Donald Trump discussed a proposal to build a hotel and condominium tower in Moscow on three occasions with his company’s lawyer, who emailed the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask for assistance on the project.
The Trump Organization weighed the “Trump Tower Moscow” proposal from September 2015 to January 2016, attorney Michael Cohen told the House intelligence committee. Several congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during his successful run for the White House last year.
Cohen said the Trump Organization signed a non-binding letter of intent in October 2015 with Moscow-based I.C. Expert Investment Company. The company solicited building designs from architects and engaged in preliminary financing discussions. But the project ultimately fizzled, and Trump wasn’t involved in the decision to abandon the project, Cohen said.
That decision was made “from solely a business standpoint” and had nothing to do with Trump’s campaign, according to Cohen’s statement.
“I did not ask or brief Mr. Trump, or any of his family, before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal," Cohen said, in the two-page statement. “The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Cohen told the panel that Felix Sater, a Russian-born developer and U.S. citizen, served as a deal broker on the project. Sater, who served time in prison for assault and worked as an informant to U.S. prosecutors investigating the mob’s role on Wall Street, had helped Trump on a hotel and condominium project in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
Sater suggested that Trump travel to Russia as the proposal advanced, but Cohen said that wouldn’t happen unless there was a "definitive agreement” in place. Trump ultimately didn’t make the trip. Cohen said he has known Sater for several decades and described him as someone who used "colorful language” and is "prone to ‘salesmanship.”’
In a separate statement, Sater confirmed several elements of Cohen’s account. He said he put together a proposal to build the world’s tallest building in Moscow, gave it to Cohen, and worked only with him at the Trump Organization. Sater said he wasn’t working for the Trump Organization, and wouldn’t have been paid by the firm had the project succeeded.
“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization,” Sater said in a statement released by his attorney. He made no mention of Donald Trump.
Cohen attorney Stephen Ryan declined to comment. Cohen had served as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and is now his personal lawyer.
The White House declined to comment, referring questions back to Cohen’s lawyers.
Cohen, at Sater’s behest, sent an email in mid-January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, “since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued,” according to the Cohen statement.
“Those permissions were never provided,” Cohen said. "I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or any other Russian government officials about the proposal.”
The Washington Post reported Sunday on details of the role of Cohen and Sater in the Trump Tower Moscow project. The New York Times reported Monday that Sater sent an email apparently saying that the deal could help Trump’s campaign.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email, the newspaper reported. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
In a recent profile on the startup website Angel.co, Sater said that beside the Trump SoHo project, he has “spearheaded dozens of other real estate endeavors.” It described him as an adviser to the Trump Organization and said he also worked on projects in Turkey, France, Switzerland and England.
“Looking for like-minded individuals to help change the world,” Sater wrote in his profile. “I’m an active angel investor, and I’m always looking for new ideas.”
Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015. While he has previously attempted similar building projects in Moscow and held the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013, he said as a candidate that he had "nothing to do with Russia.”
Trump has long slammed the Russia probe as a “witch hunt,” “fake news” and a “total fabrication.”
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