- By Molly O’TooleMolly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian.
Revealing that Donald Trump spent money in Cuba, and thereby violated the long-standing U.S. embargo, may not be the best way to get more than 2 million conservative-leaning Cuban voters in the United States — some 1.4 million of them in Florida — to vote for the Republican nominee.
But that’s what Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway did Thursday morning on ABC, when asked about a Newsweek report showing a hotel company controlled by the real estate magnate spent at least $68,000 in Communist Cuba under President Fidel Castro in 1998. Under U.S. law at the time, any such expenditure was illegal.
“Are you denying that his company spent any money in Cuba?” the reporter asked.
“I think they paid money, as I understand from the story, they paid money in 1998,” Conway responded. “I know we’re not supposed to talk about years ago when it comes to the Clintons, but with Trump there is no statute of limitations.”
Trump and Clinton are currently neck-and-neck in Florida, a battleground state with more than 1.4 million of the 2 million-plus Cuban-Americans nationwide. Florida could (and has in past races) decided the presidential election. Clinton has a slice of a lead on Trump, 0.6 percent, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average.
Both candidates are campaigning in the state this week.
For decades, Trump has said he won’t do business in Cuba — despite the money-making potential — because it would “prop up the Castro regime” and he’d “lose self-respect.” This year, and specifically while in Miami as recently as Sept. 16, Trump has maintained he opposes President Barack Obama’s restoration of relations with Cuba (which itself has led to a dramatic spike in migration to the United States from Cuba).
On Tuesday night, Obama nominated the first ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years. Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio, himself a Cuban-American running for reelection in Florida after dropping out of the GOP primary against Trump, immediately decried the decision and vowed to block his confirmation in Congress.
Rubio has said he’ll support his party’s nominee, though he continues to express concerns about his positions, particularly on foreign policy. But even the senator said Trump will have to answer to the revelations about his reported business dealings in Cuba.
“This is something they’re going to have to give a response to,” Rubio said on the ESPN/ABC “Capital Games” podcast. “I mean, it was a violation of American law, if that’s how it happened.”
Rubio is leading Democratic rival Rep. Patrick Murphy, whom Obama has endorsed, by more than 6 points.
The Clinton campaign pounced.
“This latest report shows once again that Trump will always put his own business interest ahead of the national interest,” senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement Thursday, “and has no trouble lying about it.”
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