The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists just dropped a bomb into the middle of the Trump campaign.
They report that Trump did business with the Iranian bank Bank Melli, an entity which was linked to terrorist activities, during an official United States embargo barring Americans and American businesses from doing business with Iran.
A court document obtained by ICIJ indicates that Bank Melli’s rent on more than 8,000 square feet on the GM Building’s 44th floor may have topped half a million dollars a year.
The legal ramifications of the Trump Organization taking rent payments from Bank Melli are unclear.
At the time, the U.S. had a sweeping embargo in place which prohibited Americans from doing business with Iran, including receiving rent payments. However, some Iranian organizations were granted licenses exempting specific transactions from sanctions. If the payments were licensed, it may have been legally difficult for the Trump Organization to evict the bank.
The Treasury Department does not publicly disclose individual licenses granting companies exemptions from sanctions rules. The Treasury Department, the Trump campaign and Bank Melli all declined to answer whether the agency had issued a license to the Trump Organization or the bank permitting rent payments during Trump’s ownership of the building.
The Trump campaign declined to answer any questions about Bank Melli for this story, but said Trump would take steps to avoid any conflicts of interest with his business dealings if he is elected president.
“Mr. Trump’s sole focus is and will be on making our country great again,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email. “He has already committed to putting his assets in a blind trust and will have no involvement whatsoever in the Trump Organization.”
While taking the bank's money for space in his building, he was publicly criticizing them.
U.S. sanctions against Iran date back to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when Islamic fundamentalists seized power and held more than 50 Americans hostage for more than a year. After briefly lifting restrictions when the hostages were released, President Ronald Reagan designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and imposed new sanctions in 1984 and 1987.
At the time, Donald Trump called for the U.S. take a tougher line against the Iranian regime.
In 1987, he suggested in a speech in New Hampshire that the U.S. should attack Iran and seize some of its oil fields to hit back for what he described as Iran’s bullying of America.
“I’d be harsh on Iran. They've been beating us psychologically, making us look a bunch of fools,” Trump told The Guardian in 1988. “It’d be good for the world to take them on.”
The Clinton campaign has already pounced on it. Senior adviser Jake Sullivan wrote,
“Today’s report that Trump’s organization did business with a sanctioned Iranian bank—one that has played a role in supporting Iran’s nuclear program and supported groups like Hezbollah and Hamas—shows yet again that Trump puts his own business interests ahead of the national interest. This report exposes Trump’s hypocrisy on Iran. As with Cuba, he talks a big game but when it comes to making a buck, he’ll deal with anyone. The conflicts of interest presented by Trump’s business and his own desire to boost his bottom line above all else demonstrate clearly why voters should know more about Trump’s business deals and what they mean for how he’ll govern."