The Trump Organization at one time planned to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a penthouse worth $50 million in the never-built Trump Tower Moscow, according to a new report.
Felix Sater, a real estate developer and former mobster turned FBI informant who advised the Trump Organization on the deal, said on Thursday that the idea was a marketing ploy.
‘In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,’ Sater told Buzzfeed. ‘My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.’
The planned development in Moscow was never built, and it is not clear that the proposal ever got past preliminary stages.
The failed plan for Trump Tower Moscow, which was previously widely reported, did not appear to be inherently illegal.
However, it came under renewed scrutiny after President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about the prospective deal.
Cohen confessed that he inaccurately stated that the plan fell through in January 2016, when it actually failed in June 2016.
Cohen discussed the penthouse gift idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, two law enforcement sources told Buzzfeed.
In his guilty plea, Cohen said he lied to be consistent with Trump’s ‘political messaging.’
Trump insisted repeatedly throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia – technically true after the proposal fell through in June, which was prior to the Republican nominating convention.
Trump on Thursday defended the failed deal to build a Trump Tower in Russia, saying that it was a normal part of his business to explore new developments.
He called Cohen a ‘weak person’ who was lying to get a lighter sentence and repeatedly stressed that the real estate deal at issue was never a secret and never executed.
‘There would be nothing wrong if I did do it,’ Trump said of pursuing the project. ‘I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?’
Cohen’s plea also brought new scrutiny to Don Trump Jr, the President’s eldest son, by possibly contradicting parts of his prior testimony to Congress that he ‘wasn’t involved’ in the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller said that Cohen lied in part to conceal discussions he’d had with Trump family members about the project.
Trump Jr testified last year that he was aware that Cohen had pursued a deal to build a Trump Tower in Russia with Sater.
Trump Jr told the Senate Judiciary Committee of Sater: ‘He was involved as a broker. I don’t know if he’s a principal. I wasn’t involved.’
Court filings from Cohen’s guilty plea on Thursday suggest that the lawyer consulted with Trump Jr to some extent on the deal.
The filing reads in part: ‘COHEN discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 [Trump] on more than the three occasions COHEN claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project.’
The plea also brought to light emails about Trump Tower Russia that Cohen wrote in late 2015, copying Don Jr and Ivanka Trump.
It’s unclear whether Don Jr ever responded, but Ivanka replied to suggest an architect for the project, according to multiple published reports.
There is no clear link in the court filings between Cohen’s lies and Mueller’s central question of whether the Trump campaign ‘colluded’ with Russia.
And nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.
However, Cohen’s plea arrangement made clear that prosecutors believe that Trump was continuing to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project weeks after he had clinched the Republican nomination for president and well after he and his associates have publicly acknowledged.
The negotiations about building the Moscow tower continued as late as June 2016 – the same month Don Jr met in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer – even though Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks ended that January.
Cohen also discussed the proposal with Trump on multiple occasions and with unidentified members of the president’s family, according to court papers filed by Mueller.
Cohen is cooperating with Mueller and has met with his team at least seven times, prosecutors say.
The Cohen case was filed in New York a week after Trump and his lawyers provided Mueller with responses to written questions.
It is the first new charge filed by the special counsel since the appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has spoken critically about the investigation.
Whitaker was advised of the plea ahead of time, according to a person familiar with the investigation.