Business deals, affairs, Russia ties—the president’s former fixer knows all.
This marks what promises to be a decisive moment in not only the Trump-Russia scandal but all the Trump scandals (known and unknown), for Cohen appears to have been involved in almost every aspect of Trump’s deeds and misdeeds.
.. With Cohen blowing the whistle, Mueller and other prosecutors will end up with a symphony of leads. After all, he likely has inside information on each of the three rings of the Trump scandal circus:
- the Russia affair,
- the business affairs,
- the affairs affair.
.. Make a Venn diagram of all this, and Cohen is dead center. This ex-consigliere poses a triple threat to the godfather he once ruthlessly served
.. Let’s start with Russia. Cohen intersects with the known narrative in at least two ways. He was there when Trump cut a deal with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son Emin to hold the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013. When Trump gathered with the Agalarovs in Las Vegas in June 2013 to formalize their partnership, Cohen accompanied the celebrity businessman and was part of a celebratory dinner at a high-end restaurant. That is, Cohen was present at the creation of the bond forged between Trump and this Putin-friendly oligarch. (Also in attendance was an Agalarov associate who had been linked to Russian money laundering.) This could well be significant for investigators because it was the Trump-Agalarov connection that led to the now notorious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016—when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, met with a Russian emissary whom they were told would provide them dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump.
.. When the meeting became public in July 2017, Trump Jr. released a statement falsely claiming that the meeting merely had covered Russian adoption policy. Trump’s involvement in the drafting of that inaccurate statement has been a key issue.
.. In January, Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller noting that Trump had dictated his son’s response. This raised the question of whether Trump Jr. had lied to a Senate committee when he previously said during private congressional testimony that his father had not played a vital role in concocting the statement.
.. But this letter also highlighted other potential problems for Trump: Did he lie when he publicly said he had no prior knowledge of the meeting, and did he direct potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation to stick to a false cover story? Meaning, did the president engage in obstruction of justice?.. Cohen, though, was directly involved in another key interaction between Trump and Russia during the campaign. From September 2015 through January 2016, he handled secret negotiations between Trump and a Russian company to develop a luxury Trump tower in Moscow. The middleman for these talks was Felix Sater, a onetime stock swindler who had done business with Trump in the 2000s and who was a boyhood pal of Cohen. The deal was odd in that the Russian construction company had no previous experience developing such a property. Though the CEO of this company declared he was the sole owner of the firm, the company, as Michael Isikoff and I reported in Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, was actually owned by three off-shore companies, including one controlled by a Cypriot lawyer deeply involved in Russian finance... While Trump was trying to pull off this project, he said nothing in public about the venture and campaigned as an “America First” nationalist candidate. Throughout this stretch, Trump consistently refused to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin, without telling voters that he was pursuing a Moscow project that Sater told Cohen would be underwritten by a bank partially owned by the Kremlin... Given that the project would not proceed if the Russian government said nyet, this was a stunning conflict of interest—perhaps one of the most scandalous personal financial conflicts of modern US political history... he certainly is familiar with the details of the hush-money deals set up for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who each claim they had an affair with Trump. One critical question is whether these payments were made to keep the women quiet because their revelations could harm Trump’s electoral chances... For investigators zeroing in on the keep-quiet payoffs, Cohen is the man... Trump’s reputation as a businessman is not one of probity and prudence. He has long had—and lied about—business connections to organized crime... In 2010, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., opened an investigation into whether Trump, Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump had committed fraud related to the selling of units in Trump SoHo, a 46-story luxury condominium-hotel.In 2012, the probe was dropped. Vance had received campaign donations from Trump’s personal lawyer, but he has claimed that had no bearing on the case... A sketchy deal that Trump began in 2014 to develop a Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act... As a friend of Cohen points out, Cohen “worked in an environment that was total chaos. People were constantly running in and out of Trump’s office. The man had a 30-second attention span. Everyone knows everything. Everyone is talking. And there are no secrets.”.. In the middle of Hurricane Donald, Cohen was as close to the mast as anyone. He may well know of Trump actions deserving of investigation that prosecutors for Mueller and the US attorney in New York have never taken a gander at.If Cohen ends up a cooperative witness, one question will be how far federal prosecutors want to—or are willing to—dig into Trump’s business. A whole new terrain could be wide open for exploration... a lawyer who worked for the Trump Organization told an acquaintance of mine, “My job boils down to doing two things. First there is this: I say, ‘Mr. Trump, you can’t do that. You really can’t do that, Mr. Trump.’ Then I say, ‘Mr. Trump, why did you do that?’” Cohen was not that type of attorney. He was the handyman who came in after one of the regular lawyers had gone through those two steps—a Mr. Fix-it for a rule-bending executive... Cohen has been compared by some to John Dean, the Nixon White House lawyer who eventually testified that Nixon was in on the Watergate cover-up and who became a quasi-hero of that scandal... No doubt, Lanny Davis is advising Cohen on how best to rehabilitate himself and change his image from a sleazy pit bull who was willing to do anything for Trump (even take a bullet!) to a repentant henchman who now is eager to serve the truth.But if Dean was a torpedo that sank Nixon, Cohen is more an aircraft carrier. He probably has ammunition that can strike multiple Trump targets. His cooperation with prosecutors could dramatically reshape and perhaps expand the Trump investigations. He is someone that Trump ought to fear. There likely are bodies buried in Trumpland, and if you want to raise the dead, Cohen is the guy to see.
Roger Stone, means that at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.
.. Papadopoulos sent an email to Trump adviser Stephen Miller the day after Mifsud reached out to him, telling Miller he had some “interesting messages” coming in from Moscow.
.. Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”
For more than 30 years, Mr. Trump has repeatedly sought to conduct business in Russia. He traveled to Moscow in 1987 to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have met with Russian developers and government officials on multiple occasions in search of joint ventures.
.. But the company says nothing has come of it.
There Was a Moscow Hotel Deal in the Works During the Campaign
.. Perhaps the closest Mr. Trump came to launching a real estate project in Russia was during the presidential campaign, when he signed a letter of intent in late 2015 for a Trump hotel to be built in Moscow. Ultimately, the deal never materialized.
In email exchanges with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, a Russian émigré who had previously helped develop Trump SoHo in New York, talked about securing financing for the Moscow project from VTB, a major state-owned Russian bank under American sanctions. He also mused about how the deal, if supported by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would “fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics.”
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote in one of the emails.
.. Mr. Trump signed the letter of intent with Andrey Rozov, a developer of retail and residential projects in the Moscow region. If the deal went through, Mr. Trump would receive a $4 million upfront fee in exchange for licensing his name, and his company would manage the completed hotel.
.. By January 2016, the project seemed to have stalled. At one point, without success, Mr. Cohen emailed an aide to Mr. Putin seeking help jump-starting it.
.. Mr. Trump’s business opportunities in Russia got little traction until he took the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.
.. The visit left an impression on Mr. Trump and had him contemplating future endeavors with the Agalarovs.
.. “I had a great weekend with you and your family,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter in a message to Aras Agalarov. “You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next,” he wrote, before referring to Mr. Agalarov’s son, a pop star: “EMIN was WOW!”
In June 2016, a publicist for Emin Agalarov requested that Donald Trump Jr. meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. That meeting, at Trump Tower in New York, first reported by The New York Times last July, included other campaign officials and has been the subject of considerable scrutiny.
.. in a September 2015 interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” he had made the Miss Universe pageant seem far more important.
“I called it my weekend in Moscow,” Mr. Trump said. “I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”
.. Deutsche Bank, offered Mr. Trump more than $4 billion in loan commitments and potential bond offerings, a majority of which were completed, The Times reported last year.
.. the bank last year landed in legal trouble over Russian money laundering — paying more than $600 million in penalties to American and British regulators.
.. Some Deutsche Bank executives expect they will eventually have to produce records as part of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry
.. The bank has already been asked to turn over documents to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn about another client with a White House connection: the Kushner Companies
.. Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire oligarch, paid $95 million for Mr. Trump’s oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Fla
.. Mr. Trump sold the house less than four years after buying it for about $41 million. Mr. Rybolovlev paid the markup despite buying the property in 2008, at the height of the housing crisis. And Mr. Trump had made few improvements to the mansion, which reportedly had a mold problem.
.. Mr. Rybolovlev, moreover, never lived in the property.
.. At the time of the sale, Mr. Trump was facing financial pressure. He potentially owed Deutsche Bank $40 million after not paying off a loan for his Chicago hotel and tower.
.. James Dodson recounted a conversation he had had with Eric Trump in 2013 on a newly opened Trump golf course in Charlotte, N.C. Mr. Dodson said he had asked Mr. Trump about the company’s sources of funds, and Mr. Trump told him, “We have pretty much all the money we need from investors in Russia.”
.. In 2008, at a real estate conference in New York, Donald Trump Jr. said: “In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets, say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.
.. It also suggests that emails from an intermediary to the younger Mr. Trump promising that Ms. Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were rooted at least partly in fact — not mere “puffery,”as the president’s son later said.
.. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia repeated her charges at length last week at an annual conference of Western academics. A state-run television network recently made them the subject of two special reports, featuring interviews with Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Chaika.
The matching messages point to a synchronized information campaign.
.. The memo that Ms. Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting alleged that Ziff Brothers Investments, an American firm, had illegally purchased shares in a Russian company and evaded tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes. The company was the financial vehicle of three billionaire brothers, two of them major donors to Democratic candidates including Mrs. Clinton. By implication, Ms. Veselnitskaya, said, those political contributions were tainted by “stolen” money.
.. The Ziff brothers had invested in funds managed by William F. Browder, an American-born financier and fierce Kremlin foe. Mr. Browder was the driving force behind a 2012 law passed by Congress imposing sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses.
.. Mr. Putin said that American authorities had ignored the allegations against Mr. Browder and his investors because the Ziff brothers were major political donors. “They protect themselves in this way,” he said.
.. In April 2016, Ms. Veselnitskaya teamed with Mr. Chaika’s office to pass the accusations to an American congressional delegation visiting Moscow. An official with the Russian prosecutor general’s office gave a memo detailing the charges — stamped “confidential”— to Representative Dana Rohrabacher
.. Ms. Veselnitskaya handed a nearly identical memo to Representative French Hill, Republican of Arkansas.
.. She asked Aras Agalarov, a well-connected Russian oligarch who knows the Trump family, to help her share her allegations with the Trump campaign, according to Mr. Agalarov’s attorney, Scott Balber.
.. By all accounts, the Trump campaign officials were unimpressed — even baffled — by her 20-minute presentation. “Some D.N.C. donors may have done something in Russia and they didn’t pay taxes,” Donald Trump Jr. said later. “I was, like, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’”
.. by last weekend, she was describing herself as a kind of whistle-blower who was trying to expose American political corruption.
.. Mr. Chaika charged that Mr. Browder and the Ziffs had illegally used “Russian money” to lobby for the sanctions law.