Mueller eyes Ivanka and Don Jr.’s work on Trump Tower Moscow

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos; AP (3), Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow has led him to ask questions about the role two of the president’s children played in attempting to secure a Russian real estate deal, sources tell Yahoo News.

Mueller’s interest in the Trump family real estate company’s plans for a skyscraper in Russia was confirmed on Thursday when Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed deal. In charging documents, Mueller said Cohen falsely claimed that the effort to build a Trump Tower Moscow “ended in January 2016” in an attempt to “minimize” links between Trump and the project and to “give the false impression” the effort ended before the Republican primaries in 2016. Yahoo News first reported in May that congressional investigators had obtained text messages and emails showing Cohen’s work on Trump Tower Moscow continued for longer than he admitted under oath.

But Cohen wasn’t the only person at the Trump Organization who was pursuing deals to build a skyscraper in the Russian capital. Multiple sources have confirmed to Yahoo News that the president’s elder daughter, Ivanka, who is now a top White House adviser, and his eldest son, Don Jr., were also working to make Trump Tower Moscow a reality. The sources said those efforts were independent of Cohen’s work on the project. One of the sources said Ivanka was also involved in Cohen’s efforts. And a separate source familiar with the investigation told Yahoo News that Mueller has asked questions about Ivanka and Don Jr.’s work on Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller’s charging documents against Cohen included a line that described the Trump family’s involvement in the project. According to Mueller, one of the things Cohen lied about was that he “briefed family members” of Trump’s who worked at the Trump Organization about the proposed Moscow skyscraper. Prior to joining the White House, Ivanka was an executive at the company. Don Jr. and Trump’s middle son, Eric, remain with the Trump Organization.

A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on this story. Cohen and his attorney, Guy Petrillo, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did lawyers representing the president.

Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle arrive at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse near the White House on Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

A source familiar with the Trump Organization confirmed to Yahoo News that Ivanka and Don Jr. engaged in separate efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The source said these efforts began “years earlier” than Cohen’s project and concluded in 2013.

“They were not looking at any other deals after that,” the source said.

The source also confirmed that both Ivanka and Don Jr. were aware of Cohen’s attempts to build in Moscow. According to the source, Ivanka’s role was limited to recommending an architect and Don Jr. was only “peripherally” aware of the plan.

“Michael was looking at that deal. Don and Ivanka knew about it and Don testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was peripherally aware of it,” the source said, adding, “That’s why we’re so perplexed Cohen would lie about briefing them, because no one’s ever disputed that they knew he was looking at it.”

Don Trump Jr. did not respond to a request for comment on this story. An attorney for Ivanka Trump declined to comment on record.

Just prior to his inauguration, Trump vowed his family’s real estate company would do no new deals abroad while he was in office. It would not be illegal for the Trump Organization to have conducted business in Russia prior to that point, and Mueller inquiring about Ivanka and Don Jr.’s work on Trump Tower Moscow does not mean they are targets of his investigation. The source familiar with the Trump Organization said the pair were not aware of any work Cohen did on the project beyond the period he initially described to congressional investigators.

White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump walk to Air Force One to depart for Argentina and the G-20 Summit with President Trump at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Nov. 29, 2018. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“There’s no question they knew about it, but they had no knowledge of any work on the project after January 2016,” the source said.

The Trump Organization’s dealings in Moscow have attracted added attention given the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump. The president has repeatedly denied that he colluded with Russia and has called Mueller’s probe a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Messages obtained by the government show Cohen reached out to Putin’s office for help as he pursued the Moscow project. He initially said the Russian government did not respond to his overtures, but Mueller’s charging documents said Cohen did receive a response from Putin’s government.

“On or about January 20, 2016, COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to Russian Official 1 (“Assistant 1”), stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided,” Mueller wrote.

According to Mueller, Cohen and the official’s assistant spoke for “approximately 20 minutes” and he “requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction.” Mueller said Felix Sater, a developer who was working on the project with Cohen, subsequently followed up.

Sater is a Russian-born longtime business associate of Trump’s who first met Cohen while they were both in high school. During the mid 2000’s, Sater worked with Trump’s real estate company to build hotels in Florida and New York. He also discussed potential projects in Russia with Trump’s company during that period. As part of his deal to build Trump-branded properties, Sater had an office in the Trump Organization’s Manhattan headquarters and a company business card. Sater was convicted on charges related to a stock fraud scheme involving organized crime figures in 1998. He also spent years working as federal intelligence asset providing crucial information to the government about mobsters and terrorists.

Sater declined to comment on this story beyond saying that his work to build a Trump Tower in Moscow began in 2003.

Correspondence provided by Sater to government investigators that was obtained by Buzzfeed showed that he reached out to Cohen in May 2016 and said Putin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov wanted to invite him to attend an economic forum in St. Petersburg the following month. Sater said Peskov wanted to talk with Cohen there and “possibly introduce” him to Putin. Peskov was the same official whom Cohen emailed in January 2016. According to Mueller’s charging documents, Cohen eventually told Sater he couldn’t make the trip to Russia “on or about June 14, 2016,” just as Trump was on the way to securing the Republican presidential nomination.

President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen leaves Federal Court in Manhattan after entering a guilty plea on Nov. 29, 2018. (Photo: Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Trump never managed to build a skyscraper in Russia, but he has tried for the better part of three decades. His first attempt was in 1987when he traveled to the former Soviet Union to examine possible building sites. According to Buzzfeed, Trump’s company announced another “exploratory trip” in 1996 and that he had his eye on an abandoned factory in the country in 2005.

Reports have previously emerged detailing Ivanka and Don Jr.’s involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow efforts. The Buzzfeed report revealed that Sater accompanied the two Trump children to Moscow in 2006. A source told Yahoo News that, while there, the pair held meetings about the project separately from Sater. The book “Russian Roulette,” which was written by Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Mike Isikoff and by David Corn, detailed a 2013 effort that involved the Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son Emin. According to the book, Don Jr. was “in charge” of that project and Ivanka “flew to Russia and scouted sites with Emin.” The Agalarovs helped Trump host his Miss Universe pageant in Russia in 2013 and helped arrange the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The Trump Organization registered the web address TrumpTowerMoscow.com in December 2012. A source familiar with the deal said this was in conjunction with the work being done with Agalarovs.

Trump tweeted at Aras Agalarov about the deal on Nov. 11, 2013, two days after the pageant. He expressed optimism they would get the skyscraper built together.

“I had a great weekend with you and your family,” Trump wrote, adding, “You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

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