Author Craig Unger talked about his new book, 'House of Trump, House of Putin,' Trump's historical ties to Russia, and how the American president and Putin "are bound by more than just an authoritarian streak" in an interview Wednesday night with CNN's Don Lemon.
The KGB and its current form, the FSB, have been "partnering with Donald Trump" for over 20 years, according to Unger. He said the president has been laundering money for the Russians and the Soviet Union before that. Unger said the best way to launder money is real estate.
"Trump says he has no contacts with Russia. I found 59 people and -- who were in a meeting between Trump and Russia. And I traced them over the years. And I found not just hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars in money laundering from the Russian mafia using Trump properties," he reported.
"They approached him as a powerful businessman, and that was sort of it," Unger said of the Soviets. "And I believe it started out as laundering money. When the Soviet Union crumbled, there were enormous amounts of flight capital that needed to be laundered. And what is the best way to launder money? It is through real estate."
DON LEMON, CNN: So President Trump made a move today that wouldn't be out of place in a dictatorship, revoking the security clearance of a prominent critic. But my next guest claims Vladimir Putin and President Trump are bound by more than just an authoritarian streak. Joining me now is journalist Craig Unger, the Author of the book, "House of Trump, House of Putin: the Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia."
Good evening. Thank you for coming on.
CRAIG UNGER, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me, Don.
LEMON: So you make some shocking claims, suggesting that the Russians have been cultivating Donald Trump for decades. Explain that.
UNGER: Right. Well, I think it was a story of the greatest intelligence operation of our time, and it goes back more than 30 years. And I wanted to see how it began, and why it began, and I went back to 1984. And for the first time, you see a man, who's a member of the Russian mafia meet with Donald Trump in Trump Tower.
This is just after Trump Tower opened and it was the glitziest building in America. And he comes in and he buys five condos, paying all cash. And this is the first time Donald Trump properties have been used to launder money for the Russian mafia.
LEMON: OK. So you're saying his property is being used to launder money from the Russian mafia. And that's not what CNN is reporting. That's you're reporting and what you write in the book. But you draw a lot of the lines. Do you have any -- what proof of that do you have?
UNGER: Absolutely. Well, you know, Trump says he has no contacts with Russia. I found 59 people and -- who were in a meeting between Trump and Russia. And I traced them over the years. And I found not just hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars in money laundering from the Russian mafia using Trump properties.
But you had criminals living in Trump Tower and the FBI was chasing mobsters. They found that oh, they weren't living in Brooklyn. They were living in Trump Tower. And this went on for more than 30 years. I found 59 people. And one of the key parts of this, one of the most important things that I want people to really understand is the Russian mafia is not like American mafia.
It's not like what you see in the Godfather. The Russian mafia is a state actor. Russia is often called a mafia state. And ahead of that -- so they are working for Russia, in much the same way the CIA...
LEMON: You said this is starting in 1984, right?
LEMON: So it might seem farfetched to people that the Russians would run an operation that would survive the fall of the Soviet Union and it would go on, you know, for years after that. Are you giving them too much credit or are they that crafty?
UNGER: They are that crafty, the KGB. This started under the KGB, which is a precursor to the FSB. But as the Soviet Union was crumbling, the KGB made plans on how to survive the turmoil the Soviet Union was going through. And one of the ways they did that was they started huge corporations. And a number of those people were trading commodities.
But there were really veterans of the KGB. And now these people came alive again, and 20 years later, you see them partnering with Donald Trump.
LEMON: So but why would the Russians be interested. At least that early on in 2016, I think we sort of, you know, figured out why. He didn't like Hillary Clinton. He said he is (Inaudible) that he wanted Donald Trump to win. But why would they be interested in someone like Donald Trump, especially starting back as far as 1984.
UNGER: Well, back then he was just a businessman. They approached him as a powerful businessman, and that was sort of it. And I believe it started out as laundering money. When the Soviet Union crumbled, there were enormous amounts of flight capital that needed to be laundered. And what is the best way to launder money? It is through real estate.
And Donald Trump created an empire that became a money laundering machine. Trump Tower became a money laundering cathedral. This was his way of doing business, and it was a win-win situation. They saved him. He was $4 billion in debt at one point. And the Russian mafia came to his aid.
LEMON: So back in 1987, 1987, there was a lot of speculation that Donald Trump would run for President. As a matter of fact, he spent $100,000 of his own money. He was running ads in major newspapers, criticizing American foreign policy, saying that we spend too much money protecting our allies. Even back then, though, he was striking a tone that would be in line with Russian goals.
UNGER: Absolutely. And that came just after his very first trip to Russia. And I went back and tried to examine how that came about. And it was -- came about through Ambassador (Inaudible) who was then Ambassador to (Inaudible) of the United Nations. And he and his daughter just went up to Trump Tower. They didn't have an appointment.
This was very unusual in terms of protocol at that time. And they met with him. They flattered him. They said why don't you do the same kind of thing in Moscow. And they flew him over. And during that trip, I later talked to General Kalugin, who had been head of counter intelligence of the KGB. And General Kalugin told me that Trump had lots of fun with lots of women, and he was reasonably sure that the KGB had compromise from that visit in 1987.
LEMON: Craig Unger, the book is House of Trump, House of Putin. Thank you so much for joining us. It's the untold story of Donald Trump and the Russian mafia. We appreciate it, sir. When we come back, President Trump revoked John Brennan's security clearance without consulting the CIA or his own Director of National Intelligence. And my next guest says, quote, his corrupt purpose is to silence dissent.