Much as the first reports of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., last night’s report about Trump Tower Moscow seems to be the tip of a very large iceberg. As I noted last night, the first Post report was substantially the same as our report on Trump’s 2015 Trump Tower Moscow effort published a month ago. The key point – the significance of which will become more apparent – is that they were working from different sources. We had TPM Investigations Desk reporter Sam Thielman’s series of interviews with Felix Sater. The Post was working from accounts of what seems to be a large cache of emails which the Trump Organization is in the process of turning over to Congress.
That was only the first hint.
The Times, not surprisingly got access to some more of those emails early this afternoon. Now the Post has followed up with a new report which dramatically expands the story. The Post is now reporting that in January 2016, on the eve of the earliest primary voting and some six months into the Trump presidential campaign, the Trump Tower Moscow deal had “stalled”. Michael Cohen – Trump’s nominal “lawyer” who is actually his dealmaker with channels into Russia and Ukrainian cash – emailed Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov asking for assistance in pushing the deal forward.
Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of what this means. Cohen was running the deal from Trump’s side. He was also acting as Trump’s part-time press spokesman. When talks broke down Cohen contacted Putin’s Press Security – his equivalent of Sean Spicer or Josh Earnest – to get the deal back on track.
I’d wager that most people don’t have Peskov’s email for starters. I don’t. Cohen apparently did. Cohen now says he did so at the urging of Felix Sater, the Russian emigre convicted fraudster who spearheaded numerous Trump building projects and who Trump later said he would barely recognize.
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.
A few more points to consider. I’ve noted a number of times that if there was a real Trump-Russia story that Michael Cohen would be at the heart of it. Why? Because Cohen was one of two or three key players building the Trump/Russia money channel over the last decade. Here are three stories (one and two and three and four) from earlier in the year which give critical background on Cohen, his personal and business background and how he came into the Trump orbit.
Trump brought Cohen into the Trump Organization circa 2006 because he realized Cohen was a conduit for money from countries of the former Soviet Union. Part of how he found that out was that Cohen and his extended family were buying up numerous apartment units in Trump properties. TPM’s Sam Thielman reported exclusively last month that Cohen and Felix Sater, the other guy in this latest drama, actually grew up together. Though Cohen was born in the US, both men grew up in the Russian (and Ukrainian) emigre world of Brighton Beach and surrounding areas. Both had family connections to the world of Russian organized crime. Cohen married a Ukrainian emigre and so did his brother. They had extensive business interests with Ukrainian emigres and in Ukraine itself through his extended family and several business partnerships that extend back into the 1990s. Somehow both men – Cohen and Sater – ended up working for Donald Trump decades later. It’s no surprise that Cohen turns out to be at the heart of this. He was at the center of the Russia money channel which any 2016 collusion almost certainly grew out of.
Second point to consider.
Why is this all coming out now? The Post stories are quite clear on this. The Trump Organization had what seems to have been a deadline to turn over lots of Trump Organization emails in response to congressional requests or subpoenas. These leaks seem to be coming from the Trump Organization or at least from that direction if not literally from there. At least in yesterday’s Post report, the emails were referred to as in the process of being turned over. If I’m understanding the language, they had not been turned over yet. That means they couldn’t have come from Congress and strongly suggests they were leaked by lawyers on the Trump Organization. That would mean they were trying to get the story out with the best possible spin in advance of congressional investigators getting their hands on them.
What does this mean? Hard to say. But it would seem that this was an effort to get the bad stuff out early and on the Trump Organization’s own terms. In other words, this is the most generous possible take on what these emails show. I can only imagine what they’ll look like on an adverse view.
We’ll probably hear a lot more after investigators start working through these emails.