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Trump Jr. partners with donor who pitched government

NEW YORK — Donald Trump Jr. has a previously undisclosed business relationship with a longtime hunting buddy who helped raise millions of dollars for his father’s 2016 presidential campaign and has had special access to top government officials since the election, records obtained by The Associated Press show.

The president’s eldest son and Texas hedge fund manager Gentry Beach have been involved in business deals together dating back to the mid-2000s and recently formed a company — Future Venture LLC — despite past claims by both men that they were just friends, according to previously unreported court records and other documents obtained by AP.

Beach last year met with top National Security Council officials to push a plan that would curb U.S. sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies in the oil-rich nation.

Ethics experts said their financial entanglements raised questions about whether Beach’s access to government officials and advocacy for policy changes were made possible by the president’s son’s influence — and could also benefit the Trump family’s bottom line.

“This feeds into the same concerns that we’ve had all along: The really fuzzy line between the presidency and the Trumps’ companies,” said Noah Bookbinder, who leads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public policy group. “Donald Trump Jr. sort of straddles that line all the time.”

Last February, just as Trump Sr. was settling into office, Beach and an Iraqi-American businessman met with top officials at the National Security Council to present their plan for lightening U.S. sanctions in Venezuela in exchange for opening business opportunities for U.S. companies, according to a former U.S. official with direct knowledge of the proposal.

Career foreign policy experts were instructed to take the meetings, first reported last April by the website, at the direction of the West Wing because Beach and the businessman were friends of Trump Jr., the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive government work, said that inside the NSC lawyers raised red flags about the appropriateness of the meeting.

The U.S. didn’t act on the pitch, which would have gone against the president’s hard-line stance on the South American nation and its president, Nicolas Maduro.

Seven months after the Venezuela meetings, Beach attended a private lunch in Dallas between Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Republican donors, including businessmen with petroleum interests, according to a copy of Zinke’s schedule.

The Interior Department didn’t respond to a request for comment about the meetings. A White House official said Trump Jr. didn’t arrange Beach’s visit to the NSC and his proposal was dismissed.

In a statement, the Trump Organization said Trump Jr. has never played a role arranging meetings “with anyone at the White House or any other government agency.”

Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, acknowledged that Trump Jr. had invested with Beach in the past, but referred AP to a statement released by the company in April, which said their relationship was “strictly personal.”

In a statement provided by a friend, Beach said it was “absolutely not true” that he’d ever “used my longtime personal friendship with Donald Trump Jr.” to influence government decision making.

According to his friends, Beach, who has known Trump Jr. since they attended the University of Pennsylvania together in the late 1990s, developed his own relationships during the campaign and inauguration and doesn’t need Trump Jr. to broker introductions.

Beach was an avid fundraiser and campaigner for President Trump, particularly in Texas, where Trump Jr. told donors last March that Beach and another longtime hunting pal, Tom Hicks Jr., raised millions for his father’s campaign, according to the Dallas Morning News.

After the election, Beach served as a finance vice chairman for the inaugural committee and faced scrutiny after a nonprofit he started at the time advertised hunting and fishing trips with Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, to million-dollar donors.

Last October, Beach incorporated a business called Future Venture LLC in Delaware without listing any Trump connection, signing himself as the entity’s agent.

But a disclosure report filed with New York City officials and obtained by AP via a public records request shows Trump Jr. is named as the president, secretary and treasurer of the company.

The purpose of the limited liability company could not be determined from the filings. The Trump Organization said it was set up to pursue technology investments.

Previously unreported court documents show that the two men, each a godfather to one of the other’s sons, did business together well before they formed Future Venture.

In Russia, suspicions over spy's poisoning point to U.K.

MOSCOW — Since a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned in Britain a week ago, suspicions about Russia’s possible handiwork have run high — except in major Russian news outlets, where fingers point in the other direction.

Sergei Skripal, a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service GRU who was convicted in Russia of spying for Britain, and his adult daughter were found comatose on March 4 in the English town of Salisbury, where he lived after being freed in a 2010 spy swap.

While in the West, suspicions about who could be responsible have landed on Russia, in that country the response has been very different.

“If you think about it, well, the only ones for whom the poisoning of the ex-GRU colonel is advantageous are the British,” Dimtry Kiselev, one of Russia’s most powerful media figures, said during his Sunday news program.

The British motive? “Simply in order to feed their Russophobia,” Kiselev posited.

Kiselev’s weekly show on state-owned TV channel Rossiya-1, a mixture of admiring coverage of President Vladimir Putin and insinuations of Western deviousness and incompetence, is regarded here primarily as a voice of the Kremlin.

His segment about Skripal was in sync with a reflexive response of Russian officials to attribute nearly all criticism from the West to anti-Russia bias. The sense of Russia as the target of prejudice that unscrupulous politicians work to cultivate is a key element of Putin’s popularity as he seeks a fourth term in a March 4 election.

Former special services agent Mikhail Lyubimov was quoted in Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s most popular newspapers, as suggesting Skripal wouldn’t have been worth the trouble of a hit.

“Skripal was sent to the West in a swap; that means he’s absolutely uninteresting to us. He’s a small-fry,” Lyubimov said.

Komsomolskaya Pravda struck an almost facetious tone in the story.

“In Foggy Albion, the latest spy scandal with anti-Russian tones has ripened,” it began. The article included a colorful Russian idiom for unfair accusations in a line that read, “It’s obvious that, following the old tradition, all dogs will be hung on Moscow.”

Russian media aimed at foreign readers have adopted the same tone of resentment and mockery as news outlets for domestic audiences.

“The British are well-known for their dramatic flair when it comes to stories of Cold War espionage and murder mystery. Think Ian Fleming, John Le Carre and Agatha Christie,” said a commentary on Sputnik News, a state-run English-language news site.

“But this week’s episode of a former Russian spy being poisoned on a public park bench in a quaint English town has suspiciously a tad too much drama about it.”