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Former Kansas congressman questions Donald Trump’s ties to Russia

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, leading one former congressman from Kansas to fear that Trump may owe millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — to Russian oligarchs.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, leading one former congressman from Kansas to fear that Trump may owe millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — to Russian oligarchs. The Associated Press

Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, remain one of the hazy back stories to election 2016.

Trump himself ensured that the issue would get some play because of his flattering remarks about the Russian leader.

“I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly, but there’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now so that we can go and knock out ISIS together with other people and with other countries,” Trump has said.

While Trump has tweeted that he has “ZERO investments” in Russia, the veracity of that statement remains a question mark because Trump still refuses to release his tax returns. Meanwhile, we do have evidence that suggests that Russian investors have funded Trump businesses.

Trump’s son Donald Jr. said at a real estate conference in 2008 that “Russians made up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

And we know Trump’s interested in building in Moscow. He’s said as much.

Enter Jim Slattery, the former six-term Democratic Kansas congressman who was his party’s 2008 nominee for the U.S. Senate. Slattery worked as an international elections monitor in Ukraine in 2004 and later sought the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s first female prime minster who became a high-profile opposition leader in the years before Russia invaded.

That involvement helped tweak Slattery’s interest in exactly what Trump’s “entanglements” might be in Russia and what that might mean for the U.S. should Trump become president.

In short, Slattery’s concern is that Americans may wake up one day shortly after Election Day to find out that Trump owes millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — to Russian oligarchs, not to mention the Chinese government.

Slattery reasons that those debts could be precisely why Trump refuses to release his tax returns just as every major-party nominee has since Jimmy Carter.

Slattery points to Trump Jr.’s remarks that money at one time was “pouring in” and comments from Sergei Millian, who heads a U.S.-Russia business group. Millian has said Trump’s “level of business” with Russian businessmen has totaled “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The former congressman now wants to know how much money poured in and from whom. Did Trump borrow a lot of money from the Russians following the U.S. financial meltdown in 2008 to keep his empire afloat?

“We have no understanding of who Donald Trump owes money to,” Slattery said.

Trump already has suggested that he may lift sanctions on Russia imposed in 2014 by the U.S. and the European Union following Russia’s incursion into Ukrainian territory. Lifting those sanctions could directly affect Trump’s financial position. So could any position Trump takes on trade. That could influence the size of his debt payments.

Even Hillary Clinton isn’t making these connections, Slattery said.

“The American people have never elected a president with this kind of financial dependence on governments that are hostile to America’s interests,” Slattery said.

Trump, he said, may need to maintain a good relationship with Putin, who has absolute control of his country. A sour relationship could quickly dry up his credit.

Slattery wants more information. And, he says, you should, too.

Steve Kraske: 816-234-4312, @stevekraske

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