- New emails from a former associate of President Donald Trump boasted that a proposed Moscow real-estate deal would “get Donald elected.”
- The emails involved Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
- The business associate bragged about his ties to Vladimir Putin and suggested he would get Putin’s team to “buy in” to the deal.
The Russian-born businessman who pushed for the Trump Organisation to pursue a massive real-estate deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential election was spotted at Trump Tower months after the deal allegedly fell apart.
The businessman, Felix Sater, told Politico at the time that the purpose of his visit last August was “confidential.” But his presence there seven months after the Moscow real-estate deal fell through, and less than three months before Election Day, raises questions about who in President Donald Trump’s orbit he was still in touch with — and why.
Some answers could lie in a referral from the White House on Sunday night. Asked to comment on reports that the Trump Organisation had pursued this deal, a senior administration official first directed questions to Trump’s lawyer in the Russia investigation, Ty Cobb.
Minutes later, the official backtracked and referred questions to Stephen Ryan, the lawyer for Michael Cohen — Trump’s personal attorney at the time the Moscow deal was reportedly pursued. Ryan did not respond to a request for comment.
Cohen, who was the executive vice president of the Trump Organisation until he resigned from his post there in January to serve as Trump’s personal lawyer on a full-time basis, had been in touch with Sater about the Moscow deal, according to The Washington Post.
Emails exchanged between Sater and Cohen in November 2015 indicate that they were preparing to celebrate not only Trump’s election victory, but also the potential Russia deal.
Sater boasted of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the emails, which were obtained by The New York Times on Monday, telling Cohen that he will “get all of Putins team to buy in” on the Moscow deal.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote, according to the Times. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”
Sater told Talking Points Memo earlier this month that his “last Moscow deal for the Trump Organisation was in October of 2015” and it “didn’t go through because obviously he became president.” The Trump Organisation, which employed Cohen at the time, had signed a letter of intent to pursue the deal, according to the Post.
Cohen told the Times that Sater “sometimes used colourful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,'” adding that he “ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”
But that Cohen, who has been called Trump’s “pit bull,” was in touch with Sater as late as November 2015 indicates that the Trump Organisation’s relationship with Sater went deeper than Trump let that December.
“Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told The Associated Press at the time. “I’m not that familiar with him.”
Sater, who was accused nearly two decades ago of being a conspirator in a $US40 million fraud and money-laundering scheme involving four Mafia families, began advising the Trump Organisation while he was an executive at the real-estate firm Bayrock in the early 2000s. But Trump’s deflection in December mirrored comments he made in a sworn deposition nearly a decade earlier, when he said that he wouldn’t recognise Sater if they were in the same room.
Former assistant US attorney and longtime federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Sunday night that he thought the report about the Trump Organisation pursuing the Moscow deal was “interesting as it relates to Michael Cohen, who allegedly had unusual contacts with Russia much later on.”
Mariotti said he wasn’t surprised that the Trump Organisation had a potential investment in Russia, and that whether or not special counsel Robert Mueller — who is overseeing the FBI’s probe into Russia’s election interference — finds the information relevant will depend on whether Trump knew anything about the deal himself.
But given that the deal “got scuttled,” Mariotti said, “it’s mostly relevant for giving context to what people like Cohen did later.”
Cohen evidently maintained contact with Sater through at least January 2017. One week after Trump was inaugurated, Cohen and Sater met with a Ukrainian lawmaker at a New York City hotel to discuss a potential Russia-Ukraine peace plan that would involve lifting sanctions on Russia.
Both Cohen and Sater’s wives are Ukrainian, and the lawmaker they met with, Andrii Artemenko, told Business Insider in interviews earlier this year that he felt it was his patriotic duty to find a peaceful solution to the war.
Cohen acknowledged in a series of text messages to Business Insider at the time that he met with Sater and Artemenko in New York for “under 10 minutes” to discuss a proposal that Artemenko said “was acknowledged by Russian authorities that would create world peace.”
Cohen was mentioned in an explosive but unverified collection of memos detailing the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin that was published in full by BuzzFeed in January. The memos, which cited high-level Kremlin officials British spy Christopher Steele said he cultivated during his time on MI6’s Moscow desk, alleged that Cohen served as a go-between for the campaign and Moscow during the election.
Cohen has denied the charge and insists he has never been to Prague, where the dossier said he met with “Kremlin representatives” in “August/September 2016.”
But the revelations about the Moscow deal “looks very bad for team Trump,” said Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who served in the White House as associate counsel to President Barack Obama.
“It stands in stark contrast to all Trump’s blanket denials about contacts with Russia,” Wright said.
“If true, these contacts demonstrates a nexus between Trump Organisation business dealings and US policy toward Russia and Ukraine,” Wright said. “It also presents a number of further evidence trails that Mueller’s team will feel compelled to pursue.”
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