U.S. President Donald Trump has defended his decision to seek a business deal in Russia in 2016 even as he pursued the Republican presidential nomination.
In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending a Group of 20 (G20) summit, Trump said he had "lightly looked" at a real estate project in Russia and that it was "very legal" and "very cool" to do so while campaigning. He added that he ultimately abandoned the project.
"Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail.... Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump posted the tweets a day after his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen admitted to having lied to Congress about the timing and extent of his discussions with unnamed Russian officials on a proposed Trump-branded skyscraper development in Moscow.
Cohen had previously said that talks about the deal stopped in January 2016. But, according to a court filing by U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, those discussions in fact were ongoing as late as June 2016, by which time Trump had secured enough support to win the Republican Party nomination to be U.S. president.
Cohen admitted that he misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about that and other details in testimony he provided to the committee in August 2017.
BuzzFeed News reported on November 29 that Trump's company considered giving the penthouse apartment in the proposed Moscow tower to Putin.
"My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units," BuzzFeed quoted another person involved, Felix Sater, as saying. "All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin."
Trump lashed out at Cohen after the plea deal was announced on November 29, calling him "a weak person" and "not very smart person."
'Russian Witch Hunt Hoax'
Mueller's office is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign.
Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a "witch hunt."
The White House said on November 30 that ties between Russia and the United States are likely being damaged by the investigation into whether President Trump colluded with Moscow during his election.
"Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement, referring to the probe as "the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax."
"However, the reason for our cancelled meeting is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon so that productive conversations can begin,” Sanders added.
Trump had said on Twitter that he canceled the meeting with Putin over Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors. He announced the cancellation shortly after his former lawyer Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has brought charges or secured convictions against more than two dozen Russian nationals and entities, as well as a number of Trump's associates, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who will tentatively face sentencing on March 5, according to a November 30 ruling by a federal judge.