Donald and Ivana Trump fly to Moscow and are put up by the Soviet government in a suite across from the Kremlin. Ivana’s assistant Lisa Calandra joins them. There, they discuss deals with the Politburo (the highest committee of the communist government) and an agency that noticed Trump years before.
Almost a decade after he became a target, the KGB meets with Donald Trump.
The operatives feed Trump common KGB talking points and flatter him by floating the idea that he could be president someday. Trump’s ego latches on.
Almost immediately after returning to the U.S., Trump begins telling reporters that he has a plan for the Soviet Union. If he or someone like him is in power, then the U.S. and the Soviet Union will join forces, combine our nuclear stockpiles, and “dominate” Third World countries–even if it takes cutting off millions of people from food and water. (Yes, he really does say that.)
In September, Trump takes out ads attacking NATO and accusing our allies in Japan and Saudi Arabia of exploiting us. The KGB celebrates.
Trump announced a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before the trip but months later says the meeting never takes place. Trump does meet Gorbachev in December at the U.S. State Department.
For months, Trump teases a presidential run. He even gives a campaign speech to Republican donors in New Hampshire, but he never registers as a candidate. When Trump makes a formal run for office in 2000, his platform is in line with the policies Russia is looking for: a leftist, populist agenda that will be more welcoming to the former Soviet Union than Ronald Reagan and the establishment presidents that followed.
Recruiting Donald Trump
According to The Art of the Deal, Trump was invited to Moscow after sitting next to the Soviet ambassador at a 1986 luncheon.
The idea got off the ground after I sat next to the Soviet ambassador, Yuri Dubinin, at a luncheon held by Leonard Lauder, a great businessman who is the son of Estée Lauder. Dubinin’s daughter [Natalia Dubinina] it turned out, had read about Trump Tower and knew all about it. One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government. They have asked me to go to Moscow in July.The Art of the Deal
In January 1987, according to The Art of the Deal, Trump received a letter from Dubinin inviting him to Moscow to meet with officials from Goscomintourist (or Intourist), the Soviet state agency for international tourism. The cover story was that the agency wanted to discuss real estate. Unbeknownst to Trump at the time, Intourist and the connected hotel in which the Trumps stay are operated and surveilled by the KGB.
Trump’s book leaves out that he first met Yuri Dubinin six months before the luncheon, in March 1986. The first place Dubinin visited after arriving in New York City was Trump Tower, where he met with Trump and flattered him. Natalia, his daughter, was with him. She admits years later that her father’s intention was to “hook” the assumed billionaire.
Yuri Dubinin worked closely with the “powers that be” in Moscow, but he was not a KGB agent. His daughter, however, might have been. When Natalia Dubinina and her father met Trump, she was in a top position at the Dag Hammerskjold Library at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The person who held the job before her was a KGB agent, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence identified the position as a vital resource and frequent cover for the KGB in 1985.
The Deal‘s retelling of events leaves out another major detail. Dubinin was not the only Soviet official involved in Trump’s trip. The visit was planned by Vitaly Churkin, “a bureaucrat who rose through the Soviet ranks, strengthened his position as a diplomat in independent Russia, and became Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2006.”
The recruitment of Donald Trump fulfilled earlier demands from General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchkov, the head of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Kryuchkov spent most of the 1980s trying to improve the KGB’s recruitment strategies, urging agents to get more creative.
Previously they had relied on identifying candidates who showed ideological sympathy toward the USSR: leftists, trade unionists and so on. By the mid-1980s these were not so many. So KGB officers should “make bolder use of material incentives”: money. And use flattery, an important tool.
The Center, as KGB headquarters was known, was especially concerned about its lack of success in recruiting US citizens… The PR Line—that is, the Political Intelligence Department stationed in KGB residencies abroad—was given explicit instructions to find “U.S. targets to cultivate or, at the very least, official contacts.” “The main effort must be concentrated on acquiring valuable agents,” Kryuchkov said…
One solution was to make wider use of “the facilities of friendly intelligence services”—for example, Czechoslovakian or East German spy networks… [and acquire] “prominent figures in politics and society, and important representatives of business and science.” These should not only “supply valuable information” but also “actively influence” a country’s foreign policy “in a direction of advantage to the USSR.”
…There were, of course, different stages of recruitment. Typically, a case officer would invite a target to lunch.Politico Magazine
The invitation to Moscow was the second stage in KGB recruitment. The first stage was inviting him to the luncheon. It probably wasn’t difficult reaching him; he was already a target for recruitment, and the KGB’s Czech counterpart was compiling kompromat years earlier.
The trip to Moscow isn’t the end of Churkin’s involvement with Trump.
Churkin met again with Trump in 2013 and spent 2016 stridently defending Trump at the United Nations, despite Trump not having been criticized by anyone there, in an incident that baffled international observers. The details of Trump and Churkin’s relationship, their meetings, and why Churkin defended Trump remain a mystery, because on February 20, 2017, one month after Trump’s inauguration, Churkin died suddenly at the age of sixty-four.Sarah Kendzior, Hiding In Plain Sight
Trump’s State Department issues a gag order after Churkin’s death, blocking the release of autopsy results after the New York City medical examiner’s office declares a toxicology test is needed. He is the fifth Russian diplomat to die unexpectedly and from unknown causes after the 2016 election.
At the time of Trump’s recruitment, 34-year-old Vladimir Putin is one of Kryuchkov’s officers. His current assignment is to recruit Latin American students studying in Germany. They will eventually be sent to the U.S. as undercover agents for the KGB.
The New York Times – Gorbachev (Archived)
Craig Unger, American Kompromat, p.59-60
AFI Express – Dubinina & The Library (Archived)
Senate Intelligence Report, May 1985
Donald J. Trump, Tony Schwarz, The Art of the Deal, p.27
Sarah Kendzior, Hiding In Plain Sight, p.67-68
Russia Beyond / Tass – Churkin (Archived)
CNN – Churkin & The UN (Archived)
New York Daily News – Autopsy (Archived)
Axios – Russian Diplomats Dying Unexpectedly (Archived)
Photo: Maxim Blokhin/TASS