President Donald Trump’s personal attorney sent an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman in January 2016 asking for his “assistance” with a massive real-estate project being pursued by the Trump Organization in Russia at the time.
“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Trump attorney Michael Cohen wrote Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to emails submitted to the congressional intelligence committees and read to The Washington Post.
“Without getting into lengthy specifics. the communication between our two sides has stalled,” Cohen continued. “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon.”
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported that Cohen sent the email to a generic Kremlin email address that did not belong specifically to Peskov. Cohen told the Post that he never heard back from Peskov and the deal was scrapped by late January.
But the email marks “another example of malicious intent” by people within Trump’s orbit to pursue deals with Russia during the election, said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who served as the senior director for the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.
“If the reports are true that Cohen emailed a general Kremlin mailbox, that would be another example of malicious intent being tempered only by incompetence on the Trump team’s part,” Price said on Monday.
Renato Mariotti, a former assistant US attorney and longtime federal prosecutor, said that “you don’t have to be a lawyer to see that it is very problematic for a lawyer representing someone who is running for president to seek a favor from a hostile foreign government. In terms of [Cohen’s] own criminal culpability, what matters is what came of the email, if anything.”
Months after Cohen wrote Peskov, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with two Russian lobbyists at Trump Tower. They had conversation that the Trump team has said focused on Russia’s “adoption” policy – a code word for the Magnitsky Act sanctions imposed on high-level Kremlin officials in 2012 that prompted Putin to retaliate by barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting after being offered compromising information on Hillary Clinton allegedly collected by the Russian government, emails showed. Experts said the meeting was another example of the Trump campaign’s willingness to work with Russia if it was in their interest to do so, and that the misleading statement Trump issued in the days after the meeting became public may have shown “consciousness of guilt.”
Another member of Trump’s orbit – Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who advised the Trump Organization on real-estate deals for years – wrote to Cohen in November 2015 saying that he could get “Putin’s team to buy in” to the Trump Tower Moscow proposal, which he said would help Trump get elected.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen, according to emails obtained by the New York Times. ” I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”
Andrew Wright, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama who is now a professor at Savannah Law School, said the emails “help to establish a whole different theory of motive to collude: cash money.”
“One motivation to collude could be election assistance like getting dirt on Hillary Clinton,” Wright said. “A second could be fear of exposed kompromat, as alleged in the Steele dossier. A third could be financial motivation, such as play ball with Russians to help grease the business deals. That would be especially true if you planned not to divest and you were originally running to burnish your brand rather than win.”
David Sklansky, a criminal law expert and professor at Stanford University Law School, said Monday that the email Cohen sent to Peskov “will probably be of interest to Mueller’s team.”
“It doesn’t show collusion regarding the election campaign, but it does provide evidence of high level contacts between the Trump organization and the Russian government during the campaign,” he said.
Mariotti said “the value of Cohen’s request will be to show Cohen’s state of mind.”
“It shows that he wanted to seek aid from the Russian government, and could be used as evidence of his intent,” Mariotti wrote. That is especially true given Cohen’s meeting with Sater and a Ukrainian lawmaker in January 2017 to discuss a potential Russia-Ukraine “peace plan.”
Cohen’s email to Peskov may have been poorly executed – especially since he reportedly did not send it to Peskov’s personal email address.
“But you can still bet the Russians had the wherewithal to come across that email,” Price said, “which in and of itself would serve as more valuable kompromat for Russian authorities.”