Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it was commencing an investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign that would include an examination of connections between Russia and the Trump camp. And a veiled but public exchange between Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the committee, and FBI Director James Comey during a hearing on January 10 suggested the FBI has collected information on possible ties between Trump associates and Russians and may still be probing this matter. So with subpoena-wielding investigators on this beat, here’s a suggestion: The gumshoes ought to talk to an American from Belarus named Sergei Millian, who has boasted of close ties to Trump and who has worked with an outfit the FBI suspected of being a Russian intelligence front. If they haven’t already.
Millian, who is in his late 30s and won’t say when he came to the United States or how he obtained US citizenship, is an intriguing and mysterious figure with a curious connection to Trump. He is president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in the USA (RACC) and the owner of a translation service. The RACC, a nonprofit that Millian started in Atlanta in 2006 and that has survived on shoestring budgets, advocates closer commercial ties between Russia and the United States and assists US firms looking to do business in Russia. In 2009, the group called for the US Congress “to foster necessary political changes to produce a healthier economic environment” and grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia. Its website notes that it “facilitates cooperation for U.S. members with the Russian Government, Russian Regional Administrations, U.S. Consulates in Russia, Chambers of Commerce in Russia, and corporate leaders from CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries.”
The Russian-American Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 tax return reported the group was based in an apartment in Astoria, Queens, where Millian lived—though the group’s letterhead that year listed a Wall Street address—and that year it brought in only $23,300 in contributions and grants and $14,748 in program revenue. The tax return noted that the chamber “successfully hosted four universities from Russia in New York City” and hosted a trade mission from Belarus. In 2015, Millian received a Russian award for fostering cooperation between US and Russian businesses.
On his LinkedIn page, Millian notes he is also the vice president of an outfit called the World Chinese Merchants Union Association, a group that has only a slight presence on the internet and that seems to have an address in Beijing. According to a LinkedIn post published by Millian in April 2016, he met that month in Beijing with a Chinese official and the Russian ambassador to the Republic of San Marino to discuss industrial and commercial cooperation between China and Russia.
Millian’s online bio notes he graduated from the Minsk State Linguistic University with the equivalent of a master’s degree in 2000. His bio says he is a real estate broker who works in residential and commercial properties in the United States and abroad. He used to go by the name Siarhei Kukuts—that’s how he’s listed on tax returns for the RACC—and it is unclear why he changed his name. Millian also has repeatedly claimed he had a significant business association with Trump.
In an April 2016 interview with RIA Novosti, a Russian media outlet, Millian described his history with Trump. He said he met the celebrity real estate developer in 2007 when Trump visited Moscow for a “Millionaire’s Fair,” where he was promoting Trump Vodka. Millian noted that Trump subsequently invited him to a horse race in Miami. “Later,” Millian said, “we met at his office in New York, where he introduced me to his right-hand man—Michael Cohen. He is Trump’s main lawyer, all contracts go through him. Subsequently, a contract was signed with me to promote one of their real estate projects in Russia and the CIS. You can say I was their exclusive broker.”
Millian said he had helped Trump “study the Moscow market” for potential real estate investments. In the April 2009 issue of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce newsletter, Millian reported that he was working with Russian investors looking to buy property in the United States, and he said, “We have signed formal agreements with the Richard Bowers and Co., the Trump Organization and The Related Group to jointly service the Russian clients’ commercial, residential and industrial real estate needs.” Millian’s claim did jibe with what Donald Trump Jr. said at a 2008 real estate conference in New York. Trump’s son noted, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” He added, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
In the 2016 interview, Millian asserted that Trump would be good for Russia if elected president. Trump, he noted, would improve US relations with Russia and lift economic sanctions imposed by Washington on Russia. He said Trump was interested in doing business in Russia: “I don’t want to reveal [Trump’s] position, but he is keeping Moscow in his sights and is waiting for an appropriate time.” Millian added, “In general Trump has a very positive attitude to Russians, because he sees them as clients for his business. Incidentally, he has done many projects with people from the Russian-language diaspora. For example, Trump SoHo in New York with billionaire Tamir Sapir.” (Sapir, who died in 2014, was an American billionaire real estate developer from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.)
Millian apparently was proud of his association with Trump. In 2014, he posted on Facebook a photograph of him with Trump and Jorge Perez, the billionaire real estate developer in Miami who owns the Related Group.
Millian seemed delighted to spin for Trump and push the impression he was a Trump insider. During the Republican convention, he told the Daily Beast that Trump was a “powerful, charismatic, and highly intelligent leader with a realistic approach toward Russia.” He added, “I, personally, wholeheartedly support his presidential aspirations. It’s been a great pleasure representing Mr. Trump’s projects in Russia.” But weeks later, as the Russia hacking controversy was heating up, Millian, in another exchange with the Daily Beast, downplayed his connection to Trump. And the website reported that after its reporter spoke him, Millian removed mentions of his Trump association from an online biography. It also appears that references to the Trump Organization working with the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in the USA were at some point scraped from its website.
Millian’s activities and ties to Trump have raised questions. In October, the Financial Times mounted an investigation of him and the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. It reported:
Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website. At the same time, the chamber appears to have close official ties, arranging trips for visiting Russian regional governors to the US.
As part of its inquiry into Millian, the newspaper pointed to Millian’s connection to Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian government organization that promotes Russian culture abroad. In 2013, Mother Jones reported that Rossotrudnichestvo was under investigation by the FBI for using junkets to recruit American assets for Russian intelligence. Through cultural exchanges, Rossotrudnichestvo, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Russian Foreign Ministry, was bringing young Americans—including political aides, nonprofit advocates, and business executives—on trips to Russia. The program was run by Yury Zaytsev, a Russian diplomat who headed the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, DC.
Americans who participated in the exchange trips and were later questioned by FBI agents told Mother Jones that the agents’ questions indicated the FBI suspected Zaytsev and Rossotrudnichestvo had been using the all-expenses-paid trips to Russia to cultivate Americans as intelligence assets. (An asset could be a person who directly works with an intelligence service to gather information, or merely a contact who provides information, opinions, or gossip, not realizing it is being collected by an intelligence officer.) After Mother Jones published a story on the FBI investigation, the Russian embassy in Washington issued a statement: “All such ‘scaring information’ very much resembles Cold War era. A blunt tentative is made to distort and to blacken activities of the Russian Cultural Center in DC, which are aimed at developing mutual trust and cooperation between our peoples and countries.” (A year later, in November 2014, Zaytsev spoke at a Moscow press conference and said, in reference to the upcoming US presidential elections, “It seems to me that the Russian ‘card’ will certainly be played out.” He added, “I think that this presidential election first of all will very clearly show a trend of further development” in US-Russia relations.)
Millian has collaborated with Rossotrudnichestvo. In 2011, he and the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce worked with Zaytsev and the Russian group to mount a 10-day exchange that brought 50 entrepreneurs to the first “Russian-American Business Forum” in Moscow and the Vladimir region, according to a letter Millian sent to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after the initiative. In that letter, Millian praised Rossotrudnichestvo, and he added, “My entire staff, fellow participants, and I, here at the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in the USA, very much look forward to assisting Rossotrudnichestvo with the preparations for next year’s trip.” (Millian now says, “We are not affiliated with [Rossotrudnichestvo] in any way.”)
Toward the end of the presidential campaign Michael Cohen, the Trump lawyer, told the Financial Times that Millian’s claims of working with Trump were “nothing more than a weak attempt to align himself with Mr. Trump’s overwhelmingly successful brand.” But the newspaper reported that Cohen “did not respond to questions about whether he interacted with Mr. Millian or why Mr. Millian is one of only 100 people he follows on Twitter.” (Cohen no longer follows Millian on Twitter.) Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, told the paper that Trump had “met and spoke” with Millian only “on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening.”
Cohen, Hicks, Sean Spicer, Trump’s designated White House press secretary, and the Trump presidential transition team did not respond to a request for information regarding Millian’s interactions with Trump and his associates.
Reached by telephone this week, Millian said he would not discuss his relationship with Trump and requested he be sent questions via email. Mother Jones subsequently sent him a list. Millian responded in an email with answers to a different set of questions, and he noted he would not answer any queries about his personal background or provide any details beyond what was in this reply. He said in the email, “I have a solid reputation with businesses around the world. It’s a common practice for immigrants to change name upon immigrating to the USA. I am US citizen and do not have and never had Russian citizenship. I live and work in NYC.”
In the email, Millian asserted, “I have never said that I worked personally for Trump. I said I was a broker for one of his many real estate projects. There are several brokers who work on such real estate projects. I never represented Mr Trump personally and I am not working with Mr Trump.” He added, “I have signed an official contract with talks of exclusivity that authorized me to represent Trump name project in Russia and CIS.” But he said he had never been paid by Trump for any work. He maintained that the last time he spoke to Trump was in 2008.
Millian insisted he had “never worked for Russian Government or Russian military as a translator or in any other capacity.” He said, “We never got any business with Rossotrudnichestvo.” And he made this point: “I’m a member of the Presidential Trust of NRC-GOP and supporter of Mr Trump who contributed to his campaign just the same way as many millions of Americans. I’m proud that Mr Trump became our president. I’m sure he will rebuild our great nation to the highest standards just as he did with his distinguished buildings. We desperately need better infrastructure, airports, railways in this country. Also, high time starting paying off national debts. I feel upset that press tries to distracts him from making our country great again by distributing fake news.” (A search of campaign finance records revealed no contribution from Millian to the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee; a contribution of $200 does not have to be itemized.)
Millian’s response ignored several questions Mother Jones sent him. He would not say when he left Belarus or explain how he became an American citizen. He would not discuss the details of the deal he previously claimed to have struck with the Trump Organization. He would not say how many times he worked on projects or exchanges with Rossotrudnichestvo. (His response seemed to suggest he had nothing to do with the Russian organization, yet the 2011 letter he wrote indicated his Russian-American Chamber of Commerce had collaborated with Rossotrudnichestvo.) He did not explain why references to the Trump organization had been scraped from the RACC’s website and his bio. And he did not answer this question: “In the last year and a half, have you had any contacts with Donald Trump or any of his political or business associates?”
Various media outlets that have examined links between Trump and Russia have focused on Carter Page, a Moscow-connected foreign policy adviser for Trump ‘s presidential campaign (whom Trump spokesman Sean Spicer recently falsely claimed Trump did not know) and Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime presidential campaign manager who had business ties to Russians and Putin-allied Ukrainians. Any official investigators would likely be interested in these two men. They also should schedule a sit down with Millian.