Emails Show Michael Cohen Asked Putin Aide For Help With Trump Building Deal

Richard Drew/AP
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Longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen asked Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman to intervene in a stalled prospective Moscow business deal shortly before the U.S. presidential primaries kicked off, the Washington Post reported Monday afternoon.

In the January 2016 email to Dmitry Peskov, Cohen said that he had been working with “a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City” and that communication had broken down. Per the Post, Cohen wrote:

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.

In a statement to congressional investigators, Cohen was quick to blame Felix Sater, his friend since the pair’s teenage years and a longtime Trump associate. He said Sater suggested he reach out on behalf of Trump because the size of the development would require government approval, according to the report.

The email is a significant, direct contact between the Russian government and a Trump associate who spoke regularly to media on behalf of Trump’s presidential campaign. It doesn’t appear to be evidence of wrongdoing so much as evidence of the campaign’s dishonesty about the extent of Trump’s business dealings overseas: Peskov, a Kremlin publicist, would have been an unlikely interlocutor between Russian permit agencies and Trump, and in any case, no deal ever came to fruition.

The Cohen email is the third major story in just a few hours reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Each has added another new detail to the strange story of President Donald Trump’s never-t0-be-erected Moscow tower, a project that, as TPM reported earlier this month, Sater was pursuing on his behalf at least six months into the 2016 campaign. The new details are from emails the Trump Organization’s lawyers have provided to House Intelligence Committee investigators.

The Post confirmed that longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen “acted as a lead negotiator” on the potential Moscow project; the Times reported that Sater bragged about his connections to Russian president Vladimir Putin in a 2015 email exchange, and predicted that Putin would help Trump get elected.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Other tidbits were, if anything, even stranger: “Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” Sater wrote to Cohen, as reported by the Times. “We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done.”

The House Intelligence Committee had subpoenaed “personal documents and business records” from Cohen.

Cohen and Sater have worked regularly with Trump since the turn of the century, but TPM exclusively reported in July that the two men had known each other since at least their teenage years. For his part, Trump has repeatedly maintained that he doesn’t know Sater well—a claim that beggars belief given the real estate projects the two have been involved with.

Sater has often shopped Trump’s name to developers, at least twice on U.S. projects that became embarrassments for the Trump brand: one in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and one in Phoenix. The Times notes that, in Moscow, too, there was no indication that Sater had delivered what he promised.

“He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’” Cohen told the Times.

The Post’s story has other details that expand on and, in one case, contradict Sater’s statements to TPM over the course of several interviews.

Sater told TPM that a Moscow deal “didn’t go through because [Trump] became President,” while emails between Sater and Cohen were apparently enthusiastic about the prospect that both might come to pass at once. A “person briefed on the email exchange” paraphrased one upbeat email from Sater to the Post: “Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?”

Sater wanted Trump to travel to Moscow to help push the deal forward, the Post reported, but the now-President never followed through:

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.

Vitally, Sater maintained in a sworn deposition in 2008 that he was in regular contact with Trump, according to the Post. That tracks with Sater’s claims to TPM of a very friendly relationship with the President. Sater said in the deposition that he informally visited Trump in his office to give him updates on Russian real estate deals—something that flies in the face of Trump’s continued insistence that he was barely familiar with Sater.

Even accounting for these new details, a number of questions remain. Who was the developer for the proposed Trump project in Moscow? TPM asked Sater this directly in July, and while he denied that the partner was Aras Agalarov, who Trump had partnered with to bring Miss Universe to Moscow in 2013, he wouldn’t elaborate further.

“[The developers were a] couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper,” he replied. “People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”

It’s also an open question how much Cohen knew about Sater’s criminal history. When Sater went to work for the Trump Organization in “2000, 2001,” by his recollection, he’d already had been convicted of a $40 million stock fraud scheme involving another childhood friend, Gennady Klotsman. While the three men grew up in the same area of South Brooklyn/Western Long Island and appear to have run in the same circles, there’s no evidence Cohen knew Klotsman. Sater’s conviction was sealed as he struck a deal to become a secret government cooperator; Andrew Weissman, brought on to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe earlier this year amid as a “witness-flipping expert” amid much fanfare, personally signed Sater’s cooperation agreement.

What is clear is that Cohen was deep at work negotiating the president’s business interests through someone convicted of defrauding investors of $40 million even while working as one of the most public faces of Trump’s presidential bid.

Cohen wasn’t officially a part of Donald Trump’s campaign, but he was a top-level outside surrogate for the now-president—a ubiquitous presence on cable news and in print media, always strongly, even harshly in favor of the president. While he was proclaiming to Politico that Trump demanded to “be treated fairly” by the GOP, he and Sater were hard at work trying to find the now-president a business foothold in Russia.

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.
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