Exclusive: Trump’s 1987 Moscow Casino Deal

I recently got an e-mail from a man who told me a story I’d never heard before: Donald Trump had tried to cheat him out of a deal involving a casino in Moscow in 1987.

Was I interested in talking? You bet I was.


The Hippodrome in Moscow.

Robert Kornhauser told me he contacted Trump Organization in the fall of 1987 to see whether the future president would be interested in operating a casino at the Hippodrome, Moscow’s old horse-racing track.

Kornhauser heard back that Trump wasn’t interested. Except that wasn’t true.

“He tried to backdoor the whole thing,” Kornhauser told me last week. “I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth about Trump ever since.”

Back then, Kornhauser was the American representative of an international consortium working on the Moscow casino deal.

The deal included Dr. Svyatoslav Fyodorov, a renowned Russian eye surgeon, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, whose name was personally referenced in the conversations, Kornhauser told me. The idea was to cater to the growing numbers of Westerners in Moscow and attract much needed foreign currency into the Soviet Union.

Kornhauser was then a 36-year-old employee at C3, a defense contractor in Herndon, Virginia. Through his personal contacts, he met a German businessman named Christian Odemann who asked him to work on the deal. (Odemann, who lives in Europe, did return an email seeking comment.) Kornhauser’s role in the casino project got him in trouble at work when a fax written in Russian showed up at C3’s offices one day.

The Moscow casino group wanted an American company to run the gaming facility at the Hippodrome. So Kornhauser contacted a few of the major players in the gaming industry in the fall of 1987: Carnival, Bally’s, Harrah’s, and Trump.

Kornhauser says he had several calls with Trump’s longtime executive assistant, Norma Foederer, who died in 2013. He never spoke directly to Trump.

Everyone passed, except Carnival. The cruise ship operator had some experience in international gaming and did express interest in the Hippodrome casino, but the deal ultimately fell through.

Despite what Kornhauser was led to believe, Trump was interested in the casino deal.

“Unbeknownst to me, he had his own contacts to Russia,” Kornhauser told me. “He reached out to his contacts in Russia. They passed the name on. He contacted the Russian team. They told the Germans, who told me.”

“The Russians who talked to him said ‘No thank you,'” he said. “If you want to do business you go through the proper channels.”

At the time Kornhauser was shopping the Moscow casino deal, Russia was very much on Trump’s mind. He had just returned from an all-expenses paid trip to Moscow with his Russian-speaking wife, Ivana. Trump was an invited guest of the Soviet Union, and he was wined and dined, all in the interest of having him erect another one of his towers in the Russian capital. Nothing came of it, but the whole Moscow trip was perhaps the most unusual of Trump’s many visits to Russia, as I explain in my book, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History:

It was, however, a strange move for the Russians to bring a millionaire into Moscow, especially one that attracted publicity like Trump. Trump wasn’t by a long shot the only wealthy American the Soviets flattered, pampered, and graced with official VIP treatment. But these sorts of visits were not publicly showcased in a country that was still run by the Communist Party. Even the very idea of a millionaire was anathema to Soviet propaganda that still depicted capitalists as cartoonish fat cats in top hats. Why publicize a deal that, if successful, would earn a millionaire like Trump even more money?

Intourist, the Soviet travel agency infiltrated by the KGB, arranged the trip and there is little doubt that Trump’s every move in Russia was photographed and documented. Standard operating procedure when “welcoming” a foreign visitor, from diplomats to journalists to tourists to businessmen and students, was to monitor them closely and collect information on them to use later as leverage should the need arise. We have no idea whether Trump was approached by Russian intelligence, but he certainly would have made a juicy target for recruitment. “Egocentric people who lack moral principles–who are either too greedy or who suffer from exaggerated self-importance. These are the people the KGB wants and finds easiest to recruit,” said Yuri Bezmenov, a former KGB officer who defected to Canada.


  1. Catherine Rustagi

    As a retired librarian working on a who’s who project in Trump times, I am so appreciative of your love for documents and your research skills. Have you tried to contact Gorbachev for a Skype interview? Has any of his writing been translated? Do you know Russian?

    • Seth Hettena

      Thank you so much! I have not tried to contact him for an interview. He has an archive in Moscow that a researcher of mine tried to access, but with no success.

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