On Monday afternoon, the Washington Post broke news that amid Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one of the Trump Organization’s top executives emailed Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman “to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow.”
The Post, citing documents submitted to Congress on Monday, reports that Michael Cohen sent a message to Kremlin press aide Dmitry Peskov’s general government account in January 2016 that read, “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.”
Cohen’s email to Peskov marks “the most direct interaction yet documented of a top Trump aide and a similarly senior member of Putin’s government,” the Post reports.
The news about this exchange comes the same day as a separate New York Times report detailing how another longtime business associate of Trump’s — Felix Sater — emailed Cohen in November 2015. Sater opined in that email that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be key to helping Trump ultimately win the election. According to the Times, Sater wrote, “Our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get al of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 28, 2017
In a statement to ABC News, Cohen confirmed that Trump was personally aware of and approved his company’s interest in building in Russia, and signed a letter of intent to pursue a Trump Tower Moscow project in October 2015.
“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015,” Cohen wrote, adding that the Trump Organization abandoned the Russia project two weeks after he sent the email to Peskov at Sater’s behest.
Both on the campaign trail and after the election, Trump repeatedly denied having any business dealings with Russia. Those denials appear awkward in light of news of the Sater and Cohen emails.
Trump began his campaign for president in June 2015. By the end of that year, his consistently friendly comments about Putin had differentiated him from the other Republican candidates. A number of those comments were made in the time period between the newly disclosed Sater and Cohen emails.
During a Morning Joe interview on December 18, 2015, Trump praised Putin as a better leader than Obama, and dismissed credible allegations that his regime was involved in the murder of dissident journalists.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said.
Two days later, Trump again expressed skepticism about Putin’s involvement in the murder of journalists, saying on This Week, “I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”
During a rally on December 30, 2015, Trump called Putin “brilliant.” And the love-fest was mutual. During Putin’s year-end 2015 news conference, Putin said Trump “wants to move to another, closer level of relations. Can we really not welcome that? Of course, we welcome that.”
Putin called Trump “colorful and talented.” Trump later described the compliment as an “honor.”
Six months later, Donald Trump Jr. and other prominent figures in the Trump campaign met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who, through an intermediary, promised to provide them with incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Before the meeting, the intermediary — a Russia-connected music publicist named Rob Goldstone — wrote Trump Jr. and said, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” That passage takes on new significance in light of the public disclosure of the Sater and Cohen emails.
A partially unconfirmed intelligence dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which details Russia’s alleged attempts to gather compromising personal and financial information about Trump, describes Peskov as anything but a typical government spokesperson.
According to the dossier:
A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian intelligence services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on PUTIN’s orders. However it has not as yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.
The dossier claims that the Putin regime “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It alleges that the Putin regime successfully “comprised” Trump and could “blackmail him.” It describes Peskov as the “main protagonist” of the campaign against Clinton.
A Trump Tower was never built in Moscow. Nonetheless, the U.S. intelligence community has made public its conclusion that the Putin regime was behind a disinformation and propaganda campaign that was intended to help Trump win the 2016 election by destroying Clinton. Since then, a number of Trump administration officials have been caught making false statements about their contacts with Russia, including disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and White House adviser Jared Kushner.