Thursday, January 24, 2019

Moscow Hotel Deal: A Helluva Something For Nothing Is Trump's Achilles Heel

Rudy "Truth Isn't Truth" Giuliani says that "no plans were ever made" for a Trump Tower Moscow.  "There were no drafts. Nothing in the file."  No glass obelisk with a cut diamond-like top on the banks of the Moscow River that at 100 stories would be higher than any other building in Europe.  No ultra-luxury residences, hotel rooms, branded spa and upscale shops or $50 million penthouse for Vladimir Putin.  No famous name on its glittering facade.  No partnership between the famous name's company and a Russian real estate developer likely to yield profits in excess of $300 million in profits.  No detailed description of the tower in a letter of intent over the famous name's distinctive signature four months after his presidential campaign had begun.   
Helluva something for nothing, eh? 
In fact, the Trump Tower Moscow deal has emerged as Trump's Achilles heel.   
This is because, unlike some other tentacles of the Russia scandal where Trump's conduct has fallen somewhere between outright suspicious and arguably dodgy, it is an indisputable fact that at the same time candidate Trump was pounding stump speech rostrums from coast to coast arguing for the end of Obama era sanctions, joining Putin in questioning the legitimacy of NATO and talking up the Russian leader's all-around awesomeness, Michael Cohen was carrying on negotiations for the Trump Tower Moscow project under his direction.   
The Russians, who at that same time were working with Trump campaign advisors through cutouts to help Putin's spy agency hackers and social-media trolls to cybersabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign, in turn took a greater interest in the tower project after Trump had become the presumptive Republican presidential nomination in early May 2016 as Trump all the while repeatedly denied any connection with Russia or Russians.  His mantra: No "deals," "investments" or "possible investments," and "How many times do I have to say that?" 
Then there was the BuzzFeed story of Thursday last alleging that Trump "directed" Cohen, his ex-lawyer and fixer turned government witness, to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the campaign and a terse statement on Friday evening from the office of Robert Mueller -- the special counsel's first in his entire 20-month investigation concerning any news story -- stating that elements of the story were "not accurate." 
Trump, with a big assist from Cohen's successor, Giuliani, quickly managed to turn what seemed like a rare victory in his increasingly desperate fight to fend off Mueller into an opportunity for the news media and legal pundits to refocus their attention on the stench emanating from the tower deal and Trump's cavalcade of lies about it. 
That curiosity was further ratcheted up when Cohen's lawyer announced on Wednesday that the man who knows where the Trump Organization bodies are buried was postponing his scheduled February 7 appearance before the House Oversight Committee because of "ongoing threats" -- crude witness tampering, really -- against his family by the president and Giuliani.    
Trump began pursuing his elusive goal of a Moscow hotel -- which he viewed as being the crown jewel of his business empire -- in 1987. 
He already had opened the first of three casino-hotels in Atlantic City when he sat with Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a New York luncheon in the fall of 1986 hosted by Leonard Lauder, businessman son of Estée Lauder.  They discussed building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government. 
As Trump tells it in The Art of the Deal, his 1987 bestseller, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he was seated next to Dubinin, but Trump's version of events is incomplete.  
The actual story is that the Soviet government sought out Trump as a potential recruit for the KGB spy and espionage agency under the guise of the hotel deal.  As Dubinin's daughter Natalia relates it, her father -- "fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations" -- charmed Trump at their first meeting.  
"Trump melted at once," she says in trenchantly profiling the future American president. "He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive.  He needs recognition.  And, of course, when he gets it he likes it.  My father's visit worked on him like honey to a bee."  
In July 1987, Trump and first wife Ivana followed up on Dubinin's offer.  Intourist, the leading Soviet tourism agency, functioned as a subsidiary branch of the KGB.   They stayed in Lenin's suite at the National Hotel, which was connected to the Intourist complex next door, and where the rooms are under 24-hour video surveillance. 
"The interest is only one.  To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future," a former KGB spy was to say later. 
The hotel deal apparently did not go forward because the Soviet government would retain 51 percent ownership. 
In December 1988, Trump and Ivana attended a state dinner at the Reagan White House where he met Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the about-to-collapse Soviet Union.  They discussed building a Moscow hotel.   
There were several more attempts to jumpstart a hotel project, including a 1996 partnership with Liggett-Ducat to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. 
Then in the early 2000s, the Trump Organization partnered with Bayrock, a development company headquartered in New York and represented by Russian immigrant Felix Sater, a sometime FBI informant with extensive Russian organized crime ties.  They partnered in an assortment of deals that included the goal of building Trump towers internationally, including Russia.  In 2005, Sater pushed a hotel project in Moscow that entered the planning stages before being abandoned.  
In 2006, Trump's children Donald Jr. and Ivanka, escorted by Sater, met in Moscow with prospective hotel and other development deal partners.  "We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia" on the scale of "a large Vegas high-rise," Sater later recalled. 
In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump and Russian investors, but it did not pan out.  At about the same time, Trump applied for a number of trademarks in Russia, including Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home. 
In 2008, speaking at a Manhattan real estate conference, he expressed concern about doing deals in Russia, but said he prefers "Moscow over all cities in the world" and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times. 
Then in November 2013, when Trump was in Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant, he unsuccessfully sought an audience with Putin to discuss yet another hotel project.  His intermediary was pageant co-sponsor and good Putin buddy Aras Agalarov, a prominent Moscow mega-developer.  It was Agalarov's son, wannabe Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, who was the connection behind the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016 where cutouts promised dirt on Clinton.
By September 2015, three months after Trump had descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York to announce his improbable run for president, a New York architect had completed plans for the Trump Tower Moscow, a 100-story glass obelisk emblazoned on several sides with the Trump logo.
"The building design you sent over is very interesting," Russian real estate developer Andrey Rozov wrote Cohen.  "[It] will be an architectural and luxury triumph.  I believe the tallest building in Europe should be in Moscow, and I am prepared to build it." 
According to a letter of intent signed by Trump on October 28, 2015, the tower would be located in Moscow City, a former industrial complex that actually is outside Moscow and  had become a bustling commercial district.
The tower's hotel section would feature "approximately 15 floors" and contain "not fewer than 150 hotel rooms," according to the letter of intent.  The building would feature an Ivanka Trump-branded luxury spa and fitness center , a commercial component "consistent with the overall luxury level of the Property," and an office space "consistent with Class A luxury office properties," as well as "luxury" parking.  
As with most of Trump's other big real estate ventures since the mid-2000s, Rozov would build the tower, Trump would provide the name and his people would manage the building's operations, all for what was projected to be the tidy sum of over $300 million in profits. 
Atop the tower would be a penthouse without equal. 
But as BuzzFeed reported in November, the penthouse would not be sold but given to  Putin, something that Cohen discussed with Dmitry Peskov, a representative of Putin's press secretary and later shared with Mueller's prosecutors after becoming a cooperating witness. 
The hope was that the lavish gift would help not only grease the wheels for the tower project, but entice wealthy Russian elites to move into it. 
"My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units," Sater told BuzzFeed.  "All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin." 
 Cohen's acknowledgement of his role as lead negotiator in a project where Trump was regularly briefed at the same time Trump was repeatedly denying any involvement in Russia and his campaign was colluding with the Kremlin is central to his plea agreement with the feds, as well as an acknowledgment in court and in court documents that he had lied to Congress about the plan in order to protect Trump and his campaign.
Trump's defense strategy (if it can be called that) on containing the blowback on the dirty details of the tower deal is hard to keep up with because it keeps changing. 
First it was said that the deal was terminated in January 2016.  Then it was June 2016. Then it was at some later point.  Then on Sunday, Giuliani parked his clown car at NBC News's "Meet the Press" long enough to put his own spin on the . . . uh, controversial BuzzFeed story, quoting Trump as having said that negotiations for the tower deal were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."  Then on Monday, Giuliani attempted what Lucian Truscott IV called a "Double-Reverse Triple Salchow," walking back his comment as "purely hypothetical," in turn prompting an outpouring of stories from clueless reporters that Giuliani seemed to have lost his shit.  (Where the hell have they been the last few years?) 
Meanwhile, front and center in Trump's game of chicken with Cohen are his hints that he could prosecute Cohen's father-in-law Fima Shusterman, whom he has not mentioned by name.  That would backfire badly for the president because while Shusterman does have a criminal record for money laundering-related charges in the early 90s and reputed Russian/Ukraine organized crime connections, Cohen had gone to work for Trump in the first place because of Trump's ties to Shusterman.  
To be clear, even if Trump did talk to Cohen about the Trump Tower Moscow deal it wouldn't have been a crime.  The crime is that Trump planned to forge a direct financial link with the leader of an enemy nation at the height of his campaign, lied repeatedly about that, and continues to lie about that.  Not unlike his instructions to Donald Jr. to lie about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. 
To return to the Helluva Something For Nothing meme atop this post, a New York Times reporter asked Giuliani on Monday, "Wait, Mr. Mayor, if he had a project in Moscow that his attorney was discussing and he himself may have been involved in while he was calling for a loosening of sanctions against Russia and a different policy in Ukraine, and the American people didn't know anything about that, you wouldn't find that problematic?"
To which Giuliani responded, "First of all, the project was over in November, December, January, right into 2016.  So there was no project.  So there was no project.  There was no project." 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

1 comment:

Dan Leo said...

You know me, I love to check in on Breitbart News to see how Trumpworld is doing, and one thing that cracks me up is that one of the really dirty adjectives in that world is "globalist", and yet somehow Trump's plans to build a mighty tower in Moscow are not seen as "gobalist" in any way...