Fresh emails show Trump campaign reaching out to Russia

30 August 2017

A lawyer for Donald Trump has acknowledged he reached out to Russian President Vladimir V Putin's office to ask for help with a Trump Tower project in Moscow during the presidential campaign, though he says nothing came of it.

The admission gives new insight into the workings of Trump's business and the potential paths for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigations into the presidential campaign's Russian links, for which most commentators say there is now ample proof.

Trump associate Felix Sater promised in 2015 to engineer the real estate deal with the aid of Putin, which he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

Sater wrote a series of emails to Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Putin. He predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Trump's savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.

''Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,'' Saater wrote in an email. ''I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.''

The emails, accessed by media including The New York Times and The Washington Post, show that from the earliest months of Trump's campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election to try to help Trump. Investigators want to know whether anyone on Trump's team was part of that process.

Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow's efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow.

''I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,'' Sater wrote.

Sater said he was eager to show video clips to his Russian contacts of instances of Trump speaking glowingly about Russia, and said he would arrange for Putin to praise Trump's business acumen.

''If he says it we own this election,'' Sater wrote. ''Americas most difficult adversary agreeing that Donald is a good guy to negotiate.''

There is no evidence in the emails that Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Cohen wrote to Putin's spokesman, Dmitri S Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Cohen did not appear to have Peskov's direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.

The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later.

''To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia,'' the Trump Organization said on Monday in a statement. Trump however signed a nonbinding ''letter of intent'' for the project in 2015. Cohen said he discussed the project with Mr. Trump three times.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned over emails to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in Trump's campaign was involved.

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