Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part One: The Trump Tower Dangle

Last May, I wrote a series using the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) Mueller had posed to Trump to lay out what theory of investigation Mueller might be pursuing — and what details we know about it. We’ve learned a lot more about the investigation and confirmed that the investigation focusing on Trump personally includes both a criminal and a counterintelligence component. I wanted to update the series. Because we know so much more about both sides of this quid pro quo, the organization of the series will be somewhat different.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 Trip To Russia, What Communication and Relationships Did You Have with the Agalarovs and Russian Government Officials?

On November 9, 2013, Aras Agalorov helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both involved, as were Don Jr, Michael Cohen, and Keith Schiller. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

The prior trip set up the 2016 quid pro quo in several ways. First, it deepened Trump’s desire for a Moscow Trump Tower — an effort the Agalrovs and Trumps pursued for years after the meeting. It established Trump’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin — though Putin reportedly disappointed Trump’s desire for a meeting on that prior occasion. It also introduced Trump to a bunch of other oligarchs.

Just after Trump kicked off his presidential bid, Emin invited Trump to his father’s birthday party in Moscow on November 8 (PDF 17), the first of a series of outreaches during Trump’s campaign which would continue through the election. The Agalarovs would remain the key handlers of the Trump family until shortly after the election, when first Sergei Kislyak, then Putin himself, would take over interacting with Trump and his family.

September 25, 2015 to November 2016: What Communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign

By September 25, 2015, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen already had a Moscow design study completed for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Days later, Andrey Rozov was promising to build Donald Trump the tallest tower in Europe. In October 2015, Felix Sater (whose actions in brokering this deal seemed designed to ensure that Trump’s willingness to work with Russian military intelligence and sanctioned banks would leave a digital paper trail) started pitching the centrality of Putin to the deal. On October 28, at a time when his presidential bid was meeting unexpected success, Trump signed a Letter of Intent on a deal that stood to make him a fantastic sum of $300 million.

In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.

Sater first tried to get commitments for both Cohen and Trump to travel to Moscow (with the documents to prove it) in December 2015. While Cohen was willing to share his passport, he held off on Trump’s. Perhaps as a result of Cohen’s increasing impatience with Sater’s swapping out a lightly sanctioned bank for a more compromising one, Cohen said he wanted to take more control. That led to him to reach out to Dmitry Peskov directly (who had been involved in Trump’s efforts to meet Putin in 2013), which in turn led him to have a 20 minute call with Peskov’s personal assistant on January 21, 2016. Over the course of that conversation, she would have taken notes recording Cohen committing to Trump’s willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to get his $300 million deal. By the next day, Putin’s office had that in hand, the first of many receipts he would obtain on Trump, making him susceptible to compromise regardless of what happened.

Cohen smartly shifted negotiations to the encrypted communication app Dust for a time. But when Sater renewed discussions about a trip to Russia to make this happen in May 2016, he did so on texts that would be accessible to law enforcement. And Cohen made it clear Trump had to seal the nomination before he would risk making his coziness with Putin public, making it crystal clear that the election and the Trump Tower deal remained linked in his brain.

Both Trump and Don Jr were thoroughly briefed on these negotiations. That means when Don Jr accepted a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as part of Russia’s support for Trump, he would have known that a $300 million real estate deal might depend on taking the meeting. Don Jr took the June 9, 2016 meeting and — per four sworn witnesses’ statements — agreed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won.

At almost exactly the moment that meeting broke up, Felix Sater texted Cohen to take the next step on a deal, a trip for him to St. Petersburg, potentially to meet with Putin personally. Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian (the latter of whom Cohen had also worked with in the past) would also have been at the event.

In the days after the Trump Tower meeting, Sater and Cohen were scrambling to put together the trip to St. Petersburg at the last minute. But they looked like they would pull it off, only to have the WaPo report, on June 14, 2016, that Russia hacked the DNC postpone the plans for the trip.

That said, Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

On July 22, 2016 — the day that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — George Papadopoulos (possibly with the coaching of Ivan Timofeev) and Sergei Millian seem to have picked up keeping discussions of a deal alive from Cohen and Sater.

According to the President’s current teevee lawyer, Trump answered Mueller’s questions on this topic to allow for the possibility that the Russian deal remained active through November. He’s just not committing to any story about how long the deal remained (or remains) active.

One thing to remember about this Trump Tower deal. The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!). But it fed all of Trump’s character weaknesses. The promise of having the tallest tower in Europe would feed Trump’s narcissism. The fairly ridiculous claim Trump Organization stood to make $300 million off of it would have been irresistible to the highly indebted family.

And in exchange for that, Trump showed repeated and sustained willingness to deal with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks. And at the June 9 meeting, his spawn made it clear he’d trade policy considerations to get the deal.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 


These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

190 replies
  1. Dave says:

    Who was Sater working for?

    [Welcome to emptywheel. Please consider using a more unique username, maybe salting “Dave” with a favorite word or number. We have many Daves who comment here. /~Rayne]

    • dwfreeman says:

      Sater is a chameleon. He works and talks for whomever is paying him or leveraging his personal influence and private interest. My game theory is that both Trump and especially the Russians were milking Trump’s candidacy for whatever they could gain; Trump was in it for dream project completion, Trump Tower on the Moscow River.But in the short run, he would disguise it as a project in development without sponsor or arms-length connection: in other words, no collusion.

      If you know anything about property development, you know that hiding interest and connection with a project, is simply a matter of a paper chase. That Trump could claim no interest in TT in Moscow is beyond belief, since he has coveted the idea of planting a flag there since he first was invited to the Soviet Union and Moscow in 1987, 32 years ago. You never forget your first love and sexual encounter.

      On that blocked call after the TT meeting in June 2016, Don Jr.’s first call is to a New Jersey guy who took Trump to Moscow in 2006, helped him scout hotel and skyscraper locations in Moscow (regardless of kompromat opportunities) a guy who was a partner in a Tribeca Manhatten neighborhiood project that Mike Cohen bought into in mid-April last year. Cohen bought an apartment for $6.7 million in that development. And then he turns on Trump.

      What the hell is up with that?

      Trump has Jonesed for a TT project in Moscow for years. He can practically taste it. Putin knows this. And he has got him locked in. So, Manafort and Stone who have different personal agendas and political histories that date back to Watergate and the Nixon White House, know how you play the game and save your ass. I mean the backstory of Trump and his connection to the undoing of America and all the president’s men is historically delicious. Someday someone will make a movie.

  2. mztech says:

    What if Comey “flipped” just before the private briefing he gave Trump in order to get immunity/less punishment? Maybe the “pee” info was low impact distraction

    • bmaz says:

      This is bonkers. no Comey would not have ‘flipped”, and why in the world would he need immunity?? Seriously, this is nuts.

      • Arj says:

        Aha!  Was it the MZ reference – pride of Eastern bloc motorsickles?  And can I have a cookie too, while the jar’s ajar?

        • Rayne says:

          You may have missed his comment yesterday which was a doozy. Add it to this short one today and you’ll have a snappy picture of the character behind that possible Eastern bloc motorbike reference (I’ll have to take your word for that one).

          Sorry, no cookie for you (that’s not chocolate, you don’t really want one). LOL

          • Arj says:

            Rats!  Now I really want one…  Will check for the other comment – I thought you were quick to categorise this one as a troll.  Ja, MZs & EZs are or were Czech-made bikes.

            • Rayne says:

              I appreciate your feedback about the bikes, will help inform future flagging. Looks like I need to do a little research on European motorcycles. LOL

              • Arj says:

                Glad I have some use here.  Would not recommend spending too much time on (i.e., studying or aboard) Czech bikes; but it may be worth knowing that trolls sometimes ride ‘em.

        • Jockobadger says:

          Great work, EW.  Thank you!

          Arj, are you maybe thinking of CZ motorcycles? They built some great trials bikes in the 70’s – a cool sport that never really took off here in the states.

          Ok mz, I’ll ask. Where are you institutionalized?  Those are a couple of good ones.

          Did someone actually pay 2 mil to Zamel? If so, who and who’s $?  Sorry if this is something I should know already. Thanks again to all.

          • bmaz says:

            I have ridden both CZ’s and Bultacos as far as trials bikes. They were also great hare and hounds and general off road sport bikes. Both 250cc, the Bultaco was an Alpina.

            • Wajim says:

              Loved my Taco before I crashed it (and, sadly, me).  Never rode CZ. Went back to the road after I got older (but hardly wiser), a salvaged Norton Commando, then went broke for parts and the sake of my marriage. Sigh.

            • Jockobadger says:

              Alpina and Pursang are simply beautiful, and Montesa Cota. I had a 74 TY250, but I loved the Euro/Brit bikes – lovely castings etc. Alas I couldn’t afford one back then.  Only ride road now.

              Good to think of other things!

    • Kevin W says:

      It’s both amusing and sad so many trolls believe any ridiculous conspiracy theory except for the one unfolding in front of your face for the past two years.

  3. CaliLawyer says:

    There is something poetic about seeing career grifters like TrumpCo get completely played by the Kremlin. Also scary, and completely believable.

    • emptywheel says:

      Also really unfortunate.

      I mean, I will take pleasure if he goes down, sure. But the US is so fucking screwed with him being so compromised — and not just by Putin.

      • CaliLawyer says:

        I was in an accident once where time seemed to slow down, and I feel now like I’m watching a slow motion national train wreck. Putin always takes half, that’s the rule. Trump Tower Moscow was never going to happen, but it never needed to.

      • CitizenCrone says:

        @emptywheel –[Trump] being so compromised –and not just by Putin.

        My head is exploding with all the possible implications of the relationship I call the unholy alliance–between Trump/Saudis/Israel.  He keeps giving other leaders exactly what they want–and the U.S. ends up on the short end, or implicated in war crimes or human rights abuses.

        And what we’ve seen about Pecker/Weinstein/BlackCube/Bezos, if played out on the world stage–which it is, poss even with Saudis and AMI going after WaPo via Bezos–well, it becomes scarier and scarier.

        How will Mueller ever get to the end of it?  Or maybe he can’t pursue anything related to countries other than Russia?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      One of the things le Carre leaves out of his novels is how much work it takes to pick up the pieces after the mole hunt finds the mole.  A lot of broken china to pick up, pieces hide under the skirting board, and replace.  A lot of people and processes to replace, over and over, before they work and again become secret.

      The most important thing to replace – and failing to do this at sufficient scale was Obama’s biggest failing – is the people hurt by the mole and belief in the system they run.  The most dangerous thing would be to put the changes on a sounder legal and institutional footing, largely the approach chosen by Obama.  In Trump’s case, that would be a contradiction in terms.

      • Peterr says:

        LeCarre doesn’t leave this out — that’s the *entire* focus of the novel The Honourable Schoolboy (the sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), and plays a significant role in Smiley’s People as well.

        • Ken Muldrew says:

          Maybe the U.S. will eventually be able to take “back bearings” to see what Putin most wanted to protect.

        • William Bennett says:

          Exactly. When Smiley gets hauled back out of exile in Smiley’s People the whole organization and its political oversight has been twisted around, thanks to Hayden’s exposure.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          He refers to it as a plot device; the work of picking up the pieces remains off-camera.

          In Smiley’s People, the Circus works mightily to keep its head in the sand.  It removes players who refuse to follow suit, like neophyte Nigel Mostyn, who is fired for being too sympathetic to Smiley – and an unwillingness to keep his head down.  Smiley picks up the pieces, using detritus cast off by the Circus, despite official orders to stop.  His victory over Karla is anti-climactic and leads to his third retirement.

          In the Honourable Schoolboy, Jerry Westerby, too, goes off the reservation to pursue the bad guy.  But his attachment to romantic notions of honor and to a woman lead to his failure and death.  Suicide by Circus.  The pullback of operations after Smiley’s outing of Bill Haydon uses Hong Kong as stand in and as a principal location for Smiley’s pursuit of Karla.  His obsession with him and his lack of interest in the bureaucratic war games essential to remaining in power in Whitehall lead to his second forced retirement in favor of the Machiavellian Enderby.

          In le Carre’s telling, the Circus and Whitehall’s response to having to pick up all the broken crockery – done off screen – is more bureaucracy, more keeping of collective heads in the clay along the Thames, and more subservience to the CIA.  He gives us consequences, what leads to them is background.

          • Peterr says:

            I think he gets into the details more than you think. Once Haydon was exposed and Smiley brought in to help clean up, dealing with personnel was immediate. LeCarre describes how Smiley saw how Haydon had promoted unsuitable people, blocked promotions of people who might catch him, and otherwise put his thumb on the personnel scales. All this had to be recognized and addressed. He looked at the facilities, and found what he suspected: Haydon used his position to put listening devices throughout the main Circus building, which had to be practically stripped to the studs to remove. As he interviewed field agents, he asked for stories — “do you ever remember a time when Haydon steered you away from something that you thought was top stuff?”

            Whitehall, OTOH, was indeed playing the game of “not my fault.” The players there seemed more concerned with not being touched by the Fall. Some saw an opportunity to try to get part of the Circus’ turf. These battles were not narrated directly, but left to only be described by Lacon, as he tried and failed to get Smiley himself to engage in the battles. And at the end of The Honourable Schoolboy, the bureaucratic battles lead to the CIA taking Drake, Collins taking over Circus, and Connie and Smiley both being put out to pasture.

            Did LeCarre spend chapter after chapter and hundreds of pages describing this kind of thing? No — but he gave enough of a taste (at least to me) and wove it deftly into the narrative to reveal the mammoth scope of the task.

            • Gnome de Plume says:

              OMG you guys! How many times have you reread leCarre?? I read all those books and even saw the BBC series. I can’t recall a thing (except for what George Smiley looked like.)

      • CaliLawyer says:

        Sater’s been playing both sides of the IC fence for a long time, so his starring role in the Russian angle to this saga is right on brand. The moles in this case are in the WH, which makes the house-cleaning a little easier, although one of the scariest aspects to all of this is DJT’s insistence on meeting in private with Putin. Nobody really knows what intelligence he may be passing on. Same with Kushner and MbS or his ally the Emirati prince. That recent Reuters piece was pretty chilling, and the way the FBI snagged the ex-spook at the airport raises all kinds of red flags. The way I read the article it seemed like an operation that may have tacitly approved by the NSA at the beginning, and then went off the rails in the last couple years as the Saudis and the UAE have gotten more aggressive in their foreign policy.

        • Wajim says:

          Precisely right. We have no idea what national security information Grifter Sr. has sold or gifted to Putin (except for the SCI intelligence shared with us by Israel he blabbed to Lavrov & Co, after firing Comey).  I have no doubt Trump would sell all of us out in a heartbeat if he thought it would benefit him.

          • Reader 21 says:

            As Clint Watts has said, follow the trail of dead Russians—were they American assets, sold out by Flynn (or kushner?).   Bodies started piling up, once they started getting briefings.  Just sayin’.

            ETA—sources: mostly U.K.-based, though USA Today had a good write up (mysterious Russian deaths), Daily Mail, Telegraph.

  4. pseudonymous in nc says:

    “The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!).”

    So the revived Moscow tower negotiation was a long con designed to generate receipts by dangling something orders of magnitude bigger than the usual licensing deals? Whoa. That just rejiggered my head. So, how far back does the Cohen-Sater stuff go? The September 25 design study obviously implies at least a few months, which gets you back into the summer of 2015 and the descent on the escalator.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Yeah, I’m thinking in terms of this particular iteration of the Moscow Project. (Both Sater and Cohen have presumably told Mueller’s team when it started.)

          • Rayne says:

            This is a major challenge and not just to law enforcement or sane, ethical members of Congress trying to tease this apart.

            How many of the players involved suffer from some form of sociopathy/psychopathy or personality disorder which not only encouraged their criminal behavior but makes it difficult for them to be straightforward?

            It’s driving me buggy that the media continues to deal with Trump as if he is rational and will answer questions in good faith. Their inability to see his fundamental personality flaw skews coverage and our perceptions.

            Ditto for other players like Cohen and Sater. They’ve lied to and with each other for their entire lives. How and when do they shut the lies off, if ever?

            And then compromises — which ones lock in their lies so deeply that even if they felt guilt they must continue to lie?

  5. Mark Ospeck says:

    great tie togethers, EW.  imo, you and RM are the best.  Yea, the Spooks at Langley are probably also vg about this sort of thing. ..thinking back on that great old show “The Wire,” and their Baltimore drug dealer perp boards.  I’m sure you can imagine what the Spooks’ Trump-Russia one looks like right about now :)

  6. big fan says:

    Wow, this looks like the start of something big! Just for clarity, the text in bold denotes Mueller questions as per Sekulov?

  7. Jim_46 says:

    Excellent overview and very helpful. I appreciate the occasional post from a higher vantage point.

    “Some believe that organized crime is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Traditional criminal syndicates still con, extort, and intimidate American citizens … But the playing field has changed.” ~ Robert S. Mueller, January 27, 2011

    • Wajim says:

      Ha!  I see Rayne has assumed control. So, you’re not the “other” Dave. Whew. Maybe I should go with “Alternative Wajim” just to see if she’s really as sharp as she seems.

    • Alan Charbonneau says:

      From the BuzzFeed article that claimed Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.

      Marcy made the point when she was positing about the Mueller statement that the article was inaccurate that the BuzzFeed article had new information not previously made public. In an indictment (cannot recall which one) the government stated that the Trump Tower deal was worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” while the BuzzFeed article stated $300 million, leading her to believe that the BuzzFeed sources had access to documents with that level of detail.

  8. Fran of the North says:

    Heard this on the rae-dee-oh the other day, and couldn’t pass it up. With apologies to Melanie, and a HT to punaise.

    Look what they’ve done to my con, Pa
    Look what they’ve done to my con.
    Well it’s the only thing I could do half right
    And it’s turning out all wrong.
    Look what they’ve done to my con.
    Look what they’ve done to my con
    Wish I could find a good show to live in
    Wish I could find a good show to live in
    I’d never have to come out and
    Look what they’ve done to my con.

    Look what I’ve done to my brain, Pa
    Well I’ve cooked it like a chicken bone
    They think I’m half insane, Pa
    Look what I’ve done to my brain.

    Look what I think of those fern’ers, Pa
    Look what I think of those fern’ers
    Won’t be bothered to even listen, Pa
    To figure out what they say.
    Why should I, when they won’t pay, Pa?

    Look what they’ve done to my con, Pa
    Look what they’ve done to my con
    Well they’ve tied it up in a plastic bag
    Then turned it upside down
    Look what they’ve done to my con.
    La, la, la, la…

    Well it’s the only thing I could do half right
    And it’s turning out all wrong
    Look what they’ve done to my con, Pa
    Oh Papa
    Mueller’s cooked it like a chicken bone

    Look what they’ve done to my con, Pa

    • punaise says:


      for extra special flavor, “con” in French – at least in the tamer, non-genital sense – means idiot or jerk, so that fits too.

  9. Pat Neomi says:

    The note about the line of succession regarding Trump’s handlers (the Agalarovs to, ultimately, Putin) is very salient. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but the fact that Putin would manage operations this way seems very logical–farm out the preliminary, tenuous work and then when one of your fisherman gets something hooked, the captain comes in to handle the rest.

    Also, as Marcy has noted before, I find it wholly unsurprising that Trump would be so blinded by his avarice and ego that he wouldn’t have even realized how deeply and badly he was getting played (and what receipts had been created that could attest to this) until it was far too late. He’s now left holding his breath hoping the clock runs out before the house of cards disintegrates.

  10. cw says:

    OK. So this is starting to make more sense. We have the idea that the tower was never meant to be built is on the table now, which is good, because obviously the tower was never going to be built. It would be politically impossible if Trump won. And if Trump didn’t win, Putin had no use for Trump or the tower.

    So now the theory is the tower was just a trap to compromise Trump. This brings up some questions:

    1. Who was Sater working for?

    2. Are the Trumps really so dumb that they thought they could build the tower when Trump was pres. Or did they have another plan: he would resign and build the tower. He would build the tower after he serve his term. This is the most important question in my opinion.

    3. Did Trump ever think he could win? Certainly seems unlikely when the meeting with Jr happened. Publicly available odds were way against him. What did the Trumps think they had to offer Putin if they lost?

    4. How did the Trumps think they could work with sanctioned banks and avoid the penalties?

    5. The willingness to work with sanctioned banks is the only potential crime here. Is this receipt really that strong?

    • Jim_46 says:

      These seem to me to be excellent questions. On #3, I wonder if MW’s posts regarding Manafort’s meeting with Kilimnik on August 2, 2016, answers it. Manafort was sharing extremely detailed polling. Why? Why else except that he was communicating to the Russians that Trump had a chance to win.

      In Kilimnik’s own words: “I’ve seen [Manafort] work in different countries, and…he really does take seriously his polling and can spend, you know, two weeks going through the data, and he’ll come [up] with the best strategy you can ever have.”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Being will, in fact, proposing to work with still-sanctioned banks is the tip of the iceberg.  Being willing to change US foreign policy for personal profit and to avoid public disclosure of embarrassing or criminal conduct, and being willing to use foreign assistance to become president might also create criminal liability.

    • bmaz says:

      1) Everybody

      2) Yes, they are exactly that dumb and arrogant

      3) Probably not. They would still have a beautiful development program where they were offering Putin a substantial interest in.

      4) These assholes work with sanctioned banks all the time through cutouts

      5) No, that is not the only crime here, and if you think so you should read our work more closely. Money laundering, fraud, FARA, etc. just to start. The  “receipts” have yet to be fully fleshed out, but yes.

      Everything you would need to know is contained in the pages and posts of this blog, if you read it.

      • cw says:

        1. ha. Judging from his actions it seems more likely he was working for the FBI or Putin than the Trumps.

        2. Maybe. Putin wasn’t that dumb though.

        3. They had been trying to build something in Moscow for years. If Putin was interested it would have happened long before.

        4. This makes sense.

        5. I totally agree that there were other very likely crimes (and much better kompromate). I am only objecting to the focus on this tower as being somehow, key. I don’t know, but I think this very well could be a sideshow.

        • bmaz says:

          1) No, it does not, I will stick with everybody and you are ignoring known facts and associations

          2) Of course Putin is not that dumb, why do you think he was smart enough to seek out a mark like Trump

          3) That is silly, they will take the grift anytime it can really work out.

          4) Okay

          5) That’s funny, because it seems to be central to a lot of the narrative.

          • Drew says:

            I’m still puzzled by Sater. Yes, he was working for everybody & playing everybody for his own benefit. Yet even after being caught more than once, he works against the interest of powerful players (CIA, FBI, Russia, etc) while also working for them. It’s easy enough to see that he could play Trump this way, because Trump is so distractible by flattery or shiny objects, but not so much most of the others. He does this pretty blatantly and goes out in public, stays out of prison and doesn’t get killed.  How does he work this?

                • tinao says:

                  Also, think of a rock dropped into the gop pond and collecting assets. They have learned a lot not just about people either but how our elections are run and are vulnerable through people and systems. Oh yeah,why has this administration done zero to fix this new problem?

              • Wajim says:

                Say Trump starts his own 24hr “News” Channel and relentlessly hammers the Clinton administration with Putin inspired agit-prop?  That is, he would just privately institutionalize his presidential campaign and make a crapload of dollars and rubles.  A potential that was actually discussed in the media pre-2016.

                • Rayne says:

                  Occurred to me a while ago that we need to go back and hunt down when that chatter started about Trump-TV. Was that when the race was still too tight and the Russians + Team Trump + others involved weren’t certain they could pull off that last couple percentage points of votes? Did the chatter stop when they figured they were going to be successful?

                  • Wajim says:

                    That’s my take on it.  I recall several weeks of various media discussion about Trump’s alternatives in lieu of election.  He needed (and needs, still) a lot of cash.  If not one (illicit) way then the other. Seems like a worthwhile post to help plug the MSM memory hole.

                  • harpie says:

                    Here’s one: June, 16, 2016, Vanity Fair:
                    The candidate is considering starting his own cable empire.

                    • Rayne says:

                      Hmm. Interesting timing, that.

                      According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the “audience” currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a “mini-media conglomerate” outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC. He has, according to one of these people, enlisted the consultation of his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who owns the The New York Observer.

                      For his part, Kushner was heard at a New York dinner party saying that “the people here don’t understand what I’m seeing. You go to these arenas and people go crazy for him.” (Both Kushner and Ivanka Trump did not respond to a request for comment.)

                      Meanwhile, someone close to Kushner has suggested that Trump would be unlikely to go so far as to seek out a partner at this stage of the race, given that it might risk alienating many of the established media players that he has outflanked—and that he is relying on to get him elected.

                      And Hope Hicks is all denial, denial. Sure sounds to me like Jared and Ivanka were playing this up and probably only allowing deep background sourcing.

                      Just a month earlier the Observer was like a tick on a dog with the Facebook-Is-Biased story.

                      I have a feeling that this was a feeler checking commitment. I also suspect that if Trump hadn’t won he’d have been all over NRA-TV.

    • CaliLawyer says:

      The Kremlin has been baiting DJT with a Moscow deal for years, and as long as DJT keeps reorienting US foreign policy towards the Kremlin’s preferences (ME withdrawal, obsequy on Russia invading Ukraine, lifted sanctions, and maybe even a pullout from South Korea), why wouldn’t Putin keep stringing him along? Putin’s biggest goal is to tear down the post-WWII order, which he blames for the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s slide to second-class status (except for the Russian military/intelligence and related contractors, which are world-class still and which he can leverage to make mischief all over the place). DJT has always been heavily leveraged, in more ways than one, and he’s enough of a sucker to sell the country down the river and get nothing in return. Jared’s got the same problem in the ME. It could well be in Putin’s interest to string him along as long as possible, and then just cut him loose at the end when DJT has given up everything. This is the core problem: TrumpCo doesn’t see any real value in traditional post-WWII American foreign policy (because it doesn’t benefit them directly and maybe even inhibits some sleazy deals they’d like to pursue), and so has no problem trading all of it away for a mirage. They’re as crooked as they are arrogant and ignorant. Think really large, really shiny object. The stuff that dreams are made of, to quote Bogart.

      • cw says:

        It makes sense that Putin was string him along just to add another asset that may or may not payoff. But Trump could only payoff once he became president and no one thought that was a remote possibility until the spring of 16. As you say, Putin had been at this for years.

        • CaliLawyer says:

          Putin’s an ardent nationalist, and has been aggressively supporting right wing politics around the globe as an antidote to western liberalism. Money’s a big angle here, but Putin’s worth $200 billion or something insane like that, and I think we underestimate raw nationalism at our peril. Trump is just one cog in this larger picture, albeit one particularly susceptible to blackmail and manipulation. Mueller et al. needed to get Butina when they had the chance, but I suspect that the most politically controversial angles to all of this, in right wing politics and right wing media (I see you, Hannity!), get revealed near the very end. Jill Stein, fwiw, isn’t out of the woods either, imo. She basically endorsed Trump, even though he was clearly a terrible choice for a purported environmentalist, much worse than HRC.

          I still see a lot of value in this analysis:


          Trump’s media-driven narcissism has always dovetailed nicely with Putin’s propaganda goals.

          • Wajim says:

            I agree with all but for your claim that Russia is not “second-class” with regard to its military, intelligence, or contractors.  They clearly are, and the nascent military abilities of China, which is still chasing us, and far exceeds Russia in conventional military and economic power, clearly shows that.  They haven’t the military tech or the hard cash to keep up, but do have a legacy force of nuclear weapons to wave around (hence the aggressive policy actions and attitudes).  But for the nukes Russia is (as Obama noted) a regional military power.  What they have are smarter leadership than we do now, and lost of propaganda.

          • Stanislav Morozov says:


            “Putin’s an ardent nationalist”

            This is simply not true. Russia is among the last multi-national states in the world. Classic european “nationalism” is a crime there. All russian nationalists are either doing their time or killed (many of them were killed in ongoing Ukrainian-Russian war). Russia has its own state-sponsored “nationalism”, which is somewhat similar to the meaning of “national” in the names of the US institutions like NASA. As a result, many asian minorities call themselves “russians”.

            His aggressive support of right-wing nationalists throughout the western world is strictly in line with old school KGB tactic of (for example) aiding drug production/trafficking in the West. He supports everything what he believes weakens the West. Don’t be surprised when some left-wing politicians suddenly get some help from Kremlin.

            • Rayne says:

              Already targeted left-wing in France as well as right-wing — ‘horseshoe’ protests in the street last week with opposing factions of Gilets Jaunes in the street, creating chaos.

              Anytime anti-EU/anti-NATO sentiment surfaces, look for Putin.

    • BobCon says:

      Regarding #3, it was clear early in 2016 that even if Trump lost by a margin like McCain in 2008, Trump was still going to be the dominant voice in the GOP.

      That might not have been worth full price to Putin, but Trump could have been able to drive the Senate Republicans to block a lot that Putin didn’t like. That might have been worth, say, $10 to $25 million a year over the next four years to Putin.

      • cw says:

        I see what you are saying but I don’t think American Presidential politics works that way. Loser usually have no influence. They are shuffled off the stage. Think Gore, Romney, Dukakis, etc….

        • bmaz says:

          Let’s see, Gore who went on to be the biggest name in the world on climate change and won an Oscar in the process? Romney who was constantly in the news and is now a US Senator? That kind of “shuffling off the stage”? And  when Trump was already a world famous developer and name, you think he had not value? What are you smoking, please send me some.

          • BobCon says:

            Sarah Palin was very potent in 2009 and she had no real clue how to demogogue.

            Trump had his anti-Clinton routine ready to launch the day after election day 2016, and he was ready to hit the ground running about millions of illegal aliens throwing the election.

            How much he would have been worth to Putin after a couple of years is a good question, but he still would have been a good asset — not Moscow tower worthy, but maybe a smaller project in Yekaterinburg.

        • P J Evans says:

          Sanders, who got seats on party committees and lots of influence for his people, even though he’d lost the nomination, and is still influencing politics (or trying to do so) ?

    • BeingThere says:

      If these questions are re-framed from a Putin/Russia perspective, the answers seem to fall into place. The primary motives then being sanctions, disruption to US interests and government.

      Trump & GOP get played to fill the need once he’s shown willing and the GOP is on-board. Then Putin&Co have a clear candidate to use to prevent HC getting elected. Up to that point a different primary outcome would be wasted effort on Trump.

  11. Badger Robert says:

    Good. Now simplify.

    V. Putin played the Trump organization as fools. (Putin got what he wanted. Trump got the Presidency but not the Trump Tower and we got a mountain of debt. Trump made up the money on the inauguration committee kickbacks.) The American public is left holding the bag.

  12. P J Evans says:

    If you were paying attention back then – he didn’t expect to win. That only came up because he started “winning” all those primaries (with pluralities, not majorities, IIRC – a hazard of having lots of candidates).

  13. Oldguy says:

    I was involved in setting up a manufacturing joint venture in the Soviet Union starting in 1989. We were successful and in fact it ended up being the first such deal to become operational. Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart and our factories were marooned in a newly independent republic.

    All of this is just to say that the level of corruption that was spawned in what again became Russia is almost unimaginable.  I had people approach me offering deals on tankers full of crude oil, boxcars of rebar, and interest in Portland cement plants for fractions of their true market value.  The venues – clubs, discos, hotel lobbies – were all places Donald Trump and his minions would be drawn to, and in being drawn in, trapped as in a spider’s web. Thanks to EW for such a straightforward narrative of events. It brought back visceral memories for me.

    • Rayne says:

      Nice to see you again, Oldguy, thanks for jumping in at emptywheel and sharing that memory. You’ve got a much older username here you’ve probably forgotten; please use the same one each time you comment so community members recognize you. Thanks.

  14. Jeffrey L says:

    This twitter thread the EW retweeted last week nicely lays out the organizing principle that simplifies the whole quid pro quo.
    “It was never about espionage. It was about money. Trump had one job: to lift sanctions when he became POTUS. Once the sanctions were lifted, every corrupt bastard in his orbit was going to make a lot of money…
    Trump did not need to be involved or even know of each separate conspiracy and each criminal undertaking (Flynn’s nuclear plant, Manafort’s pay off to Deripaska, etc.)”
    Basically, once they started pulling Trump along with the Tower as bait, the operation became a self-licking ice cream cone.

    • Rayne says:

      Larisa’s take is solid, but I think Putin hedged his bets in case Trump couldn’t pull off a win and/or Trump couldn’t negotiate with Congress. The Butina-NRA money angle was how Putin intended to ensure the sanctions were lifted by Congress.

      Congress remained in GOP control with a solid majority after the 2016 election, just not compromised enough to end the sanctions regardless if Clinton won and vetoed lifting the sanctions, or Trump attempted to lift them with a GOP-majority.

      p.s. You now have three variants of your username — which one would you like to stick with going forward? :-)

      • BobCon says:

        Evangelical payoffs were another angle. I hope before this is all over that we have a detailed picture of how Putin was winning the GOP — what exactly was driving Rohrabacher and Rand Paul, for example? What other interest groups besides the NRA and religious right were being bought? What big donors were being offered Trump Tower style deals?

    • Geoff says:

      This article in Larisa’s thread I found interesting :


      When I came across the bit about Flynnn texting his business partner, who then told an informant about the deal they were trying to pull off, I was reminded of the first thing that I read when I first found the EW blog – the text that MW received that remains in the background here, ever so mysterious.

  15. P J Evans says:

    @mztech February 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm
    Do you mean Cohen? Because there’s no reason to think that Comey is involved in that way.

  16. Arj says:

    @ PJEvans February 11 at 3:04

    Agreed – but does Cohen have anything to do with (‘Lordy, I hope there are’) pee tapes…?

  17. OldTulsaDude says:

    Just tossing it out there, but with a Russian bank as the lender it seems pretty simple to basically give Individual-1 his tower by eliminating the loan obligations and thus passing along $300 million – which might be adequate for sanctions relief payoff?

    • BobCon says:

      I have to assume the Tower was like a number of Sochi Olympics deals and the actual construction was secondary to the games that could be played wih the financing. Whether it was by the exact mechanism you’re describing, I don’t know.

      I’m sure $300 million was just a placeholder regardless, with Moscow holding the right to either lower the amount Trump got in the end, or impose more conditions, or both.

  18. wantagh says:

    Please help me understand what you think Sater’s motivations were for keeping the ‘digital paper-trail’ alive with Cohen et. al. His public portrayal is consistently bipolar; on one hand, he’s a Russian-liked goon, the other (the one he’d tell you), he’s a patriotic fixer who’s secretly helped the US government for years.

    What’s your take on his motivations?

  19. J Barker says:

    Suppose that, in addition to sanctions discussions, there were only two other things communicated to Don Jr & Pals at the June Trump Tower meeting: (1) that the GRU was responsible for the hacking; and (2) that, although the Russians would not disclose to the Trump Campaign either the exact content of the hacked emails or their plan for its eventual release, the Moscow real estate deal would certainly fall apart (and perhaps be made public) if the Trump Campaign told *anyone* what they now knew about Russia’s role in the hacking.

    That knowledge alone could compromise Trump and his campaign. If Trump went straight to the FBI with what they’d learned, the Moscow deal would disappear and Russia might then make the deal’s existence known to the public (and maybe explicitly painting the deal as part of a quid pro quo). If Trump kept what Don Jr. & Pals learned at Trump Tower a secret– perhaps even refusing to admit that Russia was behind the hacking even months later, after it had already been confirmed by the American intelligence community– he could keep the deal and avoid its public disclosure, but he’d then be acting as accessories after the fact. Either way, he’s totally screwed.

    Also, if this is the sort of thing that happened at the Trump Tower meeting, it would explain why everyone attending seems to agree that they didn’t get anything of value from the meeting. No dirt on Hillary. No DNC emails. No information about the plan to use Wikileaks to release the stolen material. Just a useless piece of knowledge, that Russia did the hacks, and a threat. It would also explain why the campaign, Roger Stone, and Stone’s minions all seemed completely in the dark about the content of the hacked material and the timing of its release. Stone and Corsi had to go looking for answers because the Russians didn’t have to give them any specifics in order to accomplish its goal.

    (This thought occurred to me while reading Marcy’s great post, and I think was inspired by the way the author of this thread frames the notion of compromise: https://twitter.com/larisa_a/status/1093183555700736003)

    • Rayne says:

      …they didn’t get anything of value from the meeting…

      I think this supposition is wrong based on other events. Just these three events suggest dirt was already gathered and a trigger already pulled:

      19-APR-2016 — A domain for DCLeaks was registered.

      . . .

      06-JUN-2016 — Clinton attained 2383 delegates, the minimum threshold needed to earn the Democratic nomination.

      08-JUN-2016 — A fake American identity posted a link in Facebook to a Russian GRU-associated website, DCLeaks, sharing content stolen from American servers including the DNC. The site “had gone live a few days earlier,” sharing small amounts of hacked material.

      Tell me the June 9th meeting wasn’t to greenlight the next deliverables.

      EDIT — forgot to add the curious claim that the Letter of Intent executed by Trump in 2015 was nothing mirrors the notion the attendees of the June 9th meeting got nothing of value.

      Except the LOI refers to a licensing agreement and nobody’s seen one yet. Licensing and related management fees is how Trump makes money on buildings he doesn’t own.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        An LOI itself is usually the outcome of long, hard negotiations.  Getting one is something.  It does not conclude a deal, it’s a marker that the parties intend to work harder toward one.  The basic premise is that it is an unenforceable and preliminary meeting of the minds.

        It is an agreement to continue in-depth talks, not a binding arrangement.  So, it does not usually include a break-up or walk-away fee, but does normally include  mutual confidentiality provisions, which are sometimes carved out and identified as being binding.

        • Rayne says:

          Yes, EoH, it was discussed here in a thread, at least one lawyer looked at the terms as did I.

          As for long, hard negotiations: the LOI published by BuzzFeed looked like boiler plate. Suggests to me the real get was the other agreement(s).

          • harpie says:

            This Oct. 21, 2016 entry in the BuzzFeed article/timeline is interesting…I meant to think some more about this at the time, but OY! …can’t keep my head above water. [And it really doesn’t help that Marcy and her team, here are so damn prolific!] :

            October 21, 2015The Trump Organization makes edits to the letter of intent. In a file attributed to a Trump Organization lawyer, Adam Rosen, color-coded line edits change the tower’s name from the Trump World Tower Moscow to simply Trump Moscow. The first installment of the up-front fee is bumped up from $100,000 to $900,000. And while the terms of the agreement are to be kept confidential by everyone involved, the edit makes a tweak that allows Trump himself to speak about the deal publicly. Reached by BuzzFeed News, the Trump Organization declined to comment.

            PS: I did see your addition to my little timeline…about when the Access Hollywood tape was found. I’ll put my thoughts…after I actually have some… in another comment on on open thread. Thanks.

            • Rayne says:

              I’m still pondering the permission slip to talk about the deal. It seems odd they’d go with this at this point before the first primary unless every time Trump or one of the Trump family talked about it afterward was intended to be a signal…?

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I recall the discussion.  Thanks.

            The effort is usually in getting a signature from both sides, as one or both parties usually put a lot of effort into avoiding that while they use the talks to ferret out as much data as possible.  LOIs themselves, like most corporate board minutes, tend to be written as blandly and uninformatively as possible.

      • Badger Robert says:

        When the campaign hired Mr. Manafort and then Don Jr. attended the meeting on June 9, 2016, the Russians had everything they needed in terms of compromising material. And it appears they got their quid pro quo too.

        Thanks to the three of you for posting this material.

    • Strawberry Fields says:

      1. They got the presidency after months of russian intelligence releasing disinformation, and hacked emails. That is a thing of value.

      2. There was no expectation the lawyer would bring dirt to the meeting. In Donald Trumo Jr’s response to the meeting, he specifically requested dirt to be released in the summer (which they did.) The meeting was just establishing what the government expected in return.

  20. Jenny says:

    Thanks Marcy.  The movie “The Godfather” came to mind having read your excellent post.  Here are some memorable quotes:

    “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” 

    “Behind every successful fortune there is a crime.” 

    “Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.” 

    “Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.” 

    “The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun.” 

  21. Kick the darkness says:

    Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

    Putting aside hubris, human frailty and damage to the country, the remarkable timing of the WaPo story breaking just as Trump world is about to really take the bait will surely be part of what makes this one of the greatest political thrillers of all time.  I assume investigators have the details of that atrium snack bar conversation.

    From the vantage of June 15, 2016, however, what gives Cohen pause at this juncture; why exactly do things now seem more difficult?  Increasing scrutiny of Trump world’s intersection with Putin’s orbit?  That hadn’t really seemed to be bothering them.  Did Cohen want to wait and find out to what extent the law was on their trail?  I guess that might explain why he wanted to wait but didn’t try to pull the plug on the deal.  Or maybe it was at this point he realized he was now in the antlion’s trap and there needed to be the requisite period of struggling and back peddling before surrendering to the inevitable.

    I guess Cohen’s motivations at that point in time strike me as really interesting.

    • CaliLawyer says:

      Cohen was a foot soldier, and there’s no way this trip didn’t get run up the flagpole. Wasn’t Manafort, who’s cagier than most of TrumpCo, the one who insisted via email on a low level intermediary to cover their tracks?

        • Kick the darkness says:

          Let’s hope a long series of forthcoming indictments provides an incontrovertible means to set the full cast of principles, and their relations to one another. If your view that Cohen was following orders in a hierarchy is correct with respect to the  Tower deal, and I admit you very well may be right, it makes him less interesting in the way I envisioned.  But potentially more useful in the pursuit of justice.  On at least some things Cohen seems to have a penchant for keeping some receipts of his own.

          To argue the other way around, however, how hands on was Trump with setting this, or anything else in his life for that matter, up?  He does not seem to have the attention span or command of detail to be a top down calling the shots kind of guy, even if he plays one on TV.  Walls and towers; those symbols seem to fit him in so many ways.  Compartmentalize-keep things in and keep things out.  An implicit understanding with subordinates, sure, but then have them run pieces of the show.  Not because of being clever, plausible deniability.  But because if something fails, like it seems most things in his life have done, he can berate others for that failure.  And if something succeeds he can take, or spin, the credit.  The beast gets fed either way.  Such a view of a Trumpian divide and destroy management style might also explain why there seem to be so many sub-plots to this thing.

          In any event, I think you could very likely be right about Cohen.  But the reasoning above is kind of why I imagined him coming to a dawning realization in mid-June 2016 that his butt was in a sling.

          • CaliLawyer says:

            He was so obsequious to Trump, and so eager to please/impress his patrón, I have a hard time believing he would freelance on any thing important.

            • CaliLawyer says:

              For what it’s worth, I don’t think Jr. or Eric would freelance on anything important, either. DJT always needs to feel like he’s the big shit. Other players had their side hustles.

          • P J Evans says:

            “how hands on was Trump with setting this, or anything else in his life for that matter, up?”

            He’s known to be a micro-manager in real life, with a belief that having subordinates competing with each other is a good way to run things (it isn’t) and a tendency to parrot whatever the last person said (also not good).

          • RWood says:

            You raise an interesting point. Drumps lack of intelligence, poor attention span, brashness, and inability to handle the details all require him to have minions who can do these things for him. I don’t think it’s clever or done for deniability reasons, but simply because he lacks the mental capacity to do it himself. So it falls to his minions, who are not that much smarter from the looks of it.

            Cohen may be viewed as being on the dumber end of the Drump minion scale, but he was still smart enough to collect receipts in the form of taped conversations. Makes me wonder what the “smarter” crooks have on him. Not his own children, (I’m sure Eric is still in the basement printing off emails and shredding them) but more along the lines of Kushner or Bannon. Maybe even Stone. These types always look out for number one, so I’m sure the material is out there to be found or bargained for.

            Since I mentioned him, where’s Bannon? Not physically, I know he’s moved his Nazi roadshow to Europe, but he seems to have stepped out of Mueller’s cross-hairs. I was expecting him to be inducted before Stone.

            • bmaz says:

              Hi there. What are you accomplishing by calling him “Drump”? Do you really think there is value in that? If so, why?

              • RWood says:

                No particular reason other than it makes me feel better denying him another mention of his name on the internet.

                That, and I’ve been doing it for two years so my fingers auto-type it now. Also, Cheeto-McFuckface is just too long.

  22. HighDesertWizard says:

    Terrific post Marcy…

    It highlights a key question that I have thought about daily recently.

    The justice and security establishments of the US both understand the following.

    Donald Trump is terribly compromised with the Russians at best and, at worst, is consciously and deliberately a Russian asset.

    They know Trump is lying in his statements about North Korea with regard to its intentions and current capabilities.

    Will they allow him to travel to Vietnam to attempt to do a deal with “Rocketman” despite that knowledge?

    Our allies must know that our top justice and security establishment elites know all this. How can allowing this be justified?

    • P J Evans says:

      They can’t stop him, short of removing him from office. Which too many in his own party are still not willing to do – they’re going down with that anvil.

    • HighDesertWizard says:

      This coincidence of these dates caught my attention.

      Michael Cohen’s testimony before both the house and senate has been postponed until after February 28th.


      The summit with North Korea in Vietnam(?) takes place February 27-28th.

      Is the explanation of the coincidence of these dates really “random” or is there a better explanation related to the larger Trump/Russia story?

  23. Ollie says:

    This is laid out so precisely, excellent. This is so frightening for a number of reasons: our president is compromised…..but something else worries me just as much:

    The GOP. A bunch of them went to RU on July 4th (this one sticks in my mind because of the nastiness w/the date: our Independence Day). Plus, how could any of them have any credibility (especially if Trump is busted and loses presidency) after ignoring EVERYTHING that just reeks of RU/TRUMP over party and especially country. I want ALL of them dealt w/but can we survive this farce democracy? I mean once it’s all exposed because I seriously don’t think we could survive anyone following what O chose to do w/the crooks from GWB/financial crisis. =nothing. Moving forward w/o getting accountability was horrible.

    Then the Insects are dying off……….sucking gravel here, lol

    • cloudtea says:

      Hi, I’m new to the site and can’t figure out how to make my own comment. Sorry, could I get some guidance on this? I was also wondering if anyone could direct me to posts on Trump’s finances? I was trying to search on the site but am having some difficulty with that.

      Thank you for any help! The writing and analysis here is amazing and I’m really glad I found the emptywheel. Feels like I’ve learned a lot about the inner dealings of the world.

      • Rayne says:

        Nice to see you here at emptywheel. To search for content, look for the magnifying glass icon in the upper right of the site’s front page. Click on it and a search field should pop up. Type in the search terms you desire, like “trump finances” and then click on the magnifying glass icon to the right of the search field. A list of posts should pop up assuming you’ve used a valid term for which this site has written content.

        Happy searching!

    • Doug R says:

      Agree with most of what you said but I can’t let that Obama bash go unchallenged. Most of what the banks did was legal, Obama help bring in new regs that forced large financial institutions to have “living wills”. Most enforcement effort was spent on fines to restore customers, justice rather than vengeance.

  24. Badger Robert says:

    It was like a pyramid scheme. Putin was at the top. Trump was intermediate. The US public were the bottom sales force and customers.

    The Trump Tower Moscow and the Border Wall were both phony products of the scheme, which the sales force buys and then has to try to sell.

    The huge US debt is the price the public has to pay for buying this scam.

    Stay with it Ms. Wheeler, the NYT is not far behind and the Washington Post will figure it out eventually.

  25. Savage Librarian says:

    …And the shining light of liberty and democracy faltered, until it was only the smallest, briefest flicker.

    But somewhere in the distance a voice whispered, “Clap your hands if you still believe. “

    There was a pause. Then one child clapped. Then another. And another until there was a roar and swelling of hope and determination.

    And in the end, Nancy emerged, smiled, and said, “Let’s carry on. We have a lot of work to do!”

  26. cw says:

    “5) That’s funny, because it seems to be central to a lot of the narrative.”

    Whose narrative? I’m not saying nothing happened, I just have yet to see a whole lot of significance to what happened. Trump had been wanting to build some kind of building there for years before he was a viable candidate and nothing happened. The Sater and Cohen up the negotiation some, but didn’t really get anywhere significant. It was all in the pre-preliminary stages. No loans were made, no land bought…. I don’t think anything really happened that Meuller would charge anyone with.

    I totally think Trump is compromised. He has only ever acted like someone who is compromised. But this real estate deal doesn’t seem that compromising to me and so I wonder what all the fuss is about.

    • P J Evans says:

      There is a LOT of stuff that you’re not getting.

      The deal in Moscow? Tr*mp’s dream project – it was the bait, long-term, and they didn’t realize exactly how stupid he was until after he was hooked. He desperately needed money, they could supply it, and they could use him to launder money by overpaying for his crappy condos, with him getting a (smallish) share of the money. I doubt they expected him to get elected – he certainly didn’t expect it – but as a tool, he’s in a useful place – and they laundered a lot of money via NRA to keep Congress happy and compliant with their wishes, even if he gets out of line. (They also, in case you had forgotten, hacked the RNC servers – we still don’t know what they got – but it’s another part of why Congress is so compliant on Whatever Russia Wants.)

      • cw says:

        I actually do get all that stuff. But none of what you said in your comment shows me that the tower deal is of much importance for the reasons I wrote above.

        • bmaz says:

          And none of what you wrote above is anything more than conclusory from a position of someone that doesn’t seem particularly informed in detail of the historical facts, much less what has been written here. And you certainly have no clue in the world what is motivating Mueller to continue pursuing this line hard. You have nothing in any of those regards. But you be you and keep pushing that.

          • Valley girl says:

            And people here generally do know who to pay attention to and engage, and who to ignore. I think the clock is ticking on cw.

            • cw says:

              OK. I see I am impinging on your turf and questioning the dogma. You guys want to insult me fine. I can see this is one of those jealously guarded xenophobic tribal comments sections. Kind of old school.

              • bmaz says:

                Do not pull that crap here. You were already treading on thin ice. Call us Xenophobic, you can get out. Right now.

                • cw says:

                  That’s hilarious. I was already on thin ice? Because I dissented from the party line?

                  I been commenting here off and on for a few months. I think you have a problem. There was another instance I saw where someone said something innocent about amazon and cloud based protocols or something and you attacked and attacked and attacked and he groveled and groveled and groveled.

                  You can f**k yourself. I dare you to print though, and THEN ban me.

                  [He’s not going to boot you. I am. You’ve made 27 comments since 26-AUG-2018 by the way. By now you should have had the lay of the land. /~Rayne]

          • Jim_46 says:

            someone that doesn’t seem particularly informed in detail of the historical facts, much less what has been written here. 

            Again with the ad hominem, bmaz, and the snark. I really don’t get you. People come here to praise Marcy Wheeler’s analysis, to opine on her posts, to advance theories, to pose questions. The more the merrier, I should think. And yet again and again you take umbrage at anyone’s deviating from what you take to be the party line.

            I’ve been on other comment boards where a similar thing happens. A longtime commenter feels a sense of ownership and becomes the enforcer. No one wants to call him on it because he’s been around so long.

            I’m calling you on it. CHILL OUT. This person ‘cw’ has a completely legitimate and rational point of view: Marcy writes about Putin’s “receipts,” and ‘cw’ is asking what the value of those “receipts” truly were — versus, say, a video of Trump in a hotel room with micturating prostitutes.

            For my part, I think that the faux-tower-for-real-sanctions-relief deal is the real deal and that Marcy is just steps behind Mueller. But I don’t believe a little dissent is a bad thing and would prefer to see dispassionate argument over indignant personal attacks.

            • Rayne says:

              I don’t think you get it. Bmaz *is* the enforcer. I also don’t think you’re paying attention to the kind of trolls we get here, though granted you don’t see a fraction of them.

    • Herringbone says:

      Well, as someone who isn’t particularly well informed (I barely follow a fraction of your average EW post), I’m already wondering: if this deal was such a nothingburger, why did Trump repeatedly say he had no business dealings with Russia? It seems to me he could have very easily confessed it—”No. I’ve got nothing to do with Russia. I had this tower thing going—I’m a real estate developer, for crissakes— but it just fell through.” Still, “no financial interest/business dealings/interests in Russia” was his line all the way through 2016. And every blanket denial with this deal—no matter how small it was—lying in wait to be discovered or revealed was another hook that Russia had in him.

      In other words, you’re right—Trump was compromised. But he was compromised in many small ways, to the extent that if you dismiss every small way he was compromised, you can convince yourself that he wasn’t. The Trump Moscow deal is one more of those ways, and it is to date one of the few with plain and public documentary evidence to reify it and put the lie to Trump’s denials.

      We may find out other ways at some point—knowingly laundering Russian mob money through his properties, doing business with sanctioned institutions, etc. But the Trump Moscow project was a long-time dream, and it did offer a lot of money, and it was something he could fall back on if he lost the election. And such was its importance to Trump that he lied about it repeatedly, and each lie compromised him yet further.

      • P J Evans says:

        For us old folks with long memories – it brings back Nixon and Watergate, which he called a “third-rate burglary” so often that it convinced me there was a lot more to it than just a couple of guys breaking into an office.

  27. Rollo T says:

    Wouldn’t $300M be a “bad year” for someone claiming to be worth $10B? He must have been–and likely still is–desperate for cash.

  28. cfost says:

    How did Trump decide to use the talking points he has used since at least the primaries: the Muslim ban, for example, or the wall, etc? I find it hard to believe that he, or anyone in his family, arrived at those talking points on their own. Someone knew, in June of 2015, that those issues would get traction in the key constituencies Trump needed. Yes, Trump himself might have thought he would lose, but his primary victories over a crowd of rivals were not a fluke. With whom did the small Trump team consult, and was the constant turnover of personnel preplanned?
    The Trump family already had a long history of involvement with Russian and Russia-aligned interests before the Trump Tower episode. So, what if the $300 million was not just an income carrot, but a “forgiveness-of-past-debts” carrot as well?

  29. Rusharuse says:

    There seems to be a lot of strategy behind Trumps attemp to undermine US values, a level of strategic thinking well beyond Trumps demonstrated capability. Who/how/when and in what form does assistance come? I get Russia, Saudi, Israel influence(s) but indirectly there must be an organized cabal of anti-American types close to Trump or close to those who are close to Trump – feeding, assisting, implementing. Mar a Lago and the swathes of executive time stand out as opportunities for contact and influence, but who are they, these subversives?

  30. jo6pac says:

    It might be the Rum & Mary Jane talking but the tallest tower for the small hands potus has a nice ring to it;-)

    • Rayne says:

      I had been thinking that and didn’t say it. LMAO

      One’s fist usually approximates the size of one’s heart. Seems a little too on the nose.

  31. SICK says:

    For the slower readers among us (or those with smaller screens), could someone please list out the peeps who are consistently writing in opposition to CW’s opinions so those comments can be read by the rest in the proper context…?

    • Willis Warren says:

      CW thinks that the tower itself is not enough to compromise trump.  He may be right, there may be an element to this that we’re not covering.

      Personally, I’ve floated the idea that trump had agreed to claim the election was rigged WHEN he lost.  That was the deal, to hurt Clinton and he didn’t think that was a big deal, he’d have done that for free.

      Only, that’s conspiracy… at some point he was in too deep.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Willis Warren,

        Yes, I think this may be right. I think that may be why Melania was so devastated when DT won. He probably had assured her it would not happen. Then the game plan changed big time…

  32. Izzydog says:

    I was going with something like: Of course Crime Family Don didn’t see Putin’s Dangle, he saw a $300M erection instead…and we all got…well, you know.

    Thanks for all the great work EW. Must reading every day.

  33. sucram says:

    In some ways its a very simple and obvious story right.

    Bankrupt real estate hustler, 2 time failed Casino owner, and pompous self promoting media figure and reality show huckster gets sketchy $ from Sketchy Russians (because nobody else will lend him $) for various sketchy projects in various sketchy ways…some of which are likely unethical to downright illegal (money laundering ect.)…gets away with it for a long time…on half a whim, for even more media attention, runs for POTUS.  But then the sketchy Russians knowing and having proof of his sketchy ways are more than happy to throw gasoline on that dumpster fire because they know they have him by the preverbal short hairs, and, through an unlikely series of events like “only in a bad Manchurian candidate movie kind of way”,  he wins! Now sketchy Russians want some pay back…This kind of “hot take” was kind of obvious since before he was elected…

    Thing is, proof of all that is very very complicated and not easy…thank God for Mueller and MW!!

    And thank God for a comment section with an enforcer like bmaz.

    • Doug R says:

      Looks like Mark Burnett, the “brains” behind the Aprentice has his own history with Putin, even before he found trump:

      For nearly two decades, Burnett has also spoken about his desire to make a television show with Vladimir Putin. In 2001, he sought to enlist Putin in a project called “Destination: Mir,” a reality competition in which the winner would be sent into space. The idea was scuttled after Russia decommissioned the Mir space station. In 2015, Burnett expressed an interest in building a reality show featuring Putin—not so much a program about politics, Burnett suggested, as a hymn to the glory of Russia, “the humans, the nature, the animals of the nation.”


  34. Eureka says:

    In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

    (emphasis added to bold the bizarre!)

    That part and related exchanges into November 2015 had stood out to me, and I had interpreted it like Sater believed that Cohen would find that line of pestering plausible or worthy of action, i.e. that Putin’s endorsement could win Trump the USA election, by whatever unspoken means.  (Well, at least it got Trump making Putin-favorable public statements a la call-and-response.)  RU’s anti-HRC/pro-GOP sentiments were already known.  And by summer of 2015 the Gang of Eight were briefed on RU attempts to hack the “Democratic party” per Reuters August 11, 2016:

    The congressional briefing was given last summer in a secure room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, to a group of congressional leaders informally known as the “Gang of Eight,” the sources said.

    The group at the time included four Republicans: Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and Senator Richard Burr and Representative Devin Nunes, the House and Senate intelligence committee chairs. Their Democratic counterparts were: Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff of the intelligence committees.

    (And now I wonder if there was more behind the story of Boehner resigning/being pushed out.)

    • somecallmetim says:

      Didn’t most everyone come out of the briefing especially grim?  Worrying at the time, and as intriguing as redactions or when Senator Wyden says as much as he can say after a closed session.

  35. Moll Flanders says:

    Whar would the penalty have been if it had become known that Trump was willing to work with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks?

    Did Putin think voters would turn on Trump? Did he think the GOP would stop supporting him? Did he think it was so damning that Trump couldn’t have bullshit his way out of it?

    I think Trump has done more shocking things in broad daylight without losing the support of his base and the GOP. I’m not grasping the gravity of the kompromat.

    What am I missing?

    Fascinating point about Sater being tasked with creating a paper trail.

  36. Rick says:

    For some reason, I find it amusing that the June 14th, 2016 WaPo story about Russia hacking the DNC was published on Trump’s 70th birthday.

  37. Greg Hunter says:

    I would like to point out that money has been flowing from Russia for quite sometime and with that ideology. The Russian Ideology has some interesting Venn diagrams with those that surround Trump but also in line with the electorate. In general the core theme is Nationalism, Religion and White Supremacy. It was definitely a coup but one that was welcomed in a way and may become the new reality. As Rayne so eloquently and accurately said

    “Except he claimed the election was rigged and he “won.” Keep in mind he projects all the damned time.”

    Same is true with Opus Dei Faction of the Supreme Court, Mitch McConnell and “Higher Power” Jim Comey. These people are absolutely in line with the Venn of Religion, Nationalism and White Supremacy. Yes I know they put a veneer on it but when a macro lens is applied it is true as they project all the damn time.

    In reality the new power structure is perfect in a sense as Brexit, Russia, USA, Israel and Saudi (suckers) are really good allies as our USA capitalism has merged with Russian Kleptocracy. This alliance would be very powerful.

    So our Republic seems to rest on Robert Mueller? Good times. Someone chastised me about Mueller as I stated he was FBI and I implied that once FBI (GRU) always FBI (GRU). Well Mr. Mueller is going to have to explain NYC FBI actions prior to the election of Trump when he dismantles this regime or he is a fellow traveler.

    I think I answered the questions of the following:

    Rusharuse says:
    February 11, 2019 at 7:31 pm
    Doug R says:
    February 11, 2019 at 8:56 pm

  38. Leila512 says:

    Per NBC right now, after 200+ interviews, Senate Intelligence Committee found “no direct proof” of collusion/conspiracy, sourced from both Reps and Dems. Will be issuing a report in summer/fall.

    HOW CAN THIS BE?? Burr and Warner are no dummies, or are they?

    • bmaz says:

      Yes and no. Not stupid, but still protective of Trump at rock bottom party line. Also note the difference between “proof” and “evidence”. And then keep in mind SSCI has nowhere near what Mueller does. So, really, nothing has changed here. We shall see, hopefully, in the long run.

    • Strawberry Fields says:

      They couldn’t find collusion even if Trump went on national TV and directed Russia to hack his opponent, then went dancing around praising Putin as he releases the files… …they couldn’t find collusion if he fired the FBI head and held secret meetings for the next 2 years with Putin… they dont want to find collusion, no smocking gun will be good enough.

      • G Holland says:

        You can only find something you’re looking for. That’s been the problem with everything from the Republican Congress not “finding” any lies in numerous witnesses’ senate testimony to the FBI not “finding” anything in Kavanaugh’s past worth blocking his SCOTUS appointment. And, as bmaz said earlier, there’s a difference between proof and evidence.

        At this point, Party has taken priority over Country to the extent that country no longer gets capitalized. Even after DJT is exposed as having Putin’s…um…wallet…down his throat (or up his rear or both), Lindsey Graft & Mitch McTurtle will be saying, “yes, but we’ve gotten a lot of conservative judges appointed,” and Conway & Coulter will be saying, “yes, but what about Hilary’s emails????”

        Seriously – what WILL it finally take to get the Republican senators to reclaim their balls back from the executive branch? I (am rapidly losing) hope it’s not already too late for our formerly-three branch government.

  39. Badger Robert says:

    The way around the complexity is to omit T and his family and concentrate on the enormous amounts of money involved. Making the money dirty and letting the dirt splash around might play in Iowa and the western states. If the tale cannot be translated to something people can comprehend, it will have minimal effect.

  40. SICK says:

    Re: SECRET SUBPOENA – This indicates news about to break regarding QATAR INVESTMENT AUTHORITY:
    Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc bailed out 666 Fifth Avenue via its real estate unit Brookfield Property Partners, in which the QIA acquired a 9 percent stake five years ago.

    Based on known facts, seems likely that QIA is the entity fighting the subpoena – perhaps details will relate to Kushner and the blockade shenanigans.

  41. lawrence a fisher says:

    June 14th is a key date, the date when the DNC hack was announced and Cohen canceled his trip to Russia. No longer necessary? The misdirection of the “too good to be true” Trump Tower Moscow is two fold. The date was lied about as Jan 2016, and Giuliani says  Nov 2016. I contend they’re both wrong if there was a Trump tower Moscow even. Maybe Trump Tower Moscow is code for Russian assistance in the election, with help from polling data for example. Like adoptions was code for sanctions.

  42. Kick the darkness says:

    The “open in new tab” trick isn’t working for me today, but to follow up on the Trump management post above, here’s a Politico piece that considers, in part, how Trump’s ability to manage and interact with people appears to have deteriorated during his career.


    There’s some fluff in it, but also interesting comments from people that worked with him, or that followed him carefully (Wayne Barrett), early on (Grand Hyatt, Trump Tower) and as he ceased to be a force in high profile real estate. The pattern is one of Trump becoming more self-obsessed and less meaningfully engaged with his business interests. For me, it’s tempting to speculate that such a change reflects the arc of his narcissism playing itself out although that is admittedly armchair analyzing. But if true, we could expect Trump to have become increasingly self-absorbed as time went along, disconnected from decision making or make decisions impulsively based on his own whims. So what did he actually instruct people to do during the course of the whole Russian affair? It will be interesting to find out. People may be right that he was explicitly calling all the shots; in that case it should be easy for prosecutors to connect the dots. But if he was progressively disengaged they may have had some autonomy (Buddy our boy can become president and we can engineer it; suggestive of Trump as the passive object of the engineering). By the same token, as has been suggested, its possible Trump may have undertaken actions on his own in the conspiracy that resulted in some very personalized receipts.

    On the denigrating Trump thing, that’s not the intention, at least for me. I think in trying to understand Trump, it’s clear he has/had a set of talents. But there’s also a sense of a tragedy in the making, with Trump ultimately being the final victim of his own diseased ego. I obviously don’t know about what it’s like to be a prosecutor, but it strikes me that good one perhaps come to understand some defendants better than the defendants understand themselves. I could imagine that would make the job a painful one at times.

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