BUENOS AIRES/NEW YORK (THE WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump on Friday (Nov 30) defended his pursuit of a real estate project in Russia at the same time he was securing the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, saying it was "very legal & very cool".
In a pair of tweets sent from Buenos Aires, where he is attending a global summit, Mr Trump mocked scrutiny of his Russian business exploration as a "Witch Hunt!".
The President's statement came after his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty on Thursday (Nov 29) in New York to lying to Congress about the Moscow project in an attempt to minimise links between the proposed development and Mr Trump's presidential campaign.
Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: "Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail..."
He added in a second tweet, "....Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn't do the project. Witch Hunt!"
He weighed in on his proposed Russian real estate venture a few minutes before departing his hotel in Buenos Aires en route to Casa Rosada, where he is scheduled to meet with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, the first in a series of bilateral meetings between Mr Trump and other global leaders on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit here.
Later on Friday morning, Mr Trump is scheduled to formally sign the USMCA trade agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada at a ceremony including leaders from all three countries.
According to a Russian-born real estate developer, Mr Trump's company considered offering Russian President Vladimir Putin a US$50 million (S$68.53 million) penthouse in a planned skyscraper in Moscow to make the building more desirable to rich buyers.
Mr Felix Sater, a felon, former government informant and former Trump business associate, said on Thursday 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 US$500 million if it had been built.
Then Trump lawyer Cohen approved of the idea, Mr Sater said, adding that it came to him while "spitballing" marketing schemes.
It was not clear how seriously the idea was ever pursued, or whether Mr Trump knew about it.
The Moscow tower deal was scrapped in 2016, though the reasons remain unclear.
The disclosure about the penthouse proposal was first reported by Buzzfeed News, which claimed the idea was pitched during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"I proposed giving Putin a US$50 million penthouse because all of the oligarchs would kill to live in the building, and we could raise prices by an extra US$250 million," said Mr Sater, who worked as an adviser to Mr Trump's company during the Moscow negotiations and had previously worked with Mr Trump to develop a building in Manhattan.
The Trump Organisation did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Cohen or two of his lawyers.
The White House also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday night.