Donald Trump’s enemies are trying to outdo one another in displaying outrage over the news that the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who was negotiating a deal to build a 100-story luxury tower in Moscow, offered a $50 million penthouse to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
I’m sure Putin would have been delighted. But, alas, the deal fell through and Moscow’s skyline will continue to be drab and ordinary.
What Trump’s critics fail to understand is that this is the way business is transacted in about 90% of the world. What you and I might see as bribery, Trump and other sleazeballs see as “a cost of doing business.” Now, $50 million might seem an excessive cost of doing business when we’re talking about bribery. But Vladimir Putin is, if nothing else, an excessive man. He is excessively power hungry, excessively ambitious, excessively thuggish, and excessively violent. He is a man of excessive tastes and excessive attitudes, including hating the United States excessively.
But Vlad loves money and power. And while there’s no word whether Putin accepted Donald Trump’s offer, at the very least, I’m sure he was tempted.
All of this went down in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign. It may seem strange that Trump would have been wheeling and dealing while running for the highest office in the land, but it just shows where his priorities were. At the time, no one — probably including the candidate himself — gave Trump much of a chance to beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Trump was simply preparing the ground for his life after the campaign, which included the Moscow tower and probably half a dozen other projects in the U.S. and around the world.
Trump is not a traitor. He may be a crook, a sleazeball businessman, a real estate hustler, and a cheat, but there is absolutely no evidence that his offer to Putin was anything more than a Russian version of baksheesh. There is nothing in this offer to suggest that Putin would do anything for Trump in return or that Trump would be under the thumb of the Russians.
But there is a stink from this offer that clings to Trump, Cohen, and Trump Jr. that can’t be easily washed away.
BuzzFeed News first reported in May on the secret dealings of Cohen and his business associate Felix Sater with political and business figures in Moscow.
The two men worked furiously behind the scenes into the summer of 2016 to get the Moscow deal finished — despite public claims that the development was canned in January, before Trump won the Republican nomination. Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan.
From Trump’s perspective, the bribe made sense.
On Thursday, shortly after news broke about Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump told reporters, “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won” the presidential election, “in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
According to the criminal information filed against Cohen Thursday, on Jan. 20, 2016, he spoke with a Russian government official, referred to only as Assistant 1, about the Trump Tower Moscow plan for 20 minutes. This person appears to be an assistant to Peskov, a top Kremlin official whom Cohen had attempted to reach by email.
Cohen “requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction,” the court document states.
Cohen had previously maintained that he never got a response from the official, but in court on Thursday he acknowledged that was a lie.
Of course, what Cohen and Sater were doing was illegal according to U.S. law. And if any money had changed hands, or if Putin had accepted the generous bribe, the whole sleazy bunch would be in big trouble.
Instead, we have an interesting story that reveals the lack of character of the man sitting in the Oval Office, and the amorality of his business associates. Nothing impeachable, only reprehensible and irredeemably corrupt behavior.