For decades Donald Trump sought a deal in Russia, a country he once reportedly heralded as “one of the hottest places in the world for investment.” A new filing from special counsel Robert Mueller suggests just how lucrative a move into Moscow might have been for the Trump Organization.
“If the project was completed,” Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, wrote in a court filing released Friday, “the company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”
The deal never came to fruition. But hundreds of millions would have been a massive haul, even for a man worth an estimated $3.1 billion. Most of Trump’s wealth is tied up in skyscrapers, golf courses and other real estate projects that are hard to sell. Forbes estimates that the president only has about $150 million worth of cash and other liquid assets.
Trump Tower, the president’s most famous building, is worth an estimated $323 million before debt. It took in an estimated $33 million in revenue in 2017. But running a building means paying for taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance. So Trump Tower’s 2017 profits, measured in net operating income, were just $13.9 million.
The president’s licensing business, however, does not have the same big overhead expenses, meaning a new tower in Moscow could have presumably been a cash cow. Sure, striking such a deal might require a few flights and some legal fees, but there don’t seem to be many hard costs to letting someone else use your name. The proposed deal, the details of which remain unclear, could theoretically have also included an agreement for Trump to manage the property or given him a cut of condo sales in the building, potentially worth millions of dollars.
If Mueller is right, and the deal could have yielded “hundreds of millions,” that would mean a single Moscow deal may have brought in more money than the president’s entire annual rent roll, which generates an estimated $175 million for the Trump Organization. And it would certainly seem to be enough to cover the $66 million Trump personally put into his 2016 presidential campaign.
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.”
On the day of the third Republican presidential debate, Trump personally signed the letter of intent.
Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin.