Michael Cohen, we learned Thursday, lied to Congress about the extent of his work on a Moscow real estate deal in 2016 on behalf of the Trump Organization. Cohen testified before Congress that the development deal went kaput in January 2016, when, in reality, negotiations on building a 100-story Trump Town Moscow stretched into June 2016 shortly after then-candidate Trump clinched the GOP nomination on May 26th. The deal, which quietly lingered throughout the primaries, financially links Trump and his family to the Kremlin in an unflattering, though not explicitly criminal way—yet. Adding to the now thickening air of quid pro quo around the deal is BuzzFeed’s report that, according to four sources, the Trump Organization planned to gift Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in the building, once completed.
“Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary,” according to BuzzFeed. A Trump family business associate involved in the Moscow deal, Soviet-born Felix Sater—who had previously pleaded guilty to racketeering and at one point went to prison for attacking a man with the stem of a margarita glass during a bar fight—told BuzzFeed that “he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own.” “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater said. “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.”
It’s unclear, BuzzFeed notes, if this scheme made its way to Donald Trump. The discussions Cohen had with Putin press secretary Dmitry Peskov’s office about helping make the deal happen would have made the $50 million look an awful lot like a kickback. But the deal was scuppered before any of that came to fruition. Donald Trump’s concrete involvement—that we know of so far—in the deal consists of signing a letter of intent on Oct. 28, 2015, the day of the third Republican presidential debate, to move forward with the development of the Trump Tower Moscow project. That was the last known attempt of a 30-year drive by Trump to crack the Russian market, which has included 20 separate (failed) development attempts by the now president of the United States.