Donald Trump’s company was working on a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during his presidential run in 2015 and 2016, the Washington Post reports, citing both sources and records reviewed by administration lawyers.
Russian-born real estate developer Felix Sater encouraged Trump to visit Moscow and work on the proposal, suggesting that he could convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to the report. (More on the wonder that is Sater in a minute.)
Trump didn’t wind up making the trip, though the company did sign a letter of intent to move ahead with the development. It was eventually abandoned in January 2016—not because of any mounting conflicts of interest ahead of the primaries, naturally, but because of issues acquiring land and permits. Still, the details of the deal further reveal that Trump’s business was “actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be president—and in a position to determine U.S.-Russia relations.” Hm:
Interesting, since discussions about the project took off back in September of 2015, though it’s unclear how involved Trump was in the negotiations. Talks continued to progress as Trump voiced his admiration for Putin, which, as the Post puts it, helped in “setting himself apart from his Republican rivals.”
But Russia has been Trump’s white whale long before he...set himself apart...on the debate stage. He’s yearned to build properties there since at least 1987, when he attempted to “partner with the Soviet government on a hotel project.” Emphasis mine.
“Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” he said in a 2007 court deposition. “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
Sater, the developer, was also involved in another effort back in 2005, when the Trump Organization gave his development company an exclusive deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower, which again did not pan out. This is after Sater served time in jail for “assaulting a man with the stem of a broken margarita glass during a 1991 bar fight and then pleaded guilty in 1998 to his role in a organized crime-linked stock fraud.” Emphasis mine!
Trump reportedly tried to distance himself from Sater, but not enough that he didn’t allow him to accompany Ivanka and Don Jr. on their trip to Moscow in 2008. (A lawyer for the Trump Organization told the Post that no one accompanied anyone anywhere, and that Sater just happened to be in Moscow at the same time.) Sater didn’t seem to get the message, though, writing in November 2015:
Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen, “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated to the United States from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 8 and grew up in Brooklyn.
Neither the White House nor Trump’s attorney opted to comment.