As a candidate for president (and since), Donald Trump has repeatedly denied that he had any business interests in Russia. Here’s what we know about Donald Trump and his ties to Russia; Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia.
This, of course, was a lie. And it was known to be a lie at the time. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported Trump’s business sought deal on a Trump Tower in Moscow while he ran for president:
While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.
As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested that he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.
The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating — both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.
Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 6 and grew up in Brooklyn.
Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.
Nevertheless, the details of the deal, which have not previously been disclosed, provide evidence that Trump’s business was actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be president — and in a position to determine U.S.-Russia relations. The new details from the emails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.
The Post followed up this report with this reporting, Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal:
A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress on Monday.
The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s closest business advisers, who asked longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov for assistance in reviving a deal that Cohen suggested was languishing.
“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote to Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled.
“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.
Cohen’s email marks the most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.
Cohen told congressional investigators in a statement Monday that he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov or having further contact with Russian government officials about the project. The email, addressed to Peskov, appeared to have been sent to a general Kremlin press account.
Cohen’s email to Peskov provides an example of a Trump business official directly seeking Kremlin assistance in advancing Trump’s business interests.
Cohen told congressional investigators that the deal was envisioned as a licensing project, in which Trump would have been paid for the use of his name by a Moscow-based developer called I.C. Expert Investment Co.
Cohen said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015. He said the Trump company began to solicit designs from architects and discuss financing.
However, he said that the project was abandoned “for business reasons” when government permission was not secured and that the matter was “not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Cohen’s request to Peskov came as Trump was distinguishing himself on the campaign trail with his warm rhetoric about Putin.
Cohen said in his statement to Congress that he wrote the email at the recommendation of Felix Sater, a Russian American businessman who was serving as a broker on the deal.
In the statement, obtained by The Washington Post, Cohen said Sater suggested the outreach because a massive Trump development in Moscow would require Russian government approval.
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Cohen told congressional investigators that Sater “constantly” pushed him to travel to Moscow as part of the negotiations, but that he declined to do so.
He said that Sater, who has attempted to broker Trump deals for more than a decade, was “prone to ‘salesmanship,’ ” and that, as a result, he did not routinely apprise others in the company about their interactions and never considered asking Trump to go to Moscow, as Sater had requested.
Sater said in a statement Monday that he brought the idea of the largest tower in Russia to Cohen, his longtime friend. Despite Sater’s enthusiasm for the plan, he said, the Trump Organization abandoned it.
“Michael Cohen was the only member of the Trump Organization who I communicated with on this project,” Sater said.
Over email, Sater bragged to Cohen that he could get Putin to assist with the project and that it would help Trump’s presidential campaign, according to correspondence submitted to congressional investigators.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in a November 2015 email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
The New York Times adds to this reporting, Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’:
A business associate of President Trump, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin. He predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.
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Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow.
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.
Mr. Sater said he was eager to show video clips to his Russian contacts of instances of Mr. Trump speaking glowingly about Russia, and said he would arrange for Mr. Putin to praise Mr. Trump’s business acumen.
“If he says it we own this election,” Mr. Sater wrote. “Americas most difficult adversary agreeing that Donald is a good guy to negotiate.”
There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Mr. Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Mr. Peskov’s direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.
The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later.
“To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia,” the Trump Organization said Monday in a statement. Mr. Trump, however signed a nonbinding “letter of intent” for the project in 2015. Mr. Cohen said he discussed the project with Mr. Trump three times.
The emails obtained by The Times do not include any responses from Mr. Cohen to Mr. Sater’s messages.
In a statement on Monday that was also provided to Congress, Mr. Cohen suggested that he viewed Mr. Sater’s comments as puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’” the statement said. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”
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Mr. Sater was a broker for the Trump Organization for several years, typically paid to deliver real estate deals. A company he worked for, Bayrock, played a role in financing the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York. Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen even worked together on a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia that they sought to get in front of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser earlier this year.
As a broker for the Trump Organization, Mr. Sater had an incentive to overstate his business-making acumen. He presents himself in his emails as so influential in Russia that he helped arrange a 2006 trip that Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, took to Moscow.
“I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” he said.
Ms. Trump said she had no involvement in the discussions about the Moscow deal other than to recommend possible architects. In a statement, she said that during the 2006 trip she took “a brief tour of Red Square and the Kremlin” as a tourist. She said it is possible she sat in Mr. Putin’s chair during that tour but she did not recall it. She said she has not seen or spoken to Mr. Sater since 2010. “I have never met President Vladimir Putin,” she said.
The Times reported earlier this year on the plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which never materialized. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported the existence of the correspondence between Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen, but not its content.
For a deep-dive into this Felix Sater character, see Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog, Trump Has Been Lying About Russia and Felix Sater All Along, and for Michael Cohen see Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, More on Trump Tower Moscow and Boom! Taking Stock of the Wild New Michael Cohen News:
We have been told – not credibly – for more than a year that Donald Trump doesn’t have any properties or business interests in Russia. But for the first six months of his presidential campaign he was actively trying to secure a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and in early 2016 a top Trump business executive solicited the assistance of one of Vladimir Putin’s top aides in making the deal happen. This of course was happening while Trump was singing Putin’s praises on the campaign trail.
This is, to put it mildly, a big deal.
Finally, NBC News reported last night that Mueller Team Asking if Trump Tried to Hide Purpose of Trump Tower Meeting:
Federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are keenly focused on President Donald Trump’s role in crafting a response to a published article about a meeting between Russians and his son Donald Jr., three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The sources told NBC News that prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose.
The meeting occurred at Trump Tower in June 2016 and was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times, also involved Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin.
At the time, the White House confirmed that Trump had “weighed in” as the response to the Times report was drafted aboard Air Force One on July 8 as the president returned to the U.S. from the G20 meeting in Germany. The Washington Post reported that Trump had “dictated” the response.
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A person familiar with Mueller’s strategy said that whether or not Trump made a “knowingly false statement” is now of interest to prosecutors.
“Even if Trump is not charged with a crime as a result of the statement, it could be useful to Mueller’s team to show Trump’s conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges.”
UPDATE: CNN reports today that Donald Trump Jr. has agreed to participate in a transcribed interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that Robert Mueller’s team has “issued subpoenas to a former lawyer for Paul Manafort and to Manafort’s current spokesman.”
UPDATE: A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed on Wednesday that he had received a request for assistance on a stalled Trump Tower real estate project in Moscow from a close aide to President Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, but added that the Kremlin did not respond to the letter. Kremlin says it got the Trump Tower email but didn’t respond:
“I confirm that among a number of emails one from Mr. Michael Cohen came to us. This indeed happened,” said Dmitry Peskov, a personal spokesman for Putin, during a telephone briefing with Russian and foreign journalists. “But as far as we don’t respond to business topics, this is not our job, we did not send a response.”
What else can the Russians confirm and are waiting until it they can use it to their advantange? This is how “kompromat” works.