Trump sought deal in Moscow during election: Report

His firm planned to develop Trump Tower; deal aborted due to lack of land, permits

WASHINGTON • While Mr Donald Trump was running for president of the United States in late 2015 and early last year, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organisation lawyers.

As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Mr Trump to go to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested he could get Russian President Vladimir Putin to say "great things" about Mr Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

The developer, Mr Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 e-mail that he and Trump Organisation leaders would soon be celebrating - both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Mr Trump's election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

Mr Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was six and grew up in Brooklyn.

Mr Trump never went to Moscow as Mr Sater proposed. And although investors and Mr Trump's company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed, and the project was abandoned at the end of January last year, just before the presidential primaries began, people familiar with the proposal said.

Nevertheless, the details of the deal, which have not previously been disclosed, provide evidence that Mr Trump's business was actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be US president - and in a position to determine US-Russia relations. The new details from the e-mails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.

Trump Organisation executive vice-president Michael Cohen's lawyer said his client "has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including providing them with documents and information about the Moscow building proposal". In recent months, contacts between Trump aides and Russians have emerged.

The new details from the e-mails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.

The negotiations for the Moscow project ended before Mr Trump's business ties to Russia had become a major issue in the campaign. Mr Trump denied having any business connections to Russia last July, tweeting, "for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia".

Discussions about the Moscow project began in earnest in September 2015, according to people briefed on the deal. It is unclear how involved or aware Mr Trump was of the negotiations.

As the talks progressed, he voiced numerous supportive comments about Mr Putin. By the end of 2015, Mr Putin began offering praise in return. Though Mr Putin's comments came shortly after Mr Sater suggested that the Russian President would speak favourably about Mr Trump, there is no indication they are connected.

Mr Trump's interests in building in Moscow, however, are longstanding. He had attempted to build a Trump property for three decades. Mr Sater was involved in at least one of those previous efforts.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2017, with the headline 'Trump sought deal in Moscow during election: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe