Author who said Eric Trump told him Russians financed golf courses defends statement

A longtime journalist and author said Sunday he remains steadfast in what Donald Trump’s son Eric told him on a Lake Norman, North Carolina, golf course in 2013: that the Trumps relied on Russian backers to finance their golf courses.

Eric Trump went on Twitter last Monday to deny that he told James Dodson, co-author of Arnold Palmer’s memoir, a Ben Hogan biography and other books, that the Trumps relied on Russian financiers as they bought and renovated courses.

“This story is completely fabricated and just another example of why there is such a deep distrust of the media in our country #FakeNews,” Eric Trump said.

But on Sunday, Dodson insisted that Eric Trump did tell him about Russian investors. And two colleagues of Dodson – including one who had helped develop golf in Russia – said Dodson told them back in 2013 what Eric Trump said about Russian financial backing.

Here’s how the Russian revelation made its way into national and international headlines last week:

Dodson was recounting his golfing experience with the Trumps at the end of an interview on the National Public Radio show “Only a Game,” produced by Boston NPR station WBUR. Dodson was on the show, which aired May 6, to promote his latest book, “The Range Bucket List: The Golf Adventure of a Lifetime.”

The book includes a lighthearted chapter about Dodson meeting Donald Trump and playing with his son at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte in 2013. But who financed the Trumps’ courses wasn’t news at the time, Dodson told the Observer, so he didn’t include that angle in the chapter.

He only mentioned what Eric Trump told him about Russian financing when the “Only a Game” interviewer asked him if he had any last thing to share.

The revelation spread quickly, along with Eric Trump’s denial. Trump told the New York Post that the report was “categorically untrue” and “complete garbage.” “We have zero ties to Russian investors,” he added.

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, moderator Chuck Todd said “reports” were saying Russians financed Trump’s “Charlotte” golf course. Neither Todd nor his panel elaborated further on the question Todd raised.

Todd appeared to be referring to reports on Fox News and various British and U.S. newspapers that quoted the 2013 conversation between Eric Trump and Dodson.

Dodson told the Observer on Sunday that in 2013 he’d declined invitations from a public relations firm to play at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte. He said the only thing he knew about Donald Trump at the time was that he had a TV show.

He said he finally drove from his then-home in Southern Pines after prodding from longtime friend Tom Stewart, which Stewart confirmed to the Observer on Sunday.

Stewart, a lifetime member of the Professional Golf Association, said Dodson called him on his drive back from Mooresville to tell him Eric Trump had said the Trumps relied on Russian financiers. He said Dodson did so only because he knew Stewart’s wife was Russian and that Stewart built Moscow’s first golf course in the 1980s. Stewart gave a golf lesson to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Stewart said.

David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, told the Observer on Sunday that Dodson told him the day after the golf outing what Eric Trump had said about Russians financing Trump golf courses. Dodson, who now lives in Greensboro, has written golf columns for the paper.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Eric Trump said that to Jim,” Woronoff told the Observer. “Is Eric Trump the first guy to tell a lie on a golf course? Probably not. But I’m quite confident Jim is accurate. He’s bummed that no one is talking about his book.”

Dodson said he was most interested then if Donald Trump was going to buy the another golf resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

He said he and Eric Trump were golfing together at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte when Dodson said he asked how the Trumps found the money to keep developing golf courses, when financing was so tight during the recession. No U.S. lenders were backing golf course purchases, Dodson said.

“We have all we need from foreign investors,” Dodson said Eric Trump told him.

Investors from various countries were putting money into U.S. golf courses, so Dodson said he pressed Eric Trump as to which country. That’s when he said Eric Trump told him, “We have pretty much all the money we need from investors in Russia,” Dodson said.

According to WBUR’s report of the “Only a Game Show,” when Eric Trump told Dodson about the Russian investors, Dodson said, 'Really?' And (Eric Trump) said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’”

Later, at lunch at the golf club, he said he asked Donald Trump about the other club in North Carolina. Donald Trump told him he would never spend money on that club but that “we’re spending millions and millions” on other golf courses. “A hundred million.”

Dodson said he never intended for that 2013 comment by Eric Trump to blow out as much as it has since Dodson’s recent radio show appearance.

“I lead a very quiet life,” Dodson said. “I really regret this.”

But, he added, “I stand by what I said.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak