Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is probably wasting his time scrutinizing President Trump's 2008 Palm Beach property sale to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev.
As ABC News reports, Wyden wrote to the Treasury Department last Friday, arguing that "It is imperative that Congress follow the money and conduct a thorough investigation into any potential money laundering or other illicit financial dealings between the president, his associates, and Russia."
His specific focus has fallen on a Palm Beach estate that Trump bought for $41.35 million in 2004 and then sold to Rybolovlev for $95 million in 2008.
Yet while there are important lines of inquiry regarding possible money laundering and the Trump organization, unless he's learned anything secret from his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden's particular focus on the Palm Beach sale is odd.
Another property, a certain penthouse at 15 Central Park West, explains why.
Purchased by former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill for $43.7 million in 2007, that high rise penthouse in New York City was then sold in late 2011 for $88 million to a Rybolovlev trust.
But does that dramatic increase in valuation indicate Weill's complicity in some money laundering scheme?
No, it does not.
Rather it reflects a familiar Russian oligarch property strategy: their penchant for spending excessive amounts on fixed assets in western nations. These overpriced buys are not a symptom of poor haggling abilities, but of the oligarchs' desire to locate assets abroad in case they are ever forced to flee Russia. In that regard, many oligarchs prefer spending big bucks in order to quickly lock down a property from a seller of name recognition. This, they hope, will insulate them from allegations of money laundering and give them a breaching point into high society.
Of course, even if tens of millions of dollars overpriced, buying a multi-million dollar U.S. property also offers a good prospective return on investment with regards to money laundering: If one is able to avoid judicial scrutiny, the money has moved out of Vladimir Putin's grip and into a western democracy and is now secured. I've seen no evidence implicating Rybolovlev of money laundering, but his consistent willingness to pay double value is certainly interesting.
Nevertheless, London remains the exemplar in offering high living alongside a less skeptical eye towards Russian financial dealings. For the oligarchs, London's match of enjoyable living and government disinterest in such concerns as money laundering has long been the perfect opportunity. While things are slowly beginning to change, London remains a playground of overt and covert Russian influence.
In that sense, the Palm Beach sale seems far too risky if it were intended as some kind of payoff to Trump. If the Russians wanted to help Trump in relation to some kind of illegal payment activity, they would almost certainly have done so abroad — out of the close gazing eye of U.S. law enforcement.