WASHINGTON — President Trump was involved in discussions to build a skyscraper in Moscow throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign, his personal lawyer said on Sunday, a longer and more significant role for Mr. Trump than he had previously acknowledged.
The comments by his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani indicated that Mr. Trump’s efforts to complete a business deal in Russia waned only after Americans cast ballots in the presidential election.
The new timetable means that Mr. Trump was seeking a deal
- at the time he was calling for an end to economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He was seeking a deal when he gave interviews
- questioning the legitimacy of NATO, a favorite talking point of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. And he was seeking a deal when, in July 2016, he
- called on Russia to release hacked Democratic emails that Mr. Putin’s government was rumored at the time to have stolen.
The Trump Tower Moscow discussions were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won,” Mr. Giuliani quoted Mr. Trump as saying during an interview with The New York Times. It was one of a flurry of interviews Mr. Giuliani did on Sunday amid fallout from a disputed report by BuzzFeed News that President Trump had personally directed his former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, to lie to Congress about the negotiations over the skyscraper.
.. Mr. Giuliani also acknowledged that Mr. Trump might have talked to Mr. Cohen before his congressional testimony but he said his client had never instructed Mr. Cohen to lie. Mr. Trump acknowledged discussing the Moscow project with Mr. Cohen in written responses that the president gave Mr. Mueller’s investigators days before they revealed that Mr. Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
.. “We’re at Cohen’s mercy for the dates,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that the president “doesn’t remember the dates. He does remember conversations about Moscow. He does remember the letter of intent. He does remember, after that, fleeting conversations.”
Like so many other threads of the Russia saga, the story that the president’s aides have told about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations has changed repeatedly.
- First, they said that the discussions never moved beyond their infancy, barely involved Mr. Trump, and ended well before the Republican primaries. Then,
- when Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about the Tower negotiations, the special counsel’s office revealed they extended at least until the middle of 2016.
.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions and asked Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey I. Kislyak, whether Mr. Trump’s aides could use phone lines at the Russian embassy to communicate with Moscow during the presidential transition. Michael T. Flynn, who would become President Trump’s first national security adviser, discussed sanctions with Mr. Kislyak numerous times in December 2016 as President Obama punished Russia for its campaign of election interference.
.. One of the people Mr. Sater contacted was Evgeny Shmykov, a former general in Russian military intelligence who once worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Mr. Sater appears to have seen Mr. Shmykov as a conduit to get Russian government approval for the Trump project.
.. Mr. Sater said that, for diplomatic reasons, the Kremlin could not issue the visas. Instead, he said, a Russian bank could provide the documents as part of “a business meeting not political.”
When Donald J. Trump took a run at building a tower in Moscow in the middle of his 2016 presidential campaign, it was the high point of a decades-long effort to plant the “Trump” flag there.
The role his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen played in the endeavor entered the spotlight again on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to misleading Congress. But the effort was led in large part by Felix Sater, a convicted felon and longtime business associate with deep ties to Russia.
.. To get the project off the ground, Mr. Sater dug into his address book and its more than 100 Russian contacts — including entries for President Vladimir V. Putin and a former general in Russian military intelligence. Mr. Sater tapped the general, Evgeny Shmykov, to help arrange visas for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to visit Russia
.. For months, the felon, the former Russian intelligence officer and Mr. Trump’s lawyer worked to land the deal, speaking with a Putin aide, Russian bankers and real estate developers. But by July 2016, with Mr. Trump having secured the Republican presidential nomination and accusations of Russian election interference heating up, the project was abandoned, and neither Mr. Cohen nor Mr. Trump traveled to Moscow.
.. His effort in 2016 was only the latest episode in a long, sporadic quest dating to the 1980s. But as the Trump brand became increasingly common, emblazoning hotels and commercial towers around the world, a Russian equivalent never quite came together — even after Mr. Trump secured trademarks in the country and sent emissaries, including his children, to scout for deals... One deal that almost got off the ground in 2005 — a Moscow tower on the site of a former pencil factory — was also pitched by Mr. Sater.. Mr. Sater, who sometimes carried a business card identifying him as a “senior adviser” to Mr. Trump, pursued Russian deals throughout the 2000s. On one visit in which he was accompanied by Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, he arranged for Ms. Trump to sit in Mr. Putin’s chair during a tour of the Kremlin, he said in emails to Mr. Cohen... One of his contacts was Mr. Shmykov, who worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s while serving in Russian military intelligence, according to documents and online research. Mr. Shmykov, who is 62, has a profile on a Russian social media site that says he attended the Academy of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, which trains intelligence personnel... Mr. Shmykov declined to answer questions, but directed a reporter to photos of his time in the military, including one in which he appears with Mr. Sater, saying, “In these photographs are answers to all your questions.”.. Mr. Sater had been exchanging emails and phone calls with Mr. Cohen about resurrecting plans for the tower. The two men were friends, and Mr. Sater seemed almost giddy as he explained to Mr. Cohen how he would use his connections to “get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”