WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that his company had not selected a location to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.
“That deal was not important. It was essentially a letter of intent or an option. I’m not even sure that they had a site,” Trump told the New York Times in a wide-ranging interview, excerpts of which the paper published online.
“I don’t think they had a location,” he said later in the interview. “I’m not even sure if they had a location.”
In fact, hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans obtained by BuzzFeed News show that the Trump Organization was scoping at least one prime location for the luxury glass skyscraper. The signed letter of intent includes a proposal to build the tower in Moscow City, a former industrial complex near the edge of the Moscow River that has since been converted into an ambitious commercial district clustered with several of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe. It is not clear whether any other sites ever came under consideration.
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Trump repeated claims by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani that the Moscow tower was barely more than a notion. “No plans were ever made,” Giuliani said earlier this month. “There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.” BuzzFeed News last week published detailed plans revealing that the tower was in fact a richly imagined vision of upscale splendor on the banks of the river, expected to yield profits in excess of $300 million. But Trump told the New York Times that Trump Moscow was never a serious proposition. “This was a very unimportant deal,” he said. “I didn’t care.”
Though the plans to build the tower never came to fruition, they have become a key chapter in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin.
Trump and his team have repeatedly sought to distance the president from the project, which was unfolding behind the scenes of his presidential campaign, and paint the plan as a meaningless proposal pursued largely by Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and fixer, with minimal oversight.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about when the deal ended, falsely stating that discussions stopped in January 2016. BuzzFeed News had previously revealed that the Trump Moscow project lasted until at least June that year. Giuliani has since suggested that the effort lasted even longer, through the November election, though he later described that characterization as “hypothetical.”
Mueller’s team has confirmed in a court filing that the project continued after January and that discussions in fact continued until June. The filing noted that Cohen had “discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1” — widely identified as Trump — “on more than the three occasions” Cohen had claimed to congressional investigators and had also briefed members of the president’s family about the project.
Throughout the campaign, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But BuzzFeed News reported last month that law enforcement sources said he received at least 10 updates about the Trump Moscow plans and then directed Cohen to lie to Congress about when those negotiations ended in order to obscure his own involvement.
However, the special counsel’s office issued a statement disputing unspecified parts of the article. “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” it said. BuzzFeed News stands by its story and the two law enforcement sources who informed it.
After that story’s publication, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, said the president hadn’t told Cohen to lie, but that it was possible the pair had discussed Cohen’s congressional testimony. Giuliani then walked that comment back, insisting they hadn’t spoken about it.
Excerpts of Thursday’s interview published by the New York Times do not include any questions about whether the president spoke with Cohen about his congressional testimony beforehand or directed his former fixer to lie.
Giuliani has also said that negotiations for Trump Moscow “went on throughout 2016” and that Trump “can remember having conversations with [Cohen] about it.” He told the New York Times in a previous interview that Trump remembers discussing the project with Cohen up until November 2016, when Trump was elected president. “It was all going from the day I announced to the day I won,” Trump said, according to Giuliani.
“Rudy was incorrect,” Trump said Thursday. “No. 1, he was incorrect, and we’ve explained that, he was wrong. Rudy has been wrong. A little bit.”
Trump, asked how late into 2016 he remembers having discussions about the project, said, “I would say it was early to middle of the year. Now, I don’t know that Cohen didn’t go a little bit longer than that. I don’t think it would be much longer. But then he could have come back to me and said, ‘Listen, I put it together.’ Because that stuff happens.”
Trump has previously defended his involvement in the negotiations during the campaign. “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won,” he told reporters. “In which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
But speaking with the Times, he said, “You know, you think a deal — I was running for president, I was doing really well. The last thing I cared about was building a building.”
The White House declined to comment.