As a candidate, Donald Trump had a lot of praise for Vladimir Putin — and no business, he kept insisting, in Russia. These documents tell a different story.
When Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and longtime fixer, testifies before Congress this week, one topic that is likely to be front and center is his work on Trump Moscow, the over-the-top luxury real estate venture he helped spearhead leading up to the election.
The development, which was never built, has already become a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign. And when Cohen was convicted last November of lying to Congress, it was over his false testimony that the deal had fizzled in January 2016, well before Trump emerged as the Republican nominee.
BuzzFeed News is today publishing a cache of internal Trump Organization documents that lay bare the secret negotiations that continued long after Cohen claimed the deal had been abandoned. The documents, many of which have been exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News, reveal that — despite Trump’s claim that the development was never more than a passing notion — the effort to get the tower built was long-running, detail-oriented, and directly entwined with the ups and downs of his campaign.
As Trump went from rally to rally, vociferously denying any dealings in Russia, his representatives, Michael Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, worked with Trump Organization lawyers and even Ivanka Trump to push forward negotiations to build a 100-story edifice just miles from the Kremlin. The fixers believed they needed Putin’s support to pull off the lucrative deal, and they planned to use Trump’s public praise for him to help secure it. At the same time, they plotted to persuade Putin to openly declare his support for Trump’s candidacy. “If he says it we own this election,” Sater wrote to Cohen.
The White House did not respond to a detailed request for comment on this story. The special counsel’s office declined to comment.
This large trove of nonbinding business agreements, architectural renderings, texts, emails, and plans for Trump to travel to Russia to meet Putin offer an unprecedented glimpse inside the negotiations to build the tallest tower in Europe — a deal Trump’s fixers hoped would "help world peace and make a lot of money."
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Images: Getty (5); Fox News; Obtained by BuzzFeed News (11); Washington Examiner via Twitter; CSPAN; ABC News.
This story has been updated to include new information from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which stated that Dmitry Klokov was a former Russian government official, not the Olympic weightlifter as Michael Cohen previously thought. A photo of the weightlifter was also removed.
This article has been updated to include a statement made after publication on behalf of Ivanka Trump.
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.