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Report: Donald Trump Violated US Embargo on Cuba in 1990s Even as He Called Castro a Brutal Dictator

StorySeptember 30, 2016
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A new investigation reveals Donald Trump’s businesses violated the U.S. embargo on Cuba and secretly did business there in the late 1990s and then tried to cover it up. The investigation draws on internal company documents showing Trump’s company, then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, spent at least $68,000 in Cuba during a secret business trip to Havana. At the time, it was illegal under U.S. law to spend any corporate money in Cuba. We speak with Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald, who broke the story, headlined “Donald Trump’s Castro Connection.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in news from the campaign trail, a new investigation by Newsweek reveals that one of Donald Trump’s businesses violated the U.S. embargo on Cuba and secretly did business there in the late 1990s and then tried to cover it up. The investigation draws on internal company documents showing Trump’s firm, then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, spent at least $68,000 in Cuba during a secret business trip to Havana. At the time, it was illegal under U.S. law to spend any corporate money in Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Only a year later, Trump wrote in an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald in '99, “I would rather take a financial hit than become a financial backer of one of the world's most-brutal dictators … Of course, we should keep the embargo in place,” he wrote.

Well, for more, we go to Dallas, Texas, where we’re joined by Kurt Eichenwald, who’s senior writer at Newsweek, contributing editor at Vanity Fair. His cover story for Newsweek is headlined “Donald Trump’s Castro Connection.”

So, in these last few minutes we have together, Kurt, can you just lay out what you found?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, very simply, that Donald Trump violated the Cuban embargo, and did so with a lot of planning. They did a business trip. They spent many, many thousands of dollars, which is completely illegal, visited—this is not Donald Trump personally. They sent someone from an outside company and reimbursed him for all the costs, but that was the way to do it. They met with government officials, financiers, businessmen, came back, plotted on how to make it look like this was actually a humanitarian effort sponsored by a charity. And then, after that, no deal came out of it, but seven months later, Trump was on the campaign trail running for the nomination of the Reform Party. And he said spending money in Cuba is giving it to Castro, and he’s a murderer. And, you know, while he’s standing there, he knows that he had just done that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the reason he did that, Kurt—

KURT EICHENWALD: So, it’s really—it’s shocking.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kurt, the reason he did that at the time was just looking out for potential casinos in Havana, at the time that his own company was in financial trouble?

KURT EICHENWALD: Yes. There was—there were rumblings that the embargo might be about to be revised. And so Trump was trying to get, you know, a foot in the door. He was trying to get people on the ground in Havana who would help—you know, help with the government aspects, help with the financial aspects, help with the partnership aspects, and basically was getting braced to, like, dash through the door as soon as it started getting opened. It didn’t get open, and you’re not allowed to do that. It was illegal to begin with. And so, it was a—you know, it was a financial decision for what was then a very financially struggling company. And it just—you know, to me, what’s so shocking about it is how casually they broke the law, how casually—you know, the motivation of it was so—was so based in, you know, just financial calculations, trying to pull a lousy business out of the fire.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Kurt, you have a lot of people who—a lot of—there are a lot of people who were opposed the embargo, who felt it was wrong, except Donald Trump would not be in that category publicly, because, as you point out in the Miami Herald, he said, “I would rather take a financial hit than become a financial backer of one of the world’s most-brutal dictators.” How do you know, in this last minute, that Donald Trump directly knew about this $68,000 expenditure?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, two things. First of all, the $68,000 was coming out from the very highest reaches of the company. It wasn’t like there was some accountant doing it. The president and chief executive officer were in charge. The chief financial officer was involved. And I know from people who were directly involved in the circumstances, who were there, that Trump knew and was fully on board. You know, you don’t write a $68,000 check and not—and it was actually a $100,000 check, because they were paying for other things, too—with a consultant that Trump is dealing with personally, and have nobody know about it. But, yes, he knew.

AMY GOODMAN: And the investigation that you did of the cover-up afterwards, of—

KURT EICHENWALD: With the—well, what that entailed was, after the money had been paid, there are ways for a humanitarian effort to be expended in Cuba that are legal. And it was: “Well, maybe we should try and make it look like this. Maybe we should get a charity to have sponsored our trip.” It doesn’t work that way, and you can’t do a business deal or a business transaction or a business trip and then say, “Oh, let’s make it look like it’s a humanitarian trip.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Kurt Eichenwald, thanks for joining us. We’ll link to your piece at Newsweek, Vanity Fair.

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