab attention, it worked.

"It was pretty startling," Philip Bump, a reporter with the Washington Post's political blog 'The Fix'" told Brent Bambury on CBC Day 6.

"It is not normally the case that you have a candidate for the President of the United States actively encouraging a foreign power to take an active role in the political campaign, much less to do so using stolen information."

Business with the oligarchs

Trump's financial dealings with Russia could provide some answers about this new political relationship but Trump hasn't been forthcoming.

The Washington Post has been digging into Trump's business ties with Russia. As U.S. banks withdraw from doing business with Trump, speculation has mounted that he may be bankrolled by Russian interests.  Trump has not hidden his appetite for potential partners in Russia.

"Even as recently as 2013, he expressed interest and excitement about potentially doing a project there, working with a well-known businessman in Russia," says Bump.

"His son, for example, said that Russia was a big customer of theirs. Russians, a lot of them were buying properties that were Trump properties in 2008. He said it was a significant part of their business."

Trump was in Russia in 2013 when the Miss Universe pageant, which he owned at the time, was hosted in Moscow and says he met then with several oligarchs.

"Donald Trump understandably got a cut of the money that was raised by businessmen to bring the event to Moscow." says Bump. "It was one of the few known instances in which Donald Trump actually made money directly from Russians in that regard."

Donald Trump's tweet on June 18, 2013

"But secondarily, it also established that Donald Trump was very interested in getting to know Vladimir Putin," says Bump. "He even tweeted at the time —probably jokingly, but in words that have come back to haunt him — that he's going to do this event in Moscow, and hopefully Vladimir Putin would become his friend."

"And since that point in time Donald Trump has talked with some regularity about Putin. He has hinted that the two of them had talked and gotten to know one another — hints that he has backtracked on this week because of those questions [about his business ties.]"

The tax returns he won't release

Trump reiterated this week he would not release his tax returns which led some, including conservative columnist George Will, to conclude there's information in those documents that show his indebtedness to Russian interests. 

Trump took to Twitter and claimed he had "ZERO investments" in Russia.  But some saw this less as a denial and more of a dodge. 

"I think it's important to note that he said 'For the record, I have no business interests in Russia.' Which, of course, he refuses to provide the records that would show if he did or not. I think that was an interesting contrast," says Bump.

"The question mark that hangs over this is because Trump hasn't released his tax records, it's impossible for us to know what the composition of his income is, and has been — making it much harder to assess how close those ties actually are."

Will voters care?

Polls show that Trump enjoyed a bounce coming out of the Republican convention, his numbers making him competitive with Hillary Clinton. If the leaks and comments about Russia were calculated to disrupt any momentum the Democrats have, they may have played their part.

Philip Bump says speculation over Trump's involvement in Russia may not hurt his numbers in the short term.

"I think one of the things that happens in a campaign is that people don't suddenly switch from one candidate to the other. They sort of fall out of love and then are less inclined to actually vote."

"It's out of his control; there's no indication at all that he is actively seeking seeking Russian aid in this. But [if American voters] are concerned about this at all, they are not going to look at it favourably."