Pulling Strings

New: The same people involved in a failed Moscow Trump Tower also tried to end U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Every politician needs a good spin doctor, and for Vladimir Putin, that man is Dmitry Peskov. Peskov’s official salary as the spokesman for Vladimir Putin is about $200,000 a year, but his lavish lifestyle belies his public servant income, according to Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny.

Peskov and his wife Tatyana Navka live in a $17 million mansion in Moscow, and he sports a limited edition Richard Mille wristwatch on his arm worth more than three times his annual salary. Peskov’s son from an earlier marriage, Nicholas Choles, is the proud owner of a fleet of cars which includes a Tesla, Ferrari, Mercedes CLA and a Harley Davidson. Nikolai has no apparent means of support of his own except for on-air work at the pro-Kremlin network Russia Today. He also has a rap sheet that includes 116 traffic fines, failure to pay alimony and an assault conviction for beating up a youth in Cambridgeshire in the U.K, where he occasionally resides.

“Nikolai is an example of how in Russia, where 20 million people live below the poverty line, where 70 percent of residents dream of a salary of 45,000 rubles ($750), one can live happily at the highest level and at the same time not have to do anything,” says Navalny, who has been tracking Peskov’s outsized lifestyle for two and a half years.

Now Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, has been linked to a failed bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Why are the same people involved in a failed bid to build a Moscow Trump Tower also involved a doomed attempt to drop U.S. sanctions on Russia?
Dmitry Peskov (left) is President Vladimir Putin’s (right) press secretary.

With the U.S. elections in full swing, Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen reached out to Putin’s press secretary for help in saving a stalled bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The Trump organization has tried to build a Moscow tower for over three decades. It’s a shiny object Donald Trump has always coveted. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” Trump said in a 2007 court deposition. “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

In 2013, Trump tried to build a tower with Putin-linked oligarch Aras Agalarov who was indirectly involved in a Russian plot to smear Hillary Clinton during that now-infamous June 2016 meeting with Trump’s son, Don Jr.

Now it’s been revealed Trump made another attempt to build a tower in Moscow between September 2015 and January 2016, in the midst of the 2016 campaign.

The deal was being brokered by 50-year-old Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who has deep ties to the Kremlin. In 1991, Sater was convicted of assault charges for slashing a man in the face with the stem of a broken margarita glass in a barroom brawl. In 1998, he was convicted on one count of racketeering for his part in a $40 million stock fraud scheme which artificially inflated Wall Street stock prices. Sater never went to prison because he turned state witness against his cohorts.

In January of last year, Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, reached out to Putin’s press secretary Peskov via email.

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote Peskov, according to the Washington Post. “Without getting into lengthy specifics the communication between our two sides has stalled.”

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

Donald Trump and Bayrock Group Chairman Tevfik Arif, center, and executive Felix Sater attend the Trump Soho launch party on Sept. 19, 2007, in New York. (Mark Von Holden/WireImage)

Felix Sater and Donald Trump were partners in building Trump Towers around the world for over a decade.

Felix Sater has been cultivating a relationship with Donald Trump since he joined Bayrock Group as Managing Director in 2001. In the following years, Sater made regular visits to Trump, had an office in the Trump organization and even carried Trump branded business cards. Since at least 2005, Sater and Trump have had a business agreement to build Trump Towers across the US and around the world.

Felix Sater’s business card from the Trump Organization. In a 2013, deposition Trump said “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

The relationship has had its bumps. Aggrieved condo buyers from the Fort Lauderdale Trump International Hotel sued Trump and Sater after construction stalled in 2009, partly because Trump had failed to tell them about Sater’s criminal past. In November 2013, Trump said in a deposition about Sater, “If he was sitting in the room right now I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

A similar lawsuit was brought against Trump and Sater by the condo owners of a 46-story luxury Trump building on Spring Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo. That lawsuit claimed Trump had misled the condo owners about the value of their properties and “undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan,” according to the New York Times.

In 2015, Sater reached out to Trump’s lawyer Cohen with a proposal to kickstart a new attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, predicting it would propel Trump’s rise to the White House. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email excerpted in the New York Times. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Sater also boasted he had arranged for Ivanka Trump to sit in Putin’s chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.

Sater claimed he had arranged funding for the project from Russia’s VTB Bank which is sanctioned by the U.S. but this effort clearly stalled. That’s why in January 2016, Cohen reached out to Peskov, in the email obtained by the Washington Post.

Peskov flew to New York City three days after Trump was elected to attend the start of the World Chess Championship match. “[He] was clearly trying to meet Trump people,” Laura Rosen, a reporter for AIMonitor tweeted.

There may have also been an underlying agenda item involved in negotiating the Moscow Trump Tower deal that was financed by a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, namely, the very sanctions themselves.

Why are the same people involved in a failed bid to build a Moscow Trump Tower also involved a doomed attempt to drop U.S. sanctions on Russia?
Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen asked Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov for help in a stalled build of a Trump building in Moscow and was also involved in a plan to drop Russian sanction against Russia.

Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and Felix Sater also attempted to negotiate a Putin plan to end the conflict in Ukraine.

A few weeks after Putin’s spokesman Peskov visited New York City for a chess tournament, Trump’s business associate Sater and his attorney Cohen met at the Loews Hotel on Park Avenue with Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin Ukrainian politician. The three discussed a plan to end the conflict in Ukraine by exposing corruption by Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko, a plan that had received encouragement from “top aides to Mr. Putin,” according to the New York Times.

The proposed plan by Cohen, Sater and Artemenko would later reach the desk of former National Security Adviser Lt.Gen. Michael Flynn, a week before he resigned after the Justice Department said he’d been “compromised” by Russia.

Sater has a long history of providing evidence to law enforcement regarding his dealings with the underworld. In 2015, Loretta Lynch testified during her confirmation hearings to become U.S. Attorney General that Sater had provided “valuable and sensitive information” for more than ten years, and that his work had been “crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra.”

Is Sater now providing investigators at the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller with information regarding Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia? Time will tell. If he does, he’ll not only be able to provide insight into his part in the proposed Moscow Trump Tower with lawyer Michael Cohen, but also the two men’s attempt to negotiate a Putin-endorsed plan to end the conflict in Ukraine and drop U.S. sanctions against Russia.

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