- President Donald Trump has often claimed he has “nothing to do with Russia,” but that’s far from the truth.
- Trump’s efforts to lay down his name in the Russian capital stretch back more than 30 years.
- According to Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the president’s most recent attempt to break ground in Moscow was a drawn-out process that lasted well into the 2016 presidential campaign season.
President Donald Trump is adamant that he has no financial interests in Russia.
“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me,” he tweeted in January 2017. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
But a glimpse at his actions over the last few decades paints a quite different picture, one that shows a concerted effort by the real-estate mogul to lay a foundation for the Trump name in the heart of Moscow.
Trump’s business ties to Russia jumped back into the spotlight this week, after his former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted that he lied to Congress about the extent of the Trump Organisation’s push to open a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 election.
Prosecutors said Cohen “discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project” with Trump “on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed” to the Senate Intelligence Committee last year and that “he briefed family members” of Trump within the Trump Organisation about it.
They also said Cohen admitted to pursuing the deal as late as June 2016, after Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
After Cohen’s stunning revelations about the timeline of discussions on building Trump Tower in Moscow, Trump tweeted that he “lightly looked” at “doing a building somewhere in Russia.” But the president added that he “didn’t do the project” and claimed he made no verbal or financial commitments. The defunct Moscow project is just the latest in a long history of the president trying – and failing – to make his mark in the Russian capital.
Here’s a rundown of Trump’s attempted business dealings in Russia:
- Trump’s interest in doing business in Russia was first piqued in 1986, when he met the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin and they began discussing building a “large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government,” as Trump recounted in his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal.”
- Trump travelled to Russia in 1987 to survey potential locations for his hotel as landmark policies like perestroika and glasnost made the Soviet Union more open to foreign investments.
- Trump in 1988 said the hotel plan failed because “in the Soviet Union, you don’t own anything. It’s hard to conjure up spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something and not own.”
- Trump went back to Russia in 1996 and announced a plan to invest $US250 million in Russian real estate and slap his name on two luxury residential buildings.
- Trump boasted about his plan when he met the Russian politician Aleksandr Lebed in New York in 1997, telling Lebed, “We are actually looking at something in Moscow right now … Only quality stuff. And we’re working with the local government, the mayor of Moscow, and the mayor’s people. So far, they have been very responsive …” The plan never came to fruition.
- But that wasn’t the end of Trump’s connection to Russian money. According to The Washington Post, the real estate mogul began seeing significant returns from Russian investments in US properties bearing the Trump name in the 2000s.
- A Reuters investigation last year found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $US98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, for instance.
- Reuters noted that its tally of Russian investors may be conservative. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the owners of the 2,044 units in the seven Trump buildings are limited liability companies, or LLCs, which have the ability to hide the identity of a property’s true owner.
- In the mid-2000s, the Trump Organisation partnered with a company called the Bayrock Group, contracting it to pursue a development deal in Moscow. This effort was led by the Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who’s become a key figure in Mueller’s investigation and Cohen’s plea deal.
- In 2005, Sater found a former pencil factory he thought could be converted into a high-end skyscraper, and was in discussions with Russian investors about it. The deal ultimately fell through, but Sater continued to maintain a relationship with the Trump Organisation.
- At a real estate conference in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. discussed the family’s attempts to break into the Russian business world. “As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world,” he said at the time. “It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who…It really is a scary place.” Trump Jr. at that point had travelled to Russia a number of times, including a 2006 visit with Sater his sister, Ivanka Trump, and Sater.
- At the 2008 conference, Trump Jr. also said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” He explained that despite the difficulties his family had in trying to build in Russia they were still determined to keep pushing for it. In the 18 months prior to the conference, Trump Jr. made six trips to Russia.
- In 2013, Trump travelled to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. During the visit, he said, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”
- In 2015 and 2016, Cohen and Sater teamed up in an attempt to put up a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen said discussions on the plan lasted until June 2016, which was after Trump had clinched the GOP nomination for president.
- Cohen was in touch with the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary over the matter, which reportedly included a plan to offer Putin a $US50 million penthouse in the tower. Those talks fell through as well and the plan eventually crumbled.