BuzzFeed’s latest bombshell is a treasure trove of documents detailing President Donald Trump‘s business interests in Russia — business interests he has long denied. This release of internal Trump Organization documents spans over 200 pages and contains myriad communications between various members of Trump’s inner circle–including his longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, Cohen’s associate Felix Sater, Ivanka Trump, and others–as well as various figures in Russian finance and media.
Of particular interest here are Cohen’s and Sater’s contacts with Russia’s state-controlled VTB Bank. There’s more than a scant possibility that VTB Bank is the mystery Robert Mueller opponent currently jockeying for unprecedented secrecy from the U.S. Supreme Court. Operating on that assumption, the following takeaways from BuzzFeed’s article explore the possibility that VTB Bank’s role in the ongoing Russiagate drama may become more prominent in the days and weeks to come.
1. VTB Bank is Russian-owned and one of the largest banks in all of the Russian Federation.
VTB Bank has already been rumored to be the mystery Mueller opponent–though they have repeatedly denied working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
“VTB never held any negotiations on any matter relating to the construction of the Trump Tower,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed just last week.
That denial, however, isn’t precisely the same as denying being served a grand jury subpoena. The bank has engaged in controversial lobbying practices in the United States and has been operating under sanctions since 2014.
As Law&Crime previously reported, VTB Bank also has long had a business relationship with the Trump family through an associate of Jared Kushner.
2. VTB Bank was allegedly directly connected to a Trump Tower Moscow Project.
This arguably provides one of the few missing–based on publicly available evidence–pieces of connective tissue between the Trump family business and Russia’s alleged role in the Trump 2016 campaign. An October 12, 2015 email from Sater to Cohen explains that VTB Bank is “on board” and “would finance Trump Moscow.”
The October email continues:
This is major for us, not only the financing but [VTB Bank President and Chairman Andrey] Kostins [sic] position in Russia, extremely powerful and respected. Now all we need is Putin on board and we are golden, meeting with Putin and top deputy is tentatively set for the 14th. See buddy I can not only get Ivanka to spin in Putins Kremlin office chair on 30 minutes notice, I can also get a full meeting.
3. Trump’s people apparently believed VTB Bank could function as an intermediary for access to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The new cache of BuzzFeed documents suggest that Cohen and Sater actively worked toward the use of VTB Bank as their go-between source for access to the highest levels of the Russian government.
A December 29, 2015 email from Sater to Cohen puts a very fine point on things. In this email, Sater claims to be working with a former Russian intelligence source in order to obtain visas for travel to Russia. Scurrilously, Sater’s email suggests some degree untoward activity viz. a mixture of business and politics because Kostin’s presence was allegedly secured “at all meetings” in order to obscure the apparent political nature of such meetings.
The December email reads:
Please call me I have [REDACTED] on the other line.
He needs a copy of your and Donald’s passports they need a scan of every page of the passports. Invitations & Visas will be issued this week by VTB Bank to discuss financing for Trump Tower Moscow. Politically neither Putins office nor Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot issue invite, so they are inviting commercially/business. VTB is Russia’s 2 biggest bank and VTB Bank CEO Andrey Kostin, will be at all meetings with Putin so that it is a business meeting not political. We will be invited to Russian consulate this week to receive invite & have visa issued.
4. Putin and the Trump Tower Moscow project were directly linked to Trump winning the GOP nomination.
Two November 3, 2015 emails from Sater to Cohen contain several references to working with Putin and his people on both the Trump Tower Moscow deal–and on getting Trump elected. These emails suggest that both the real estate deal and the electoral contest are intertwined.
Sater initially wrote to Cohen that day about a way to use Barack Obama‘s criticism of the GOP to Trump’s advantage. Obama had earlier assailed Republicans for being unable to “stare down” debate moderators on CNBC and said this didn’t auger well for their ability to conduct foreign policy against America’s perceived competitors on the world stage. Sater asked Cohen for that footage.
“Michael, we can own this story,” the email reads. “Donald doesn’t stare down, he negotiates and understands the economic issues and Putin only want [sic] to deal with a pragmatic leader, and a successful business man is a good candidate for someone who knows how to negotiate.”
The first email continues:
“Business, politics, whatever it all is the same for someone who knows how to deal” I think I can get Putin to say that at the Trump Moscow press conference. If he says it we own this election. … Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins [sic] very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected. This is good really good.
About 45 minutes later, Sater wrote Cohen again.
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” the second email reads before later promising, “I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage the process.”
The second email goes on in this vein repeatedly:
Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. … We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That [sic] the game changer.
5. Trump’s team appeared receptive to the prospect of a good relationship with Putin.
One of the major caveats here is that quite a bit of the documents surveyed thus far appear to have come from Felix Sater. They offer arguably wild promises of support from Putin and beaucoup connections to high-powered Russians at the very least. Is Felix Sater reliable? Well, he’s a spy. Sater’s job was to be untrustworthy. Therefore, it’s not too scandalous to suggest that maybe Sater’s invocations of Putin, Russian state/intelligence and surefire connections to billionaires was just a tad on the nose. Maybe his perspective isn’t the most reliable.
Then again, Cohen seemingly didn’t protest the offers Sater was making. And, per the tranche of documents, Cohen appears to have been actively working to secure the Trump Tower Moscow deal using at least some of Sater’s connections.
And then this: Cohen jumped at a December 17, 2015 Google Alert about Putin’s praise for Trump wherein the Russian president called the GOP candidate “very colorful.” In an email to Sater later that day, Cohen wrote, “Now is the time. Call me.”
That date also happens to have been exactly one week after Michael Flynn met with Putin in Moscow under the auspices of a gala bash for the tenth anniversary of the Russian network RT.
Cohen would go on to plead guilty in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe for lying to Congress about the “Moscow Project.” Cohen originally said that negotiations ended in Jan. 2016, but admitted that was a lie. Instead, those negotiations continued into June 2016, the month a certain Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer occurred.
Law&Crime has reached out to attorneys at the law firm Alston & Bird, who were recently revealed to be representing the mystery “Country A”/company, but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[Images via Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images]
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