“Everybody knew about it, it was written about in newspapers, it was a well-known project,” Trump claimed, falsely, about his company’s covert effort, “during the early part of ’16 and I guess even before that,” to develop a luxury skyscraper with help from Putin’s office and a former general in Russia’s military intelligence service.
In fact, the existence of such a project, which was being negotiated in secret during the entire span of the Republican primary campaign — from at least October 2015, when Trump signed a letter of intent with a Russian developer, through January 2016, when Cohen called an aide to Putin’s spokesman, until some time after Trump secured the nomination in June — was not known about or reported at the time. There was no indication in the outline of Cohen’s confession sketched out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday as to why the proposed deal was dropped, but the timeline might offer a clue. Cohen suddenly backed out of a trip to Russia arranged by the Kremlin on the afternoon of June 14, 2016 — about three hours after the Washington Post revealed that Russian hackers had penetrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee and stolen documents related to the election.
The Moscow project only became public knowledge the following year, after Trump’s inauguration as president. It was briefly mentioned in a 2017 New York Times report about another covert scheme also involving Cohen and Felix Sater, a convicted felon, former F.B.I. informant and longtime fixer for the Trump Organization with deep ties in Russia.