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Diaz-Balart gives Trump benefit of doubt on report Trump broke Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Thursday he needs further evidence to know whether Donald Trump's hotel and casino company violated the U.S. trade embargo by trying to do business in Cuba in 1998.

The congressman, an anti-Castro hardliner who's said he plans to vote for "the Republican nominee," told reporters he hopes Trump will answer questions raised by the report published Thursday by Newsweek.

"They're very serious allegations," Diaz-Balart said. But he added that "up to now, it looks like there wasn't business" done in Cuba.

Newsweek reported that Trump's company reimbursed a consulting firm for spending more than $68,000 exploring doing work on the communist island -- and that the consultant later suggested Trump's company cover up the expenditure by saying it went to a Catholic charity.

"What we have so far are unnamed sources," Diaz-Balart cautioned, calling the Newsweek report "preliminary." "It's important to see what the facts are."

He conceded that "doing business in Cuba is illegal, absolutely" -- while getting in a jab at former President Bill Clinton, whose administration in 1998 loosened some of the sanctions against the island. Proving that Trump himself approved spending in Cuba in violation of the embargo would be politically "decisive," Diaz-Balart said, without elaborating on what he meant.

Diaz-Balart also gave Trump credit for traveling to Miami in November 1999 to denounce Fidel Castro and endorse the embargo. Rather than seeing that as a sign that Trump might have been playing politics with the issue, Diaz-Balart said he interpreted Trump's 1999 remarks to mean that Trump decided to steer clear of Cuba despite facing business pressure to do otherwise.

Though Diaz-Balart said he continues to wait for "clarification" from Trump on where he stands on various foreign-policy issues, the congressman lauded Trump's recent Miami visits, where he bashed President Barack Obama's Cuba reengagement policy. 

He might not know exactly where Trump stands on nuanced Cuba policy, Diaz-Balart admitted -- but Hillary Clinton would be worse, he argued.

"On all fo those issues," he said, "Mrs. Clinton's position has been frankly unacceptable."

 

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