In his response to the Cohen bombshell Thursday, President Trump -- well, you’re just not going to believe it when I tell you this, but ...
In attempting to claim that he had been aboveboard and transparent about his business dealings with Russia, Trump argued Thursday that his attempt to build a Trump Tower project in Moscow had been widely reported during the presidential campaign, and that as a result we’ve learned nothing new in the Cohen guilty plea.
"Everybody knew about it,” as Trump put it on the White House lawn. “It was written about in newspapers. It was a well-known project. It was during the early part of ’16 and, I guess, even before that. ... So he’s lying about a project that everybody knew about. I mean, we were very open with it.”
It’s easy to lose track of such things in the rush of events, but I’ve gone back and looked and that is simply not true. The reality is that throughout the campaign, Trump, his family and his staff steadfastly denied all contacts with Russia. In fact, Trump’s on-going attempt to break into the lucrative Moscow market for high-end apartment buildings did not become publicly known until July of 2017, eight months after the campaign ended. His Republican primary competitors had no idea about it, the Clinton campaign had no idea about it and most importantly the voters had no idea about it.
So what does that mean? It means that a lot of things from back then look very different today.
It means that in October of 2015, when Trump the businessman was secretly signing a letter of intent with a Russian developer to build his Moscow project, Trump the presidential candidate was going on “Face the Nation” to publicly laud Vladimir Putin as a great leader, predicting that “I would probably get along with him very well.”
The letter of intent was sent from Russia to Trump just two days after he made those comments.
It means that in December of 2015, when Trump was hailing Putin to ABC News as “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump was using his access to U.S. media to woo and flatter Putin, hoping to get his approval for a hotel project to be built after an election that he still expected to lose.
And in January of 2016, in the same month that Trump went on Fox Business Network to defend Putin against charges that he had ordered the murder of a Russian dissident in Britain, his man Cohen was in direct touch with the highest levels of the Putin regime, still secretly negotiating a deal on Trump’s behalf.
In fact, under the timeline as we now understand it, Trump’s efforts to build the Moscow project did not cease until June of 2016, after he had become the Republican nominee and after Paul Manafort had become his campaign manager. By that point, even Trump understood the danger of pursuing a deal with Russia while he ran for president. And by that point, the Russians apparently knew that in Trump, they had a man with whom they could do business.