By Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig / The Washington Post
A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress Monday.
Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney and executive vice president for the Trump Organization, sent the email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s top press aide.
“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 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 interaction yet documented of a top Trump aide and a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.
The email shows the Trump business official directly seeking Kremlin assistance in advancing Trump’s business interests, in the same months when Trump was distinguishing himself on the campaign trail with his warm rhetoric about Putin.
In a statement Cohen submitted to congressional investigators, he said 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. He said he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov and the project was abandoned two weeks later.
Cohen has been one of Trump’s closest aides for more than a decade. He did not take a formal role in the campaign however sometimes spoke to reporters on Trump’s behalf and appeared on television as a surrogate while Trump was running.
“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,” Cohen said in a statement to the Post. “The Trump Moscow proposal was simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”
He said he abandoned the project because he lost confidence the Moscow developer would be able to obtain land, financing and government approvals to complete the project. “It was a building proposal that did not succeed and nothing more,” he said.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Cohen had been in negotiations with Sater to attempt to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital from September 2015 through the end of January 2016, as Trump was competing for the Republican nomination for president.
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 Company. Cohen said that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on October 28, 2015 and began to solicit designs from architects and discuss financing.
However, he said government permission was not forthcoming and the project was abandoned “for business reasons.”
“The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign,” Cohen wrote in his statement to Congressional investigators. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it were unrelated to the Donald Jr. Trump for President Campaign.”
Cohen told Congressional investigators that Sater “constantly” pushed him to travel to Moscow as part of the negotiations, but that he declined to do so. He claimed Sater, who has attempted to broker Trump deals for more than a decade, was “prone to ‘salesmanship,’” and, as a result, he did not routinely apprise others in the company about their interactions and never considered asking Trump to go to Moscow, as Sater had requested.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization, Sater and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.