Mueller Report provides new info on Trump Tower Moscow, Felix Sater and more
Kushner Companies makes brief appearance in the report as well
The long-awaited report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller provides additional details on the abandoned Trump-branded project in Moscow and the 2016 meeting between Jared Kushner and a top Russian bank executive.
Much of the information presented in the 400-plus page report, released on Thursday, has already been made public, but it still offers some additional insight into how Mueller decided against accusing President Trump of conspiracy. The report left open the issue of obstruction of justice, which Attorney General William Barr ultimately dismissed.
Work on the Trump-branded Moscow project kicked off in September 2015, when Trump Organization associate Felix Sater contacted Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen about a potential project on behalf of I.C. Expert Investment Company, a Russian development company controlled by Andrei Vladimirovich Rozov, according to the report. (As previously reported, Sater had served as Rozov’s agent when he purchased 22 West 38th Street in 2014.) Cohen received permission to negotiate on a potential project with I.C. Expert and discussed the project with Trump from 2013 to the summer of 2016. He also met with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. about it in the fall of 2015, according to the report.
Early on, Sater floated the prospect of getting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump to share a stage, the report says. Sater felt such a meeting would not only propel Trump’s candidacy but also boost the planned Trump-branded mixed-use tower in Moscow, according to the report. In an October 2015 email to Cohen, Sater said a “meeting with Putin and top deputy is set for the 14th [of October].”
Cohen discussed a possible trip to Russia with Trump twice, first in late 2015 and again in spring 2016, the report states. Cohen told Mueller that Trump “indicated a willingness to travel if it would assist the project significantly.” Cohen also indicated that he remembered conversations with his boss in which Trump called the presidential campaign an “infomercial” for his company’s properties. Trump told Mueller he had “few conversations with Cohen” about the Moscow project.
“As I recall, they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal and do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it,” Trump said, according to the report. “I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the letter of intent [with I.C. Expert].”
Between October and November 2015, the Trump Organization inked a letter of intent with I.C. Expert to build a residential, hotel and commercial building in Moscow. According to the report, the Trump Organization would receive between 1 and 5 percent of proceeds from the sale of the project’s 250 condo units and 3 percent of all rental and other revenue. For the hotel portion, the Trump Organization would receive 3 percent of operating revenues for the first five years and 4 percent thereafter, as well as a separate incentive fee of 20 percent of the project’s operating profit. On top of that, the firm would receive $4 million upfront before construction started.
Though Sater discussed the logistics of bringing both Trump and Cohen to Russia, Cohen apparently became frustrated that Sater wasn’t delivering on his promises to arrange meetings with government officials, according to the report. As a result, Cohen attempted to make these connections himself by emailing Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government’s press secretary. However, he didn’t have the press secretary’s correct email address and instead sent a message to a generic press email: firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the report.
After the letter of intent was signed, Lana Erkova, the wife of Dmitry Klokov, then the director of a large Russian electricity transmission company, sent an email to Ivanka Trump offering her husband’s assistance in the campaign, according to the report. The president’s daughter forwarded the message to Cohen, who discussed with Klokov the prospect of setting up a meeting between Trump and “our person of interest,” who was later identified as Putin, according to the report. Notably, the report indicates that Cohen had done an internet search of Klokov’s name and incorrectly concluded that he was a former Olympic weightlifter with the same name. Several news organizations have also identified him as the weightlifter.
In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, in part for lying to Congress about his communications with a spokesperson for Putin, whom he emailed for help launching a Trump Tower project in Moscow. In January, Buzzfeed reported that Cohen admitted to Mueller that, after the election, Trump personally instructed him to lie about the condo project’s timeline by saying negotiations ended several months earlier than they did. In October 2016, Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia. The report found that, although Cohen said discussions about Trump Moscow ended in January 2016, they persisted through June 2016. However, the report concluded that despite evidence that Trump knew Cohen falsely testified to Congress about the timeline of the Moscow project, there isn’t enough information to establish that the president directed Cohen to lie.
The report does note, however, that Trump wouldn’t clarify details on the timeline of the Moscow development, including whether or not he personally killed the project.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, also makes several appearances in the report, although his role at Kushner Companies only comes up once in conflicting accounts of the meeting he had with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian government owned bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), which was under sanctions.
Kushner met with Gorkov on Dec. 13, 2016 at the Madison Avenue offices of Colony Capital. He told the special counsel’s office that the meeting was diplomatic and focused on improving U.S.-Russia relations under the incoming Trump administration.
He told investigators that, while Gorkov told him “a little bit about his bank and made some statements about the Russian economy, the two did not discuss Kushner’s companies or private business dealings of any kind,” the report says.
However, VEB indicated in a 2017 public statement that Gorkov had met with Kushner in his role as CEO of Kushner Companies to discuss business, describing it as part of a series of meetings with major U.S. banks and companies.
Robert Foresman, an investment banker who sought to meet with the Trump campaign in 2016 to discuss Russian foreign policy, told the special counsel’s office that he met with Gorkov shortly before his meeting with Kushner. Gorkov told him he was going to New York on a trip sanctioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss post-election issues with American financial institutions, according to the report.
The Mueller investigation was ultimately unable to conclude whether the meeting was about diplomacy, business or both, but there was no significant follow-up from either Kushner or Gorkov after the meeting regardless, the report states.
Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue had a debt obligation coming due on it at the time of the meeting, and there had been concern about possible conflicts of interest arising from attempts to borrow from foreign lenders. Brookfield Asset Management, which is backed by investors from Qatar, has since purchased the building for about $1.3 billion.
In a press conference ahead of the report’s release, Barr defended the president, stressing that no members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. He also said there was not enough evidence to pursue an obstruction of justice charge against the president.
These findings don’t, however, mean Trump is off the hook: The report explicitly states that Congress can separately determine whether or not the president’s action show a “corrupt intent to obstruct justice.”