Trump Tower was indeed the target of a wiretap while former President Barack Obama was in the White House, but the surveillance wasn’t directed at then-candidate Donald Trump.
The 45th commander-in-chief has spawned allegations that his campaign headquarters inside Trump Tower in New York City was wiretapped during the 2016 election cycle as he took on Democratic foe Hillary Clinton. Obama, as well as federal authorities, have dismissed such allegations and members of Trump’s own party have asked the president to rescind the claims.
But this week it was revealed that the FBI did in fact have wires inside the 58-story Fifth Avenue skyscraper. It just wasn’t about Trump.
According to a report from ABC News, the FBI wiretapped unit 63A for two years from 2011 to 2013. The surveillance was to monitor a sophisticated Russian organized crime network occupying the unit. Federal authorities say the group was an “international money laundering, sports gambling, and extortion ring.”
The probe led to a grand jury indictment of more than 30 individuals including Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, aka “Little Taiwanese.” Tokhtakhounov, one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia leaders, was charged with running an illegal gambling network. But he avoided arrest and remains a fugitive of the United States.
“He is prominent. He has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries,” Mike Gaeta, the FBI agent who led the operation in 2013 told ABC News.
Court documents reveal a Tokhtakhounov associate speaking on the phone regarding a $50,000 gambling debt from inside Trump Tower in 2013. The ring member threatens the person on the other side of the phone, explaining the gambler would be tortured and “wind up underground” if he failed to pay up.
Tokhtakhounov had been dabbling in illicit criminal behaviors in the US long before 2011. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the mafia boss was accused of fixing the pairs’ figure skating competition in favor of the Russian team.
The International Olympic Committee reversed the results and awarded the Canadian team the gold medal after it was revealed that judges from Russia, China, Poland, Ukraine, and France were pressured into putting the Russian pair first.
Opponents to Trump are trying to make the case that he’s a strong ally to Russia, which many consider no friend to the US. There are allegations that Trump’s real estate portfolio has a disproportionate amount of Russian citizens as tenants, a claim the Trump Organization denies.
The company says it doesn’t track the nationality of its buyers. But in the Miami area, the community around the licensed Trump condo towers has become known as “Little Moscow” for the high influx of Russians buying and renting the units.
This week, FBI Director James Comey also revealed to Congress and the general public during his House Intelligence Committee hearing testimony that there is an ongoing probe into whether there was coordination between Russia and President Trump’s campaign to defeat Clinton.