Some group no one has ever heard of before today is all over the internet with the story that nearly 20 years Donald Trump did business with an Iranian bank with ties to terrorism. My colleague, Brandon Morse, has posted on the story. Basically, it is this.
a) In 1998, the Trump Organization partnered with Conseco, a large insurance company, to purchase the General Motors Building in Manhattan.
b) One of the tenants of the building was Bank Melli, a well established Iranian bank with a very small US presence.
c) The bank operated legally in the United States and New York.
d) In 1999, the United States Treasury Department declared the bank was owned by the Iranian government but this did not bring any adverse action with it nor did it bring a finding that Bank Melli was involved in terrorism.
e) Trump sold his interest in the building in 2003.
From that we get the breathless headline that Trump was doing business with an Iranian bank involved in funding terror and he should have done something.
Let’s look at the intervening history.
In 1997, five American students who were wounded by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem successfully sued the Iranian government based on the Iranians funding the terror attacks against Israel and were awarded $251 million. The looked about for Iranian property to seize and, as you can imagine, since 1979 there has been damned little of it. What there was, though, was Bank Melli. Donald Trump’s tenant. The presiding judge ordered those assets liquidated and paid to the plaintiffs (totaling $150,000). In 2006, the US Department of Justice intervened on behalf of Bank Melli telling the judge she had the law wrong and Bank Melli was not responsible for Iran’s terrorism.
It wasn’t until October 2007, four years after Trump had stopped being a partner in the General Motors Building, that Bank Melli was actually hit by sanctions of any kind and even those sanctions were not directed at the bank, itself, but at all Iranian owned enterprises. And it wasn’t until this same 2007 action that the US government alleged Bank Melli was involved in channeling money to the Iranian military, the IRGC, Hamas, etc.
The fact is that Trump did not own the building outright, he owned it as a partnership. Bank Melli was not under any US imposed sanctions at the time. When Trump bought the building Bank Melli had a lease. I can’t find the length or terms of the lease but the fact it is that Trump did not have the ability to break the lease as he was not the sole owner. Beyond that, breaking the lease with Bank Melli based on them being Iranian — keep in mind that when he owned the building the US government was defending Bank Melli in court against a lawsuit caused by Iranian terrorism — he would have been sued. And he would have lost. And the exact same people lambasting Trump for not illegally breaking a lease would be thrashing him today for xenophobia.