Morning Update: Friends In High Places

The Trump Organization planned to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin, Sandberg wanted research on Soros, weekend longreads. Your BuzzFeed News newsletter, Nov. 30.

Get this newsletter in your inbox. Sign up right here.

The Trump Organization planned to give Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow

A number of threads were connected yesterday. Let’s go through it in order.

Start at the beginning. First came the news that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate deal in Russia.

What did he lie about? Cohen claimed talks about the potential deal by the Trump Organization ended in January 2016. Prosecutors said Cohen was actually still working on the deal in June 2016, was planning to fly to Russia, and was actively arranging for Trump to visit.

Is this a big lie? Yes. The charging documents contend Cohen lied to limit investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia by claiming the project concluded before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016.

And how does the penthouse figure into this? It’s a new revelation from an exclusive BuzzFeed News investigation. According to four people, one of whom was the originator of the plan, Trump’s company planned to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million apartment in the new luxury development.

Why would the Trump Organization do that? According to Felix Sater, one of Cohen’s associates, “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin. My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units.”

How is it significant? The revelation that representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about Trump's relationship with the Kremlin.

How much did Trump know? This is unclear. We only know that Cohen said he often briefed the president and his family on the Moscow negotiations.

Did Trump respond to Cohen’s plea? He sure did. He called Cohen a “weak person” and said he was lying. Then he added that even if Cohen was right, “it doesn’t matter” because he was allowed to run his businesses while campaigning.

He put it this way: “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won [the election], in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”

Anything else I need to know? Back in May, we published the definitive story on Trump Tower Moscow. On the day of the third Republican presidential debate, Trump personally signed the letter of intent to move forward.

Got it. May I be released now? Not quite — you should also know that, via Twitter, Trump canceled a planned meeting with Putin at the G20 summit. The announced reason: Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian military vessels over the weekend.


No charges will be filed against the migrants arrested in the US border clash that ended in tear gas. Out of 42 people arrested — 27 men and 15 women and children — only two were referred for prosecution for illegal entry, but the Justice Department was asked to drop the charges due to medical issues.

Southwest Airlines has apologized after an employee mocked a girl named Abcde. Traci Redford said that she and young Abcde (pronounced “Ab-city”) were traveling when she overheard a gate agent making fun of her daughter’s name.

Bodycam footage shows how people barely escaped California’s deadliest wildfires as the flames closed in. The sheriff’s deputy who took the harrowing footage turned on his camera “in hopes of capturing what he thought were going to be the last moments of his life.”

The office of a Jewish professor was vandalized with swastikas at Columbia University. Elizabeth Midlarsky, 77, who has taught at the college for 28 years, told a local paper that she was shocked.

This guy came home to find 12 complete strangers partying and trashing his apartment. They claimed they’d rented the apartment through He asked them to leave, and as they were filing out, his wife looked around and realized their valuables were missing.

Sheryl Sandberg asked staff to conduct research on billionaire George Soros

This is another case of Facebook not quite telling the whole story.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs for public relations and opposition research on competitors and critics, including the influential billionaire Soros.

Facebook said that its two most visible faces, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, had little, if any, knowledge of Facebook’s links to Definers.

Now, while Facebook maintains that Sandberg did not direct Definers, the company has acknowledged that Sandberg did in fact request research on Soros after he called Facebook a “menace.”

Escape from the hectic world with these longreads

These Novels Prove That Women Make Fascinating Fictional Killers, Too. There’s been an uptick in fiction about women who kill, and women who kill often. Contributor Kristen Evans wrote a nuanced piece about this trend and what it offers. From the essay: “When women write women who kill, their characters contain more realistic shades of emotion.”

Regina Hall Isn’t Going To Be Underrated Anymore. Yesterday, Regina Hall won the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Actress for her (stunning) performance in Support the Girls. It’s worth revisiting Bim Adewunmi’s profile of Hall from this fall: “It’s time we pulled Regina Hall’s name out of the ‘underrated’ basket because her moment has finally arrived.”

The only good political movies this year are about an 18th-century queen and Joseph Stalin. The Favourite and The Death of Stalin deserve your attention, according to our film critic Alison Willmore: “If these movies feel like indirect answers to the problem of how to satirize Trump, it's because they're reminders that there's nothing new about the impulses toward autocracy.”

Skip to footer