Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal – Washington Post
The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s closest business advisers, who asked longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov for assistance in reviving a deal that Cohen suggested was languishing.
“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote to Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled.
“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 wrote.
Cohen’s email marks the most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.
Cohen told congressional investigators in a statement Monday that he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov or having further contact with Russian government officials about the project. The email, addressed to Peskov, appeared to have been sent to a general Kremlin press account.
The note adds to the list of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials that have been a focus of multiple congressional inquiries as well as an investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III exploring Russian interference in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin intervened to help elect Trump.
Cohen’s email to Peskov provides an example of a Trump business official directly seeking Kremlin assistance in advancing Trump’s business interests.
Cohen told congressional investigators that the deal was envisioned as a licensing project, in which Trump would have been paid for the use of his name by a Moscow-based developer called I.C. Expert Investment Co.
Cohen said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015. He said the Trump company began to solicit designs from architects and discuss financing.
However, he said that the project was abandoned “for business reasons” when government permission was not secured and that the matter was “not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Cohen’s request to Peskov came as Trump was distinguishing himself on the campaign trail with his warm rhetoric about Putin.
Cohen said in his statement to Congress that he wrote the email at the recommendation of Felix Sater, a Russian American businessman who was serving as a broker on the deal.
In the statement, obtained by The Washington Post, Cohen said Sater suggested the outreach because a massive Trump development in Moscow would require Russian government approval.
White House special counsel Ty Cobb said Trump knew nothing about Cohen’s effort to enlist Peskov’s help.
“The mere fact that there was no apparent response suggests this is a non-collusion story,” he said.
Cohen has been one of Trump’s closest aides since 2007, serving as a business emissary, lawyer and sometimes spokesman for Trump. Friends said Trump has treated Cohen like a member of his family.
Cohen, who was executive vice president of the Trump Organization, did not have a formal role in Trump’s campaign. But he spoke with reporters as a defender of Trump and appeared on television as a surrogate for the candidate. He left the company shortly before Trump was inaugurated as president, and, since January, has served as one of Trump’s personal lawyers.
In a statement to The Post, Cohen described the potential Moscow project as “simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”
“It should come as no surprise that, over four decades, the Trump Organization has received and reviewed countless real estate development opportunities, both domestic and international,” he added.
Cohen said he abandoned the project because he lost confidence that the Moscow developer would be able to obtain land, financing and government approvals. “It was a building proposal that did not succeed, and nothing more,” he said.
The Post reported Sunday that Cohen had been in negotiations with Sater and foreign investors to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital from September 2015 through the end of January 2016, at the same time Trump was campaigning for president. Trump entered the race in June 2015, and by January 2016 he was leading in the polls for the Republican nomination.