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Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Donald Trump Jr.

So much for “case closed.

The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed first son Donald Trump Jr., legally compelling him to answer questions from the committee about his previous testimony, Axios and other news organizations reported Wednesday.

Axios did not say what exactly the committee wants to ask Trump Jr. concerning his previous testimony. However, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have accused him of lying to them at least twice about his knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 campaign.

Trump Jr. reportedly told Congress that he was only “peripherally aware” of the negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow. However, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has since testified that the Trump children were far more involved in the project than he let on, with Cohen saying he briefed Donald Junior. and his sister, Ivanka Trump, on the negotiations 10 times.

The fact that the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee is hauling Trump Jr. in one day after their own leader, Mitch McConnell, declared the Russia investigation to be “case closed” is a major deal for a few reasons.

First, for Republicans to subpoena the eldest son of a president for whom they have played defense at every turn suggests they truly believe he. has something to answer for.

It also suggests that while special counsel Robert Mueller is finished with his investigation — one in which he never actually got to interview the president’ son — the Senate investigation is not yet complete. That makes McConnell’s “case closed” comment look even worse than it already did.

Moreover, if Trump Jr. is found to have lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia, he could face the same charge that sent Cohen to prison. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the same Trump Tower Moscow project, among other things.

A source close to the younger Donald. seemed surprised by the Axios report.

“Don and Senate Intel agreed from the very beginning that he would appear once to testify before the committee and would remain for as long as it took to answer all of their questions. He did that. We’re not sure why we’re fighting with Republicans,” the source told Axios.

 

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Trump, Inc: What Mueller Revealed About Trump Tower Moscow

Last Thursday, the “Trump, Inc.” team gathered with laptops, pizza and Post-its to disconnect — and to read special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

What we found was page after page of jaw-dropping details about the inner workings of the administration of President Donald Trump, meetings with foreign officials and plots to affect our elections. But we also found rich details on how Trump ran his business dealings in Russia, itself the subject of our recent episode on his Moscow business partners.

It backed up a lot of our earlier reporting: The deal with Andrey Rozov, a relatively unknown developer whose claim to international prominence was the purchase of a building in Manhattan’s garment district, did go further than agreements with other developers. The type of development they were hoping for would need sign-off from Russia’s powers that be — namely, President Vladimir Putin — potentially putting Trump in the position of owing favors to a hostile foreign power. And the deal went on longer than the Trump campaign wanted the public to know, with the then-candidate rebuffing Michael Cohen’s concerns about the accuracy of his portrayal of his relationships with Russia.

Here are a few of our takeaways:

The deal was bigger…

The Mueller report puts the terms of Trump’s most infamous Trump Tower deal side by side with a failed prior deal with the family of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. In doing so, it proposes an answer to why Trump chose to move forward with Rozov: he offered Trump a much better deal.

In fact, Cohen said the tower overall “was potentially a $1 billion deal.” Under the terms of the agreement, the Trump Organization would get an upfront fee, a share of sales and rental revenue, and an additional 20% of the operating profit. The deal offered by the well-known Agalarov developers, in contrast, would have brought in a flat 3.5%. We’d tried to reach Rozov to talk about the deal for our earlier reporting. He never responded.

For Trump, this agreement promised to be the deal of a lifetime.

There were more Russian contacts…

The report says Cohen and Felix Sater, a fixer who brought the Trump Organization together with the potential developer for the Moscow deal, both believed securing Putin’s endorsement was key. There was also plenty of outreach from Russians, many of them offering to make that very connection.

But even as the two were figuring out how to pitch the tower plan to Putin, at least three intermediaries who claimed to have connections to the Russian president were reaching out to Trump and his associates. They promised help with Trump’s business interests and his campaign, the report says.

One was Dmitry Klokov, whom Cohen looked up online and mistakenly identified as a former Olympic weightlifter. Klokov, in fact, worked for a government-owned electric company and was a former aide to Russia’s energy minister. He told Cohen he could facilitate a meeting with a “person of interest” — that is, Putin — and also offered help creating “synergy on a government level.” But Klokov’s overtures for talks on matters beyond mere business interests were rebuffed by Cohen.

The report also clarified that it was Sater who approached the Russian developer with the idea of a Trump Tower Moscow — and later brought his pitch to the Trump Organization. This sequence of events raises new questions about whether the tower deal, which Trump had wanted for decades, was part of multiple intelligence approaches by the Russian government to Trump and his advisers at the time.

One other figure in our previous Trump Moscow episode surfaced again in the Mueller report: Yevgeny Dvoskin, a Russian national with a U.S. criminal record and alleged ties to organized crime. Dvoskin is now a part-owner of Genbank, a small Russian bank sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. He grew up in Brighton Beach at the same time as Sater, who, in 2016, called on Dvoskin to invite Trump and Cohen to Russia for an exploratory visit. To arrange the invitation, Dvoskin asked for copies of Cohen’s and Trump’s passports, which Cohen was happy to provide. The Mueller report says that Trump’s personal assistant even brought Trump’s passport to Cohen’s office, but that it is not clear whether it was ever passed on to Sater.

Sater declined to comment for the podcast. Genbank and Dvoskin did not respond to earlier requests for comment.

And there was more cover-up…

Mueller describes continued efforts to mislead investigators and the public about the Trump Moscow deal and associates’ contacts with Russian officials. Many of the details are gleaned from Cohen’s cooperation.

Cohen confronted Trump after he denied having business ties to Russia in July 2016 and pointed out that Trump Tower Moscow was still in play. “Trump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” according to the Mueller report.

To maintain Cohen’s loyalty during the investigation, multiple Trump staff members and friends told him the “boss” “loves you,” according to the Mueller report. “You are loved,” another associate told him in an email. Cohen also said the president’s lawyer told him he’d be protected as long as he didn’t go “rogue.”

The report concludes that active negotiations in Moscow continued into the summer of 2016. Cohen told Mueller’s team that the project wasn’t officially dead until January 2017, when it was listed with other deals that needed to be “closed out” ahead of the inauguration.

After admitting to lying to Congress about when the Moscow deal fizzled, Cohen told Mueller about the “script,” or talking points he’d developed with Trump to downplay his ties to Russia. He also said he believed lawyers associated with his joint defense agreement — including attorneys for the president — edited out a key line about communications with Russia from his congressional testimony. The offending line: “The building project led me to make limited contacts with Russian government officials.”

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IMAGE: Donald Trump with Felix H. Sater (right) and Tevfik Arif at the official unveiling of Trump SoHo in September 2007, when it was still under construction. Credit Mark Von Holden/WireImage

Yes, Trump Sold Us Out To The Russians

So Trump says the Mueller Report proves his innocence: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”
As usual, he’s making it up.   
Nobody’s seen the Mueller Report yet. But even Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the evidence regarding obstruction of justice specifically quotes the report’s author, noting that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The word “collusion” appears nowhere in Barr’s summary. He does write that “the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
Here’s something else they didn’t do: report any of those multiple offers by a hostile foreign power to the FBI. That in itself constitutes a profound betrayal. Indeed, history records that Trump himself vociferously and repeatedly denied what U.S. intelligence agencies said was definitive evidence of Russian skullduggery. “It could be Russia…It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” the candidate claimed during one presidential debate. Trump’s strange obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin continues to this day.
His campaign knew all about Russian hacks of DNC emails, that much has been proven beyond a doubt. At minimum, they sat on their hands. Reading between the lines of Barr’s summary, it’s clear that the Mueller Report endorses the central finding of the intelligence community: The Russians actively worked to help Trump win the 2016 election. We should be asking ourselves why.
What did Russia hope to gain?
Conspiracy, of course, is a notoriously difficult crime to prove. It becomes almost impossible when one party to a corrupt bargain is beyond the law: that is, resides in Russia and isn’t being made available to investigators.
Which is not to say that a cunning rogue like Donald Trump was ever going to enter into a quid pro quo arrangement with the Russian government and leave fingerprints. It was always naïve to think that he might. The president famously doesn’t write things down. These things are done with winks and nudges. What’s said and what’s not said.
A Kremlin intermediary offers “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr. is dumb enough to write “I love it,” and to take a meeting—the famous June 2016 session at Trump Tower with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya—but Donald Sr. remains offstage. In the building, but not at the meeting.
What’s more, Veselnitskaya isn’t technically a member of the Russian government. Neither, however, has she visited the United States since her name first surfaced in the New York Times. Sure, the president helped Junior concoct a fake cover story, but it has never been a crime to lie to the press.
This too: insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy isn’t the same as no evidence. As shrewdly as Attorney General Barr has played his hand so far, that’s worth keeping in mind. How Trump triumphalism is going to look after people have read the actual report we’ll find out, although the necessity of reading and thinking about a complex document with Sean Hannity screaming in our collective ears will certainly limit the Mueller Report’s impact.
It’s also worth remembering that there are all sorts of dishonorable actions that aren’t crimes. For example, it’s not a crime for a man to have an affair with his sister-in-law, but it’s contemptible all the same. As Michael Kinsley once quipped, “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal.”
I agree with The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer that the single most unsettling revelation of the entire affair is the one that fixer Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress about: Trump Tower Moscow. 
Trump himself repeatedly and shamelessly lied about the project throughout the presidential campaign, praising Vladimir Putin at every turn, and falsely claiming to have no business dealings whatsoever in Russia while standing to profit by hundreds of millions had that deal gone through.
But once again, he didn’t do it under oath, and it’s not a crime to lie to American voters. Even if by so doing he exposed himself to potential Russian blackmail. Had Trump not behaved himself, Putin could have pulled the plug on his presidential campaign in a heartbeat. Trump behaved.
Franklin Foer: “Trump’s motive for praising Putin appears to have been, in large part, commercial. With his relentless pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, the Republican nominee for president had active commercial interests in Russia that he failed to disclose to the American people….Trump ran his campaign as something of an infomercial, hoping to convince the Russians that he was a good partner. To enrich himself, Trump promised to realign American foreign policy.”
“Total EXONERATION,” the man says.
I don’t think so.
IMAGE: Pedestrians cross the street behind a billboard showing a picture of US president-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, November 16. 2016. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

Trump, Inc.: Meet His Other Partners On Attempted Moscow Tower

This week Pro Publica’s “Trump, Inc.,”podcast explores Donald Trump’s efforts to do business in Moscow. Our team — Heather Vogell, Andrea Bernstein, Meg Cramer and Katie Zavadski — dug into just who Trump was working with and just what Trump needed from Russia to get a deal done. (Listen to the podcast episode here.)

First, the big picture. We already knew that Trump had business interests involving Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign — which he denied — that could have been influencing his policy positions. As the world has discovered, Trump was negotiating to develop a tower in Moscow while running for president. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress about being in contact with the Kremlin about the project during the campaign.

All of that explains why Congressional investigators are scrutinizing Trump’s Moscow efforts. And we’ve found more:

  • Trump’s partner on the project didn’t appear to be in a position to get the project approved and built. On Oct. 28, 2015 — the same day as a Republican primary debate — Trump signed a letter of intent with the partner, a developer named Andrey Rozov, to build a 400-unit condominium and hotel tower in Moscow.In a letter Rozov wrote to Cohen pitching his role, he cited his work on a suburban development outside of Moscow, a 12-story office building in Manhattan’s Garment District (which he bought rather than constructed), and two projects in Williston, North Dakota, a town of around 30,000.

    We looked into each of them.

    Rozov’s Moscow project has faced lawsuits from homeowners, some of which have settled and some of which are ongoing, and the company developing it filed for bankruptcy. It remains unfinished.

    Property records show that Rozov owned his New York building for just over a year. He bought it for about $35 million in cash, took out an almost $13 million loan several months later, made no significant improvements and then sold it for a 23 percent profit. Trump’s former business associate, Felix Sater, who once pleaded guilty to financial fraud and reportedly later became an asset for U.S. intelligence agencies, is listed on the sale as an “authorized signatory.”

    We did find a company with two projects in Williston that match Rozov’s descriptions, including approved plans for a mall/hotel/water-park. Rozov’s name doesn’t appear on company filings, but a person familiar with the projects confirmed they are what Rozov was bragging about in his letter. Oil prices cratered and the mall/hotel/water-park was never built.

    Here is a rendering of the aborted plan:

Rozov did not respond to an email seeking comment.

  • An owner of a sanctioned Russian bank that vouched for the Trump Organization in Moscow had a criminal history that included involvement in a Russian mafia gas-bootlegging scheme in the U.S.Making a business trip to Russia requires an official invitation. According to correspondence published by BuzzFeed, Sater arranged for an invitation from Genbank, a small Russian bank that expanded significantly in Crimea after Russia invaded in 2014.

    One of Genbank’s owners is Yevgeny Dvoskin, a Russian-born financier who grew up in Brighton Beach at the same time as Sater. Dvoskin pleaded guilty to tax evasion in federal court in Ohio for the bootlegging scheme and spent time in prison. He was later deported to Russia, according to press accounts. In Russia, he remained tied to criminal networks, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. (We were unable to reach Dvoskin for comment.)

  • We also found a possible hint about why Trump may have needed the Kremlin to get his deal done. Some of the sites under consideration for a potential Trump Tower Moscow were in historic areas with strict height restrictions. Just a few years before the 2015 letter of intent that Trump signed, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin pledged to do all he could to prevent the city from filling with skyscrapers.”We can build Moscow upwards, but then we’ll all flee from here,” Sobyanin said. “I’ll do everything in my power to stop Moscow from being built up with skyscrapers.”

    If Trump’s deal was to move forward in some place like the Red October Chocolate Factory, one of the spots that was considered, getting around zoning restrictions would need help from the very top.

    Sater and Cohen were also kicking around a plan to offer Putin the building’s $50 million penthouse, according to BuzzFeed. That need for special help, combined with the potential offer of a valuable asset, raises questions about whether the plan ran afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to Alexandra Wrage, the president and founder of Trace International, an organization that helps companies comply with anti-bribery laws. “What you describe is certainly worrying,” she said.

The Trump Organization, the White House, and Michael Cohen did not respond to requests for comment.

Sater, meanwhile, is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on March 27. The committee members will have plenty of questions.

 

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