The news that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to Congress, created a big hysteria among news media, political pundits, and all President Trump’s opponents. Special Counsel Mr. Mueller and his team have been investigating Russian intervention in the 2016 Presidential elections for over 20 months but so far have not come up with any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign and the Russian government. Now, with this guilty plea, most of Trump’s opponents including those in US Congress have called for the impeacment of President Trump for lying to the American people during the 2016 campaign that he has no business dealings in or with Russia. It is well known that Trump held the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. That was just an event lasting less than a week. It has also been reported,correctly, that Trump was keen on having a Trump Tower in Moscow for a long time.
Before going in to the facts behind the Trump Tower in Moscow, it is important to note that Trump family has been developing Trump Towers for many years all over the world. They have over 33 such properties including in countries like Panama, Turkey, India, and Brazil. Their business model is similar to that Marriott and Hilton hotels with one exception. Trump Towers also have condos and office space. The local builder or businessman, who gets the license from the Trumps, acquires the land, obtains all permits and financing to build the tower. Trumps do not invest any money and collect a licensing fee, a percentage of condo sales and other revenues including hotel collections. Before signing a licensing agreement, Trump organization signs a letter of intent with the local party so that they can go ahead and take care of preliminaries such as acquiring land and lining up financing. Then they issue a license with a licensing agreement upon receiving an upfront payment. as been reported that Trump signed a letter of intent to develop Trump World Tower MoscThen they sign a ow, in October 2015 during the middle of his campaign. Michael Cohen had told a Senate committee, that was looking in to the Russian investigation, that the project was dropped in January 2016 because they couldn’t get the necessary permissions. However on November 29, 2018, Cohen admitted in a court proceeding that those statements were untrue, and that he had continued to pursue the possibility of a Trump Tower Moscow until June 2016.
Let us try to understand the facts behind Moscow Trump Tower and Cohen’s guilty plea. The deal was brought to the attention of Trumps by Michael Cohen and Felix Slater, an American Real Estate investor/developer who immigrated as a child from Russia. He is reputed to have a shady background including a felony conviction. They were acting as the middlemen or brokers between the Trumps and Andrey Rozov of IC Expert, a small-time developer in Moscow. In October 2015, Donald Trump signed a letter of intent but never got around to signing a licensing agreement. The problem was IC Expert did not own a lot in Central Moscow, as called for in the agreement and most important they did not have the financing needed to acquire the land and build the tower. Nor did they have connections with Kremlin that is needed to pull off a major deal in Russia. For all practical purposes, the project was dead at the staring gate. It is like a 90-year-old man who is determined to have his own child before his time is up. The problem is he does not have a wife or a girlfriend and nor financial resources to hire a surrogate mother. It is also uncertain if he still has the ability to produce a child. The odds of him having a child of his own blood are probably better than the trio of Cohen, Slater & Rozov. Trumps gave up on the deal by January 2016 if not even earlier.
Trump was truthful when he said in early 2016 that he had no business dealings in Russia. Though the deal never took off the ground, the middlemen Cohen and Slater still were hoping to pull it off perhaps because of the lucrative pay off they were going to get from the Moscow party. They may have thought that with Trump leading in the Republican nomination process, Russian govt. might be interested in developing a connection with him. At some point, they recruited a Russian national Evgeny Shmykov, a former spy who claimed to have connections with Kremlin and boasted that he could pull the deal of using “political synergy” with Trump campaign and “synergy at government level”. Shmykov told Slater that he could get financing through VTB Bank, a state owned large financial institution. He also promised to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump. However, a VTB spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News “VTB never held any negotiations on any matter relating to the construction of the Trump Tower. We’d like to stress that no VTB group subsidiary ever had any dealings with Mr. Trump, his representatives or any companies affiliated with him.” Shmykov also reportedly sent visa papers to Cohen so that he and Trump can go to an upcoming International Trade meeting in St. Petersburg that was going to be attended by Putin. He offered to introduce Trump to Putin at that meeting. Obviously because of the ridiculous nature of the proposal, Trump did not take it seriously and turned it down. It has also been reported that Cohen and Slater may have contacted another Russian for the same effort. They may have continued their efforts at least until June of 2016, when Trump was on the brink of getting the nomination. It is obvious that Putin and his government never gave a damn about this Trump Tower. The guilty pleading by Cohen states that he once tried to contact Kremlin but his call was returned by one low level employee in the press office. If the Russian govt. really wanted to do a favor to Trump, for whatever purpose, they had the resources to make the Trump Tower happen by giving land, permits, and financing in a matter of days.
It should be noted that licensing Trump Tower has been an ongoing business for the Trump organization. There have been news reports that a builder in India signed a licensing agreement with the Trumps in early 2016, right in the middle of campaign. This party had all the resources including land and financing and finished the project in year and a half. Donald Trump, Jr. went to India in March of 2018 to inaugurate the sale of condos. During the campaign, candidate Trump talked positively about Indian prime minister Modi just as he did about Putin. This had nothing to do with the development of Trump tower because the Indian builder had all the resources and the Modi’s govt does not get involved with local building permits or financing.
It should also be noted that after his election, President Trump suspended the licensing of Trump Towers to avoid any charges of conflict of interest. Considering the lucrative nature of the business, attractive income in return for licensing the name, it is a great sacrifice.
All the above strongly suggest that project Trump Tower in Moscow was never a reality because there was no valid licensing agreement, the letter of intent very likely expired, and the Russian party simply had no resources to make it happen. The three middlemen and the company IC Text may have tried to pull it off, against all odds, even after letter of intent expired before giving up. That is why Cohen testified truthfully to the congressional committee that the project was abandoned in January 2016. When he met Mr. Mueller’s team for the first time, he repeated the same. As a representative of the Trump organization, he was right.
When Mueller’s raided Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room, they found ton of documents related to his taxi and other personal business that have nothing to do with Trump organization. They indicated serious crimes like tax evasion, bank fraud, etc. Cohen knew he was in big big trouble. He openly sought, through media, President Trump’s help perhaps after secret efforts failed. He obviously was seeking a pardon. When no such help came, he decided to cooperate with Mueller. Being a shrewd man he is, he quickly realized that he can minimize his troubles including avoiding jail time by offering something to the Special Prosecutor that implicates Trump. As he was not involved in the campaign, he could not offer anything on collusion. Instead he pleaded guilty to lying, by saying the Trump tower efforts continued till June of 2016 contradicting his prior testimony. It is unknown if he revealed that there was never any licensing agreement and as a result Trumps were not involved in those efforts.
There have been recent news reports that evidence has surfaced that proves that Michael Cohen was in Prague in Oct 2015 to pay off Russian govt’s aides for hacking DNC and Clinton campaign’s emails. If this is true, Cohen would have offered this lethal collusion evidence instead of some shady and iffy evidence about Trump tower that does not prove collusion in any shape or form.
In short, Cohen’s bombshell is a big dud. I sincerely hope that all those congressmen seriously look at all facts behind Cohen’s testimony before doing loose talk about impeachment.