Hours after President Donald Trump’s former attorney pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in pursuing a business deal in Moscow for his longtime boss, details of that business deal broke, revealing that the Trump Organization was reportedly so eager to break ground on a real estate development in Moscow that it offered a prime unit to none other than Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
Call it “Russia-Lago.”
On Thursday evening, Buzzfeed News’ Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier reported that when he was negotiating a potential Trump Tower Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen told Putin’s press secretary that, among other considerations, the Trump Organization was willing to offer a $50 million penthouse in the planned 100-story skyscraper to Putin himself.
“In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Felix Sater, a Soviet-born New York real estate figure who was an occasional business partner of President Trump’s, told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”
Cohen had told Congress that discussions of the possible tower ceased in January 2016, and that he had worked on the plan alone. But he has since admitted that he worked on the Trump Tower Moscow project well into the summer, and included both Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on emails relating to the deal.
Plans for the tower eventually fell through—due at least in part to Trump’s election—but the report represents a major complication in the White House’s narrative that there is no truth to allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
An attempt to forge direct financial ties between Trump and the president of a hostile foreign power whose intelligence agencies were plotting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election at the same time that Trump was offering him a free penthouse is likely of the highest interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, whose team has sat down with Cohen multiple times in recent months.
Putin is unlikely to hear more specifics about the penthouse’s finishings or bathroom count anytime soon. Shortly after Cohen’s guilty plea became public, Trump announced that he was cancelling a summit with the Russian president in Argentina over the weekend, ostensibly due to recent aggressive actions taken by the Russian military against Ukrainian naval vessels.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson—who, incidentally, was the official to whom Cohen pitched the free penthouse idea—said late Thursday that the Kremlin had not yet officially been notified of Trump’s decision to scrap his planned meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina.
“So far we’ve seen only the tweet and media reports. We have no official information,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency.
But, Peskov continued, “if that’s the case, the president will have an extra couple hours in his schedule for useful meetings” with other leaders at the G20.