President Trump's company sought to build a luxury hotel and condominium project in Moscow at the start of the U.S. presidential race and requested help from an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump's personal attorney said Monday.
The attorney, Michael Cohen, said that he worked on the plan to build Trump Tower Moscow for five months after Trump declared his candidacy for president in 2015, partnering with Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman in New York who had worked with Trump's company on previous deals.
Cohen abandoned the Moscow project in January 2016 after deciding it was "not feasible," he said in the two-page statement to the House Intelligence Committee. He added that "to the best of my knowledge," Trump "was never in contact with anyone about this project other than me."
The House Intelligence Committee is one of four congressional panels investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The proposed Moscow deal, details of which were first reported by the Washington Post, is likely to draw scrutiny from Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is leading an FBI investigation into the links between Trump associates and Moscow.
The Trump Organization's unsuccessful effort to build a hotel in Moscow is the latest in a series of interactions by Trump associates and family members that have raised questions about the campaign's dealings with Russia.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 campaign, and he has denied having investments there, though he acknowledged in May that he "had dealings over the years" in Russia.
In his statement, Cohen denied any links between Trump's business ambitions in Moscow and his political ambitions. Trump had previously sought to build large projects in Moscow but never did.
"The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump's presidential campaign," Cohen said.
But Sater, a Manhattan real estate developer who kept an office in Trump Tower, exchanged emails with Cohen touting the proposed project and his ties to Putin, which he said could help get Trump elected.
"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote in one of the emails, which were disclosed by the New York Times on Tuesday. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."
Cohen played down Sater's unusual claims in his statement to the Intelligence Committee.
Sater was prone to using "colorful language " and "salesmanship," said Cohen, who said he had known Sater for decades.
Cohen said he did not pass Sater's emails to Trump or anyone else in the Trump Organization.
"Mr. Sater, on occasion, made claims about aspects of the proposal, as well his ability to bring the proposal to fruition," he said. "I did not feel that it was necessary to routinely apprise others within the Trump Organization of communications that Mr. Sater made only to me."
Sater acted as a "deal broker" for the Moscow project, serving as an intermediary between the Trump Organization and a Russian real estate development company that planned to license the Trump name, Cohen said.
Cohen said he "performed some initial due diligence" on the Moscow project and that Trump ultimately signed a nonbinding letter of intent with a Moscow-based developer, I.C. Expert Investment Co., last October.
Sater urged Cohen to have Trump come to Moscow to "push forward" the project, but Cohen said he declined the overtures.
The project was contingent upon the Russian developer finding an appropriate property and getting necessary permits. Sater claimed to have the connections to get the required approvals.
In January 2016, Cohen said that at Sater's urging he sent an email to Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary, seeking Russian government approval for the project. Lacking Peskov's personal email, he sent the message to a general mailbox in the Kremlin press office, the New York Times reported.
Cohen said he did not recall Peskov or any other Russian official sending a reply.
"I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons, and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal," Cohen said.
A decade ago, Sater was an executive at Bayrock Group LLC, a development company that leased space in Trump Tower and partnered with him on Trump projects in Manhattan, Phoenix and elsewhere. Sater was convicted of assault in 1993 for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass.
Sater became an FBI informant after he was convicted years later in a $40-million stock fraud scheme.
After Trump took office in January, Cohen said that he met with Sater and a Ukrainian lawmaker who asked them to bring a pro-Russian peace deal for Ukraine to the White House. He denied delivering the document, and the White House said it had no record of receiving it.