Part of the real estate deal President Donald Trump pursued with Moscow leading up to the 2016 presidential election involved giving a $50 million penthouse in the building to President Vladimir Putin, BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday.
This latest development was confirmed by four people, the outlet said, one of whom was the originator of the plan.
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.
The Trump Tower Moscow plan is at the heart of a new plea agreement by Cohen, who led the negotiations to bring a gleaming, 100-story building to the Russian capital. Cohen acknowledged in court that he had lied to Congress about the plan in order to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
The revelation that representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about President Trump's relationship with the Kremlin. The plan never went anywhere because the tower deal ultimately fizzled, and it is not clear whether Trump knew of the intention to give away the penthouse. But Cohen said in court documents that he regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Moscow negotiations.
The idea for gifting Putin a penthouse reportedly came from Cohen and Trump business associate Felix Sater, who had been working on the deal together.
Sater told BuzzFeed News that he and Cohen believed giving Trump Tower’s most posh apartment to the Russian president would draw in other wealthy buyers.
“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.
Sater, a brash real estate promoter who pleaded guilty to racketeering in 1998 and became a longtime asset to US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, had worked with the Trump Organization on deals in the past and said he came up with the idea. Cohen, Sater recalled, said, “Great idea.”
Apart from Sater, no other parties involved would offer comment to BuzzFeed News, but Trump told reporters on Thursday after Cohen’s guilty plea was reported that he had not wanted to jeopardize any business deals in case he failed to clinch the presidency in 2016.
“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won” the presidential election, “in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Trump had personally signed the letter of intent to move forward on the Trump Tower Moscow plan on Oct. 28, 2015, the day of the third Republican primary debate.
Cohen had previously insisted that his attempt to communicate via email with an assistant to Peskov received no reply, but the criminal information filed against the former Trump attorney on Thursday indicates this was a lie.
Two FBI agents with direct knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that Cohen was in frequent contact with foreign individuals about the real estate venture — and that some of these individuals had knowledge of or played a role in 2016 election meddling. The identity of those individuals remains unknown.