A senior attorney for the Trump Organization has acknowledged sending an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman during the 2016 presidential campaign about a possible real estate project in Moscow.
Michael Cohen said in a two-page statement provided to congressional investigators on Monday that he sent the email to Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 to seek his help securing government approval for a proposed Trump Tower in the Russian capital.
Cohen said the proposal was "not related in any way" to Trump's presidential campaign, and that the decision to abandon it was based solely on business grounds. Still, the interaction shows that the Trump Organization was seeking help from senior Russian officials about business deals at the same time that Trump was running for president.
In his statement, a copy of which was obtained by NPR, Cohen said he received a proposal for a luxury hotel, office and residential condominium in Moscow in September 2015. He said he began working on the potential business case for the new building.
The project stalled, and Cohen said another Trump business associate, Felix Sater, suggested that he reach out to Peskov since the proposal "would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued."
So Cohen said he sent the email in mid-January 2016. Peskov never replied, Cohen said, and the real estate project never received the Russian government's green light. By the end of January, Cohen said, he decided to scrap the project "based on my business determinations."
"I did not ask or brief Mr. Trump, or any of his family, before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal," Cohen said.
The Washington Post first reported on Cohen's email to Peskov and the Trump attorney's statement to Congress. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Monday that Sater had boasted about a possible real estate deal in Moscow and how it would help Trump win the White House.
"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote in an email to Cohen, according to the Times. "I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."
Trump and his close associates have tried to distance themselves from Sater, who has something of a checkered past. Born in Russia, he later immigrated to the United States and became a real estate developer. He served time in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and later pleaded guilty to stock fraud case linked to the Russian mafia.
In his statement for the House Intelligence Committee, Cohen played down Sater's business claims.
"Mr. Sater, on occasion, made claims about aspects of the proposal, as well as his ability to bring the proposal to fruition," Cohen said. "Over the course of my business dealings with Mr. Sater, he has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to 'salesmanship.'"
Cohen said he did not keep others within the Trump Organization apprised of his communications with Sater, and that he rejected Sater's suggestion that Cohen travel to Moscow. In fact, Cohen said, no Trump Organization representative traveled to Russia for the proposal.
As for Trump himself, Cohen said, he "was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015."