President Donald Trump defended his company’s pursuit of business in Russia during his 2016 White House bid, saying that his dealings there were legal and that they ultimately ended without a project.
In an early morning tweet from Argentina, where he’s taking part in the Group of 20 summit, Trump assailed the scrutiny of his business, calling it a “Witch Hunt.”
“Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project,” Trump wrote.
Trump’s business dealings in Russia took center stage on Thursday right before his departure for the summit in Buenos Aires, when his former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a project in Moscow in an August 2017 statement to U.S. lawmakers.
Cohen admitted that he lied when he said that negotiations for the skyscraper ended in January 2016, when in fact they continued until June that year, after Trump cinched the Republican nomination.
Trump Organization considered offering Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in a planned skyscraper in Moscow to make the building more desirable to rich buyers, according to the Russian-born real estate developer who was broker on the project and discussed it hours after the Cohen guilty plea.
Felix Sater, a felon, ex-government informant and former Trump business associate, said Thursday that he came up with the idea as a way to reap extra profit from Trump Tower Moscow, which he said would have brought in as much as $500 million if it had been built. Cohen approved of the idea, Sater said, adding that it came to him while “spitballing” marketing schemes.
The Moscow tower deal was scrapped in 2016, though the reasons remain unclear. The Trump Organization didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday on Sater’s remarks, nor did Cohen or two of his lawyers.
Cohen has agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As part of his plea deal, he admitted he talked to Trump about the Moscow deal more times than he had previously stated and also briefed Trump family members.