SSCI’s Timidity on Trump Tower Moscow
The SSCI Report on Russia is better, in some ways, than I expected (though weak in others).
But on a key issue — the multiple Trump Tower deals floated during the course of the election — it is inexcusably timid.
The report lays out the three offers we know from the Mueller Report:
- A Trump Tower deal negotiated through Felix Sater, involving sanctioned banks and GRU-linked middle men and the involvement of people close to Putin
- A deal brokered by Georgian-American Giorgi Rtskhiladze that included buy-off from the Mayor of Moscow
- Outreach — in which Ivanka was a party — from the Director of a large energy company, Dmitry Klokov, which was tied to a meeting with Putin
Along the way, the report notes that Felix Sater (whose colorful background it lays out) was not entirely forthcoming even in his April 4, 2018 interview, long after he appears to have cleaned up some discrepancies with the Mueller team (though his later Mueller 302s have been withheld, in part for source endangerment issues, and it’s not clear the committee obtained them). Specifically, Sater was not clear who was involved in scheduling a possible trip for Cohen in December 2015, Felix Shmykov (who had ties to GRU) or Felix Dvoskin (who had ties to FSB and ran a bank operating in Crimea).
Sater told the Committee that although he never had direct communication with Kostin, Kostin was indirectly contacted about the project “through people in Moscow.”2719 Sater recalled that a contact in Moscow, whom he identified only as “Danny,” “indicated that he [Danny] spoke to people at VTB and that they would be on board.”2720 Sater also told the Committee that he used Evgeny Shmykov, the former Russian intelligence officer, as a conduit to VTB.2721
On December 19, 2015, Sater emailed and sent a text message to Cohen requesting that Cohen call him because he had “Evgeny on the other line.”2778 Sater told the Committee in his interview prior to the release of the SCO Report that his references to Evgeny were, to his recollection, Evgeny Shmykov. According to the SCO, however, Sater’s reference to “Evgeny” on the December 19 message was a reference to Evgeny Dvoskin, who at the time was associated with a Russian bank operating in Crimea.2779 Through counsel, Sater later represented to the Committee that he may have used both Shmykov and Dvoskin at varying times.2780 As a result, while·this particular outreach appears to involve Dvoskin, the identity behind Sater’s other references to “Evgeny” remains unclear.
(U) Dvoskin is strongly connected to Russian organized crime and the Russian intelligence services, particularly the FSB.2781
There’s no unredacted discussion of whether Cohen was asked about the wisdom of pitching real estate deals with people involved in Russian intelligence. He was, however, asked about the wisdom of pitching real estate deals with sanctioned banks.
He didn’t much care.
As noted infra, both VTB Bank and GenBank were sanctioned by the U.S. Government under its Ukraine-related sanctions program targeting Russian government-connected entities. Cohen was unaware of these sanctions targeting either bank, and stated that, in addition, it “didn’t matter to me” whether the banks were sanctioned. Cohen explained that he believed the Russian developer, not the Trump Organization, would be responsible for financing the deal, and thus Cohen did not think that any sanctions “would have been a problem.”
And while the report twice laid out that the committee did not receive key emails showing high level Russian involvement in the deal, it didn’t chase down Cohen’s claim that Trump Organization managed that document request, not even when the report elsewhere admits that other documents were withheld from Trump Organization.
(U) On other matters, multiple emails between Michael Cohen and Russian government officials-which were responsive to the Committee’s document request-were never produced to the Committee. The withheld emails included outreach to the Kremlin’s press office seeking to speak with Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, as well as a response from Dmitri Peskov’ s assistant seeking to discuss the Trump Moscow project. During Cohen’s initial interview, , Cohen’s then-counsel Stephen Ryan told the Committee that Cohen was not involved in the production of documents to the Committee.3009 Ryan stated that Cohen’s emails from his Trump Organization account were produced to Cohen and his counsel by the Trump Organization “off the Trump [Organization] server.”3010 During that same interview, Cohen made false statements to the Committee about these communications with Russian government officials.3011 Cohen also transmitted his false statements about his outreach to the Kremlin on the project to the press and to the public generally; giving the false impression that Cohen had not communicated in a substantive way with the Russian government regarding the project.3012
(U) Cohen eventually pleaded guilty to making intentionally false statements to this Committee and to the HPSCI related to the Trump Tower project.3013 Cohen eventually admitted to receiving an email response from a Russian government employee; ultimately, he admitted contacting her and conducting a substantive conversation about the Trump Moscow project in January 2016.3014 Cohen told the Committee that the email response, which he never produced to the Committee, was never provided to him by the Trump Organization, another member of the alleged JDA.3015 The Committee was unable to determine the accuracy of this claim. However, if true, this lends support to the conclusion that Cohen’s initial false statements to the Committee were aided by other members of the alleged IDA, namely the Trump Organization.
The report also doesn’t address (as it does in the WikiLeaks section) Trump’s demonstrable lies about Trump Tower, even though those lies are even more clear cut than his lies on WikiLeaks. After Trump claimed to have no recollection of any of this, he went out to the press and said stuff that made it clear he had very clear recollections about the real estate deals he was negotiating while running for President.
In addition to the three well known deals, the SSCI Report describes a fourth, one pitched by Boris Epshteyn to Eric Trump.
Virtually the entire description of this deal is redacted in the report, suggesting either that it’s something Trump has ongoing interest in covering up or it’s something that the Intelligence Community believes has sensitive counterintelligence import.
In addition to the Epshteyn to Eric Trump channel, however, three details are not redacted:
Like the Rtskhiladze pitch, this one included involvement from the Moscow city government.
In the spring of 2016, Epshteyn received the proposal from contacts he had in the Moscow city government, and shared it with Eric Trump, with whom Epshteyn had long been friends.
In early 2016, these same individuals affiliated with the Moscow city government reengaged Epshteyn about a potential Trump deal in Russia, ultimately sending him blueprints for a hotel.2998 According to the email chain produced by Epshteyn, the blueprints originated with a secretary for Cheremin in April 2016. Cheremin’s secretary forwarded the plans to an email address that included the name Shutenko, likely affiliated with Oleg Shutenko, Cheremin’s deputy in the Moscow city government.2999
According to a heavily redacted bullet, it appears to involve two people thrown out of the US in 2018 as part of sanctions imposed after the Skripal assassinations, which may suggest they were believed to be spies.
Finally, the deal had some tie to Rossotrudnichestvo, an NGO implicated in the false claims about a Michael Cohen meeting in Prague.
The Rossotrudnichestvo reference came in the last and most inflammatory dossier report:
[redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti-CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutores was Oleg SOLODUKHIN, operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted], the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.
This doesn’t mean the Cohen reference is true!! But it is another tidbit that suggests that, to the extent the dossier was filled with disinformation, it served to muddle actual events that happened.
According to the SSCI Report, Eric Trump wasn’t all that enticed by this offer (which appears to have had none of the improbable grandeur of the Sater deal).
Except they didn’t bother to get him on the record saying that personally. It relied exclusively on Epshteyn’s representation of the deal.
(U) Epshteyn recalled sharing these blueprints with Eric Trump and discussing the offer with him. 3000 According to Epshteyn, Eric Trump said that he would “take a look” and that the opportunity “[c]ould be interesting,” but that his overall reaction was “extremely tepid.”3001 Epshteyn claimed that nothing ever came of the offer.3002
(U) The Committee did not seek to interview Eric Trump. The Committee does not have further information related to what action, if any, was taken by the Trump Organization on the proposal.
And it did so even though it had evidence that Trump Organization was part of an organized effort to lie to the committee about a different Russian real estate deal, in part by withholding responsive documents.
So it’s not, just, that SSCI declined to explain why it was so problematic from a counterintelligence standpoint that a Presidential candidate kept entertaining the kind of real estate deal in Russia he had been chasing for over a decade during the election, and at least two of those deals involved Russian intelligence operatives.
It’s that for one of the deals — a deal that, if the redactions are any indication, poses significant counterintelligence concern — SSCI just didn’t bother checking.
Ron Wyden has complained that the committee refused to follow the money of any of this. And with this fourth Trump Tower deal, they weren’t even willing to demand they got the paper trail.
The Tale of Trump Tower Timidity …. fine alliteration and great narrative. Thanks!
Timidity = lack of courage or confidence.
Like Barr being question by Harris…. “Barr had a slight hesitation in his speech, and his air of timidity was laughable…. You knew darn well that Trump told him to discredit the Mueller Report, kill the deferrals to the Eastern District of NY, and open up your own Durham bullshit.”
A word in your shell-like about signature commercial real estate deals in foreign countries – something in which Donald Trump claims special expertise. They all depend on obtaining the detailed cooperation of foreign government ministers. A lot of that is above board. How much depends on the size of the deal, and the relative transparency and honesty of the government. Russia does not rank highly on transparency or honesty.
A major building in central Moscow would require sign-off and the wetting of beaks from Putin, affected oligarchs, and the formal bureaucracy (e.g., city, state, and national governments; zoning, planning, and development; departments of transportation, tourism). In exchange, deals routinely receive whopping tax breaks and subsidies; in some cases, they exceed the cost of new construction. As a consequence, nobody (except maybe Big Oil) schmoozes and bends the rules better than commercial real estate developers.
Any signature hotel-condo deal in central Moscow would involve a lot of under-the-table money. Donald Trump would have been happy to provide it, especially if it came from someone else’s pocket or at-cost, such as by gifting Vladimir Putin a penthouse condo. Plenty of money to follow there and in other large Trump deals. It’s the obvious thing to follow.
Yeah. One of the China-watches whose judgment I trust notes that one of the consequences of Xi’s “reforms” is that when you used to be able to bribe a single local party institution to get stuff done, you now have to bribe a bunch of them.
But the graft surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics is the biggest and most visible example of how big construction projects work in Putin’s Russia, and offers an insight on where the benefit actually lies — not in the construction itself but in the giant vortex of money around it.
True or not, you assert that “In exchange, deals routinely receive whopping tax breaks and subsidies; in some cases …” in reference to foreign (or not?) deals. That differs from the U.S. context in re Amazon HQs and others in what respect exactly (that governments, of all sorts and conditions pick winners at the behest of whom?)?
Sorry not to leave you any wiggle room to respond in some meaningful way.
Dear Not Sorry,
My topic was “commercial real estate deals in foreign countries.” It related to the topic of Marcy’s post, which is proposed Trump Tower Moscow deals. It would be relevant to other foreign deals Trump has done or pretended to do when the fee was big enough. I was wondering why neither Mueller nor the SSCI followed the money, since it was such an obvious thing to do. It’s how they got Capone.
But feel free to chime in about how domestic CRE deals abuse communities and gut their tax revenues. Manhattan mega-projects, pro sports stadiums, big box retailers. There’s a considerable literature on the subject. Big box retailers, for example – Wal-Mart, Cabela’s, Home Depot – extort more in local tax subsidies and give backs than it costs to build new stores. They cannibalize local employment; lower average wages, benefits, and working conditions; damage unions; ultimately lower employment; and are worse for the environment.
Sincerely (really), thank you for your invitation to chime in. And thank you for making persuasive, with some detail and rigor, that there is a problem in the U.S., notwithstanding that there are problems of corruption in Russia (that is not news).
“The [Russians] are coming!” is also not news. That they’re here might be news to some, but not the readers here. That, I took as the upshot of Marcy’s post, pointing up that the (somewhat) remote threat posed by foreign influence is perhaps smaller than the proximate one of corruption in the U.S. government.
By all means, concern yourself with what is wrong “over there” while the worms over here eat you from the inside. It fails me that there is much that you can do about what is over there while there is something that you might do about what is in front of you.
As to the comment about whataboutism, I would hope that all are actually aware that *any* comment beyond the original poster’s post is, by nature, whataboutism. The function of a blog is to encourage comment, it seems.
Mostly, EoH, thank you for your generally incisive, persuasive, and oft-times eloquent and elegant prose. Your signature line would be a rare diversion from that, so it gets an appropriate pass.
Your comment reeks of “Our country does a lot of killing too Joe.”
What-aboutism is a pox on any discussion. The good news for this site, and the bad news for you is that that crap doesn’t fly here.
I say this in the nicest way possible: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Even Steve Bannon thought the meeting was a mess.
Steve Bannon. Hmmm. Wonder what he’s been up to lately. Maybe he’s on a nice little trip now? Something relaxing, I’m sure.
Bannon is on a trip, alright, but not very relaxing. SDNY guesthouse is somewhat chilling.
Bannon rung up for fraud by Barr’s DOJ. How could this possibly happen?
America’s great boating community was unable to keep him safe from law enforcement.
…just following along Marcy’s twitter feed and…BANNON:
1] 9:31 AM · Aug 20, 2020 https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1296439661745844229
[…] three more tweets about SSCI Report, then
2] 9:41 AM · Aug 20, 2020
Leaders Of ‘We Build The Wall’ Online Fundraising Campaign Charged With Defrauding Hundreds Of Thousands Of Donors
Brian Kolfage, Stephen Bannon, and Two Others Alleged to Have Funneled Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars From the Organization to Kolfage; All Four Defendants Allegedly Profited From Their Roles in the Scheme
U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, August 20, 2020
[One of the other defendants is a Timothy Shea of Colorado]
Think this is what was behind Barr’s hamhanded maneuvers with SDNY leadership?
Marcy says she bet’s that’s part of it.
…Also says it’s “not that Shea.”
From the justice.gov Release you linked to: “Starting in approximately December 2018, BRIAN KOLFAGE, STEPHEN BANNON, ANDREW BADOLATO, and TIMOTHY SHEA, and others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors. . .”
Now I wonder who those “others” might include . . . ?
The *really* good part?
Bannon was arrested by *US Postal Service Inspectors*.
Kudos for Audrey Strauss, hang in there girl.
Whatever happened to Felix Sater? Moved to Siberia?
Sorry for going OT, but it seems that Vladimir Putin has chosen this moment to try to rid himself of the Russian opposition and anti-corruption leader, Alexei Navalny, by means of his signature poisoned cup of tea. This probably won’t make one whit of difference to President Trump or his desire for a meeting with Putin in the near future, but I can’t help but wonder if Putin is, on some level, sending a message to Trump about how real authoritarians in the big boys’ league deal with their political opponents.
pray for Navalny, Fingers crossed and rooting for him to make it to Berlin to survive to be the next President of Russia. vlad, you may have miscalculated and this might be one poisoned teacup too many. If Alexei dies there is going to be hell to pay with the young Russians and Belarusians. It could be 1917 for you
I’d go with the latter choice here.
SSCI did not seem terribly timid overall in releasing this report, and this leads me to think that their choice to to be less detailed here is because there is an ongoing operation going on here. Maybe it’s an IC operation looking at getting information out of Russia/Russians, or it’s a counter-intelligence operation aimed to shutting down a Russian probe of some kind. Either way, it’s not hard to imagine the IC asking SSCI to keep this buttoned up, and the Dems went along with it as a condition for the report being more forthcoming on other matters.
The wide-ranging Anglo-oriented Mafiosi, consists of:
1. Paul Manafort
2. Michael Cohen
3. George Papadoupolus
4. Carter Page
5. Michael Flynn
I suppose if I was to look far into the future, the Indigenous Mafiosi would consist of the following:
1. Paul Trumpios-Domo
2. Michael Trumpios-Minor
3. George Trumpioso-Big Con
4. George Trumpios-GeneralCon
5. Michael Trumpios-Small Con
Thus, the Cartels will remain with us for all these many years, alas.
Trump Tower Moscow has always struck me as key to understanding Trump’s actions.
I was struck by the oddness of Trump floating a pardon for Snowden. Every time Trump tweets, I immediately see how he betrays his self interest. I couldn’t see any sign of self-interest in Trump floating a pardon for Snowden.
Unless Trump’s plan for his post-presidency is for Putin to hand him a Snowden deal: lifetime immunity from extradition to U.S. law enforcement. Plus the added benefit of getting to build, and live in, Trump Tower Moscow.
Isn’t that a brilliant idea, if you think like Trump?
And, voila, there it is, the missing self-interest.
Perhaps. My thought was that a pardon for Snowden sets a precedent for pardons for Americans who betray the United States.
But your thoughts of a permanent safe haven have some merit.
Whether an eponymous tower gets built is probably dependent upon how much gilt flakes off the commode when he leaves office. Stuffing gobs of money into an albatross can’t have much appeal, even to kleptocrats.
Going out on a limb — feeling somewhat safe, since I don’t drink tea.
Always thought it was weird that D.T. was compelled to produce a son and name him Barron – the alias of D.T. when posing as the fictitious public relations dude. Who knows how many fictitious public relations dudes there were?
Totally consistent with D.T.’s modus operandi to put John B. or John M. on the payroll … in the late 1980’s who is going to check? Who is going to know?
Well, ’tis something that Vance could research. Where could that $$ be squirrelled away? Foreign country? Off-shore? Since the house of cards has crashed, where do I go to escape paying for my life of lying, criminal activity and gratuitous cruelty?
Sergei Millian is another person with claimed connections to Rossotrudnichestvo and Trump real estate interests (although not Moscow related.) Simpson discusses him with Schiff. So, I guess there is the taint of the Steele association, but it’s an interesting conversation, nevertheless. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
“SCHIFF: And what did you find notable about the Trump vodka issue?
MR. SIMPSON: That it seemed like there was an orchestrated effort by someone to help Trump out with — to help him market, you know, these branded products in Russia…
And then, I guess, last but not least, he [Sergei Millian], you know — as we became more and more interested in his background and the press started to write stories about him, it came out that he was associated with this Russian friendship entity called Rossotrudnichestvo, and that he was involved in organizing a junket to Moscow for some American businessmen that was the subject of an FBI investigation, because it was a suspected recruiting operation. And the FBI had questioned people who were involved in this trip about whether they were recruited by the Russians when they went to Moscow.
So it was that kind of thing.
MR. SCHIFF: Before I pass it off to Mr. Quigley, you didn’t have a chance to answer one of the questions I posed at the end. That is, we do have the subpoena power. If we are to get to the bottom of the issue of whether Russian organized crime money was used in the flipping of these properties and the purchase of the golf course and this is a lever over the President, what institutions would you use that process with to get to the bottom of it?”
Selling Trump-branded vodka in Russia. Talk about shipping coal to Newcastle.
Yikes, the vodka. This gets to The Biggest Question I’ve always had about the Putin-Trump campaign: who was behind the Moscow Mule (vodka-based alcoholic beverage) pop-cultural push pre-2016 and trailing off afterwards?
[Aside to EoH: maybe it was like an inverse of the ventilator trades, shitty quality vodka for better quality going the other way.]
Roughly sketching: prior to the campaign announcement (or at least featured in shows filmed prior to Trump’s declaring), reality shows on NBC-Universal-owned stations started to feature the “characters” ordering Moscow Mules in the high-end bars they would visit [establishments visited, activities partaken, all that stuff being the pre-arranged, unspontaneous fodder of such shows]. A big fuss was made of preparation, with the drink served in those distinct copper mugs (bar business is big business, as would be shelf and storage space for such special mugs, not to mention if a proprietary vodka brand was involved with the initial launch)…
Before Trump, this was salient (and grating) as a possible cultural ingratiation programme. Even before, but certainly by, summer of 2016, well, it made more sense (recall also that Trump had contracts with NBC, which of course may be unrelated). Anyway, it spread from NBC reality shows to other network reality shows to then daytime television recipe segments (even on the likes of Dr. Oz, who would also go on to interview “fake news” disinfo agents after Trump’s election.) It lingers on the teevee still today: sometimes you’ll just spot a celeb drinking from that distinct copper mug, though ever-faded in frequency.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some other details, but burning questions remain: who started this and why? Who was profiting, at least at first, and how, and at whose initiative? Whose “big idea” was the Moscow Mule? [Recalling, again, that American- pop-culture-loving Putin labeled the shipping containers of Russia’s COVID “aid” to the US — fritzy, flaming, useless ventilators and all — with “From Russia With Love”.]
I think I’m going to have to read this a couple of more times. I’d sure like to see Sater give testimony. That guy has a pretty outlandish history, not all of it bad, apparently. But he knows where some bodies are buried.
Marcy, you have Felix Shmykov and Felix Dvoskin (rather than Evgeny). Last para before the first blockquote.
“This doesn’t mean the Cohen reference is true!! But it is another tidbit that suggests that, to the extent the dossier was filled with disinformation, it served to muddle actual events that happened.”
It is also now providing ammunition for the Ron Johnsons and John Durhams of the world, as if it were proactively planted for that very purpose. Given what we know now, that seems possible. In other words, disinformation not merely to cloud the water for anyone investigating in good faith, but specifically designed (like Cohen’s Prague no-cation) for bad-faith operators to use to undermine Steele (and through him the FBI, Democrats, and whomever else they’re lumping into the deep state).
Relatedly Off-Topic: Found this interesting old post on one of Paul Manafort’s early efforts to meddle in Ukraine on behalf of Russian assets. Note the source publication: https: // tinyurl. com/y2g4d2pz
[Do not use services like Tinyurl here. They add add an additional layer of tracking to traffic from this site. The link which should have been provided to community members is https://taskandpurpose.com/news/manafort-connected-ukraine-attack-marines-trump. /~Rayne]
Oops! Apologies, Rayne. Couldn’t get the appropriate link to appear. Thanks for fixing it and for the heads up on tinyurl!
If you just click through to the underlying document, and then cut-and-paste that, you should get rid of the TinyURL.
Yes, tinyurl’s proprietary url is a middle man between your computer and the web site you want to reach. In effect, it hides the destination site’s real address and indirectly charges you (by collecting your data) to take you somewhere you could go for free. The process generates commercially valuable data for little effort.
I’ve been doing a bit of Trumpster-diving and I think there is something odd about the Epshteyn/Eric Trump connection.
As I understand it, the three Trump Tower deals mentioned in the Mueller report — those involving Felix Sater, Giorgi Rtskhiladze and Dmitry Klokov — were all offshoots of the original Trump Tower Moscow project, which called for a Trump-branded hotel/condo tower on the Moskva River. This is the project that Trump sent Cohen and Sater to Russia to negotiate in the fall of 2015 and for which Trump signed a Letter of Intent in Dec., 2015. Both Rtskhiladze and Klokov popped up later as facilitators/fixers after Sater’s initial attempts to gain official government backing for the project stalled.
If I’m reading the SSCI report correctly, the Epshteyn/Eric Trump deal is a very different ball of waxy buildup.
For one thing, it appears that Epshteyn initiated the contact himself without any input from Cohen or Sater — but apparently with the support of unnamed figures within the Moscow city government. Also, it seems that whatever plans he wanted to share with Eric Trump were separate from those being hawked by the official Trump Tower Moscow group. In fact, if the SSCI report is correct and Epshsteyn had actual blueprints — as opposed to a few architectural renderings, which are all Cohen and Sater seem to have had — then perhaps some version of Trump Tower Moscow was closer to being built than we’ve been led to believe.
Then again maybe the Senate staffers who prepared the SSCI report didn’t know or care much about the the differences between plans and renderings, which are basically for show, and blueprints, which are actual working drawings and require quite a bit more money, time and effort to produce.
Just to clarify: According to the SSCI report, Epshteyn was approached by “individuals affiliated with the Moscow city government” and asked to relay plans for a hotel project to then-candidate Trump. The report says the plans, including blueprints, originated in the office of Sergey Cheremin, a Moscow city minister and head of foreign investment. So, this still looks like a separate proposal, with Epshteyn serving as a go-between.