U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer in a statement to congressional investigators has disclosed that the Trump Organization was negotiating to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while he campaigned for the White House in 2015 and early 2016, U.S. media report.
Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who was the Trump Organization's chief counsel at the time, said in a two-page statement to the House Intelligence Committee on August 28 that the deal reached the "letter of intent" stage but ultimately was abandoned "for a variety of business reasons," according to media organizations that said they obtained copies of the statement and e-mails.
The Moscow Trump Tower deal was "unrelated" to Trump's presidential campaign, media quoted Cohen as saying in the statement, but he said that he personally told Trump about the proposal "on three occasions," and Trump signed a nonbinding letter of intent to build the hotel complex in October 2015.
Cohen also said he sent an e-mail to Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for help with the deal, based on the advice of a Russian go-between, Felix Sater, who claimed to have deep connections with the Kremlin, media reported.
The House Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional panels that are investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Responding to the reports about Cohen's statement, the Trump Organization confirmed that a nonbinding letter of intent was signed in October 2015 with Moscow developer I.C. Expert Investment Co. to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
The company said the licensing deal was abandonned because it "was not significantly advanced" and no site or financing materialized during negotiations. It also said Trump was never paid any fees as part of the deal..
"To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia," the company said.
The Washington Post first reported about the letter of intent to build a Moscow Trump Tower on August 27.
The New York Times on August 28 first reported about Sater, who it said appeared to boast in an e-mail that the real estate deal could help Trump get elected.
"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater was quoted as saying in an e-mail to Cohen. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."
Sater, a Russian immigrant, was quoted as saying he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under U.S. sanctions over Moscow's aggression in Ukraine.
Sater was quoted as saying he envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow: "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected."
In his two-page statement to the House committee, media said Cohen claimed to have e-mailed Peskov after Sater suggested doing so because "the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued."
Cohen said he did not recall any response to his e-mail, or any other contacts with Peskov or other Russian government officials about the project.
Cohen in a statement to the press downplayed Sater's claims about gaining the Kremln's backing for the deal, saying Sater "has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to 'salesmanship'."
Cohen said the proposal for a luxury hotel, condominium, and office complex in Moscow was one of "countless" such proposals that the Trump Organization has received for building developments around the world, the media reports said.
Cohen said he "performed some initial due diligence" to determine whether the deal was a good fit for the Trump Organization, and the organization also sought building designs from architects and held preliminary discussions about financing the deal, media reported.
With reporting by AP, AFP, ABC News, The Washington Post, New York Times, and Reuters