Donald Trump’s company had contact with Russia during 2016 presidential campaign
In one case, Trump’s personal attorney and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about the lawyer possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence.
In the other case, the same Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by a billionaire who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament, these people said. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign and has since come to light.
Cohen declined the invitation to the economic conference, citing the difficulty of attending so close to the GOP convention, according to people familiar with the matter. And Cohen rejected the Moscow building plan.
Nonetheless, the information about the interactions has been provided to congressional committees as well as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as they investigate whether Trump associates coordinated with Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, according to people familiar with the inquiries who, like others cited in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the inquiry.
Details of the communications were turned over by the Trump Organization in August to the White House, defense lawyers and government investigators and described to The Washington Post.
Though there is no evidence that these Russia-related entreaties resulted in further action, the email communications about them show that Trump’s inner circle continued receiving requests from Russians deep into the presidential campaign.
After WikiLeaks began to publish emails from the Democratic National Committee that were widely believed to have been hacked at the direction of Moscow, Trump said on several occasions that he had no financial ties to Russia. In July 2016, he tweeted, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”
But the new disclosures add to an emerging picture in which Trump’s business and campaign were repeatedly contacted by Russians with interests in business and politics. Trump’s son, his son-in-law, his campaign chairman, low-level foreign policy advisers and, now, Cohen, one of his closest business confidants, all fielded such inquiries in the weeks before or after Trump accepted the nomination.
The documents also underscore the Trump company’s long-standing interest in doing business in Moscow.
In a statement Monday, Cohen stressed that he did not attend the economic forum. “I did not accept this invitation,” he said. “I have never been to Russia.”
Cohen has said he will cooperate with authorities.
Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that the newly disclosed Moscow proposal needed to be understood “in context.”
“Like any other international real estate brand, it is not uncommon for third party developers to submit proposals for potential real estate projects all over the world,” he said, adding that only a “very small percentage of these proposals are ever pursued.”
White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment, saying he was not familiar with the documents.
The June 2016 email to Cohen about the economic conference came from Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and former Trump business associate. Sater encouraged Cohen to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, with Sater telling Cohen that he could be introduced to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, top financial leaders and perhaps Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence. At one point, Sater told Cohen that Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, could help arrange the discussions, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
Robert Wolf, an attorney for Sater, declined to comment.
The correspondence included a formal invitation to the conference from the Russian leader of the event, according to people familiar with the Trump Organization documents. The invitation included a letter signed by a conference official designed to help Cohen get a visa from the Russian government.
The St. Petersburg forum is a premiere government-hosted economic conference held annually under Putin’s auspices. Business leaders from Russia and other countries convene in what is designed to allow high-level conversation similar to the international business conference held each year in Davos, Switzerland, and at the same time to show off Russian investment opportunities. Following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in 2014, the Obama administration actively discouraged American businesses from attending the event.
Cohen, Sater and Trump had earlier in 2016 been working on a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The June 2016 email exchange did not directly address that Moscow tower plan, according to people familiar with the correspondence.