I think this is more a damaging headline than it is a damaging story but … that’s one damaging headline.
I’m amazed it didn’t happen. The only thing that could have made the last two years of the virtual reality we all now inhabit more absurd would be if the Russiagate investigation had played out this whole time with Putin literally living in a building with Trump’s name on it.
The idea must have appealed immensely to Putin too, a next-level taunt to his many critics in the U.S. that not only does the new president not object to him, he’s proud to have him as a tenant. Conceivably Trump could have closed on the property on election night, tying this entire perverse spectacle up in a bow.
Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary…
[Cohen and Felix Sater] worked furiously behind the scenes into the summer of 2016 to get the Moscow deal finished – despite public claims that the development was canned in January, before Trump won the Republican nomination. Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan.
Of note: “It is not clear whether Trump knew of the intention to give away the penthouse.” Sater’s strategy to drum up business among the ultra-rich by recruiting Putin to the building makes perfect sense, though. And nothing here contradicts Trump’s own plausible spin this morning about the Trump Tower Moscow project: He didn’t know if he’d win the election (and probably assumed he wouldn’t, as 80 percent of the public did) and wanted to keep some irons in the fire. There were other rumors floating around in the fall of 2016 about him rebounding from a probable defeat by launching his own cable news network. It’s not crazy to believe that the Moscow deal wasn’t part of a devious plan between Trump and Putin to win him the election but rather a consolation prize coveted by Trump to cushion the blow from losing the election. Today’s plea by Michael Cohen is big news in part because it confirms that Russia did have some financial leverage over POTUS as late as the summer of 2016. But given that the deal never came off, it’s fair to assume that (a) that leverage was never actually used or (b) it was used but Team Trump didn’t acquiesce in whatever Putin was demanding of them, causing the deal to be abandoned.
But wait. Let’s step back and take in the big picture here with Ken White:
The third remarkable thing about Cohen’s plea was its substance. The president of the United States’ personal lawyer admitted to lying to Congress about the president’s business activities with a hostile foreign power, in order to support the president’s story. In any rational era, that would be earthshaking. Now it’s barely a blip. Over the past two years, we’ve become accustomed to headlines like “President’s Campaign Manager Convicted of Fraud” and “President’s Personal Lawyer Paid for Adult Actress’s Silence.” We’re numb to it all. But these are the sorts of developments that would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency.
They still might. Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress to support President Trump’s version of events. He notably did not claim that he did so at Trump’s request, or that Trump knew he would do it. But if Cohen’s telling the truth this time, then this conclusion, at least, is inescapable: The president, who has followed this drama obsessively, knew that his personal lawyer was lying to Congress about his business activities, and stood by while it happened.
Did Cohen lie at Trump’s, or some agent of Trump’s, request? Because if he did, you’re left to wonder how many other top Trump campaign officials have been telling tall tales to Congress about the Moscow project or other matters. Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner have both testified before Congress, among many others. And of course the president himself recently submitted written answers to Mueller that may or may not match up to what Cohen now admits happened in the summer of 2016. Trump’s lawyers said after today’s guilty plea by Cohen that Trump’s answers jibe with Cohen’s story, but which story? The one he told before, in which he claimed that he didn’t discuss the Moscow project with Trump after January 2016, or the one he’s telling now? Giuliani told the NYT that Mueller didn’t ask specifically about the timing of Trump’s conversations with Cohen about the proposal, but that would be weird, if true. What was the point of waiting to announce Cohen’s plea until after Trump had submitted his answers if not to see whether POTUS would say something different about the timeline than Cohen has?
Guess who Democrats are planning to call to testify, publicly, when their new House majority is seated six weeks from now. Your exit quotation:
In light of Michael Cohen's guilty plea this morning, re-posting this clip from our 2016 interview with Paul Manafort about then-candidate Trump's potential business ties to Russia pic.twitter.com/pNwMtY49l6
— Norah O'Donnell🇺🇸 (@NorahODonnell) November 29, 2018