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.
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.
.. Torshin-Trump Jr. In May, a former member of the Russian parliament named Aleksandr Torshin made repeated efforts to contact Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son. He sent multiple emails hoping to set up a meeting with Trump Jr. when both were at a National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky. The two met briefly at a dinner associated with that event. It is not clear whether Torshin had any information to offer Trump Jr.
.. Agalarov-Veselnitskaya-Trump Jr.-Manafort-Kushner.
.. It is apparent that Agalarov and Trump Jr. almost certainly spoke on the phone multiple times before that meeting and that Trump Jr. informed both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort of what was being offered.
.. The question is whether any of those three also informed Trump. There is good reason to think he knew. The night that the meeting time was set up, following calls between Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner — and the day after Trump Jr. had a call with a blocked number before agreeing to the meeting — Trump told reporters, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
When that dirt did not materialize, the speech about Clinton the following Monday did not either.
.. This is noteworthy not only because of the connection between Page and a senior government official but because of what other reports suggest about Page’s time in Russia. Specifically, the controversial dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele includes a report from mid-July alleging that Page met with a Russian official who “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ ” — compromising material — “the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.”
.. WikiLeaks-Trump Jr. The following month, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks exchanged private messages on Twitter. None of those messages suggest Trump Jr. and the organization coordinated the released of information damaging to Clinton. But the exchange occurred shortly before WikiLeaks began releasing the emails stolen from Podesta in early October.
.. So we are confident the following people were offered or told about information allegedly incriminating Clinton:
- George Papadopoulos
- Roger Stone
- Michael Caputo
- Donald Trump Jr.
- Jared Kushner
- Paul Manafort
It is possible that the following other people knew about or received similar offers, too:
- Stephen Miller
- Carter Page
- J.D. Gordon (if Page was offered dirt)
- Donald Trump
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.”
The transcripts also raise serious questions about whether Trump, Jr., was telling the truth when he told the Judiciary Committee that he didn’t inform his father in advance about the Trump Tower meeting. At 4:04 p.m. on June 6, 2016, three days before the meeting, according to telephone records that the Committee obtained, Trump, Jr., spoke briefly with Emin Agalarov, who had just completed a show in Moscow. At 4:27 p.m., he had a four-minute call with someone whose number was blocked. At 4:31 p.m., immediately after that conversation, he called Emin again and spoke for three minutes.
“Does your father use a blocked number on his cell phone or on any phones that you call him on?” Sawyer asked Trump, Jr.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
Was Trump Jr. the only member of the Trump campaign to share that same private anticipation? Did Manafort and Kushner also know what the point of the meeting was? Did the candidate, Donald Trump? In other words, were all four of them planning to play ball with what the Russians offered?
.. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released testimony from Trump Jr. and Goldstone that made fairly clear that both Manafort and Kushner knew what the point of the meeting was.
.. But before Trump Jr. took the meeting, he wanted to confirm with Goldstone’s boss that it was legitimate. “Perhaps I just speak to Emin [Agalarov] first,” he wrote in his initial response to Goldstone, referring to the developer/musician with whom Goldstone worked. Goldstone worked to set that call up, and Trump Jr. received a call on June 6 from Russia that lasted one or two minutes and later placed one to Russia that lasted two or three minutes. (Trump Jr. has insisted that he doesn’t remember speaking with Agalarov and that perhaps the calls back and forth, including one from Agalarov to Trump Jr. at around noon on June 7 were an exchange of voice mails.)
.. In between those calls on June 6, though, was a mysterious one. Trump Jr. was in contact with a blocked number for three to four minutes. (Call logs round up to the nearest minute in reporting call lengths.) Immediately after ending that call, Trump Jr. called Agalarov.
.. Without subpoenaing records — which Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told The Post’s Greg Sargent that the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee refused to do — it’s impossible to know who was on the other end.
.. But there’s another question that remains unanswered and is potentially important: Did Trump Jr. call the blocked number, or did the blocked number call him?
On CNN Thursday night, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) described the call as outgoing. The implication from an outgoing call, of course, is that Trump Jr. was seeking advice before he called Agalarov back. (His first call to Agalarov came immediately after that blocked-number call.) If Trump Jr. received the call, the timing is still suspicious, but it’s possible that the call is not related to the investigation.
.. In short, the evidence suggests that the call was indeed made to Trump Jr. from the blocked number. The vagueness about the subject — an important one when considering the critical question of whether Donald Trump knew about the meeting — is likely a function both of the lack of curiosity among House Republicans and an eagerness by some Democrats to present the call as outgoing. It still seems likely that the call involved Trump, given the context, but it’s still a mystery.
.. At least two people probably know who that call involved. One is Trump Jr., despite the denials in his testimony.
The other is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
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.”
We like to think of ourselves as fair-minded and knowledgeable, having between us many years of experience with the C.I.A. dealing with Russian intelligence services. It is our view not only that the Russian government was running some sort of intelligence operation involving the Trump campaign, but also that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of collusion between the two.
.. The goal of the Russian spy game is to nudge a person to step over the line into an increasingly conspiratorial relationship. First, for a Russian intelligence recruitment operation to work, they would have had some sense that Donald Trump Jr. was a promising target. Next, as the Russians often do, they made a “soft” approach, setting the bait for their target via the June email sent by Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, on behalf of a Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov.
.. They then employed a cover story — adoptions — to make it believable to the outside world that there was nothing amiss with the proposed meetings. They bolstered this idea by using cutouts, nonofficial Russians, for the actual meeting, enabling the Trump team to claim — truthfully — that there were no Russian government employees at the meeting and that it was just former business contacts of the Trump empire who were present.
.. A month after the June meeting at Trump Tower, WikiLeaks, a veritable Russian front, released a dump of stolen D.N.C. emails. The candidate and campaign surrogates increasingly mouthed talking points that seemed taken directly from Russian propaganda outlets, such as that there had been a terrorist attack on a Turkish military base, when no such attack had occurred.
Also, at this time United States intelligence reportedly received indications from European intelligence counterparts about odd meetings between Russians and Trump campaign representatives overseas.
.. Only after the Russian intelligence officer develops a level of control can the relationship be moved out of the public eye. John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., recently testified, “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”
.. If the fish didn’t take the bait, the Russians would always have had the option to weaponize the information later to embarrass the Trump team. In addition, if the Russians’ first objective was chaos and disruption, the best way to accomplish that would have been to have someone on the inside helping. It is unlikely that the Russians would not use all the traditional espionage tools available to them.
.. the most telling piece of information may be the most obvious. Donald Trump himself made numerous statements in support of Russia, Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks during the campaign. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his team have gone out of their way to hide contacts with Russians and lied to the public about it. Likewise, Mr. Trump has attacked those people and institutions that could get to the bottom of the affair. He fired his F.B.I. director James Comey, criticized and bullied his attorney general and deputy attorney general, denigrated the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and assails the news media, labeling anything he dislikes “fake news.” Innocent people don’t tend to behave this way.