The quietest member of the Trump family over the last year has certainly been Ivanka, favorite child and a White House staffer. But today, Anthony Cormier, Jason Leopold, and Emma Loop of BuzzFeed have an interesting story about Ivanka Trump’s involvement in a potential deal with Russia that, while it may not suggest anything illegal, does offer a window into how the Trumps were operating long after Donald Trump decided to run for president:
Amid intense scrutiny of contacts between Donald Trump’s inner circle and representatives of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, Ivanka Trump’s name has barely come up. But during the campaign, she connected her father’s personal lawyer with a Russian athlete who offered to introduce Donald Trump to Putin to facilitate a 100-story Trump tower in Moscow, according to emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News and four sources with knowledge of the matter.
There is no evidence that Ivanka Trump’s contact with the athlete — the former Olympic weightlifter Dmitry Klokov — was illegal or that it had anything to do with the election. Nor is it clear that Klokov could even have introduced Trump to the Russian president. But congressional investigators have reviewed emails and questioned witnesses about the interaction, according to two of the sources, and so has special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to the other two.
The contacts reveal that even as her father was campaigning to become president of the United States, Ivanka Trump connected Michael Cohen with a Russian who offered to arrange a meeting with one of the US’s adversaries — in order to help close a business deal that could have made the Trump family millions.
As I said, there may not be anything illegal here, unless at some point they offered up something such as sanctions relief as an exchange for Trump getting the Moscow tower he had long coveted. But the point isn’t so much that this is going to send anybody to jail as it is this: When Donald Trump ran for president, one of the first questions everyone around him seemed to ask was, “How can we make money off this?”
The idea there might be something inappropriate about negotiating with foreign governments on potentially lucrative deals when he could become president hadn’t occurred to them. To the contrary, they all seem to have seen it as a golden business opportunity.
Indeed, in 2000, when he staged a brief run for the nomination of the Reform Party, Trump himself said, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” He obviously felt the same way in 2016.
But the BuzzFeed story seems to reveal some conflict between Ivanka Trump and Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, in 2015 and 2016. Ivanka told Cohen to speak to the weightlifter, which he did, but Cohen soon cut off contact with him, to Ivanka’s displeasure, because he (Cohen) was pursuing a track of his own to make the Moscow project happen. At the time, it looked like it would:
Cohen negotiated with Felix Sater, one of the president’s longtime business associates, and agreed upon a Russian developer to build the tower. Donald Trump personally signed a nonbinding letter of intent on Oct. 28, 2015, the day of the third Republican debate, to allow a Russian developer to brand the tower with Trump’s name. The agreement stated that the Trump Organization would have the option to brand the hotel’s spa and fitness facilities as “The Spa by Ivanka Trump” and that Ivanka Trump would be granted “sole and absolute discretion” to have the final say on “all interior design elements of the spa or fitness facilities.”
To refresh your memory, Sater is a convicted felon with ties to the mob who was born in Russia. He is also a U.S. government informant with whom Donald Trump developed Trump Soho — one of his disastrous projects — around which money laundering charges have swirled. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. made false representations about the project, for which they narrowly escaped indictment, possibly because of some well-timed contributions to the Manhattan district attorney. But that’s a whole other story.
To return to Russia, let me refer you to what The Post reported last August:
Over email, Sater bragged to Cohen that he could get Putin to assist with the project and that it would help Trump’s presidential campaign, according to correspondence submitted to congressional investigators.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in a November 2015 email. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Sater was overconfident — the deal fell through — but it shows how things were working in the Trump orbit during his presidential campaign. And, as in so many areas with regard to this president, the details that come out are so lurid that we can become numb to them, telling ourselves, “Well sure, everybody was on the take, everybody was trying to grab what they could, that’s just how it is.”
But that’s not just how it is. It’s absolutely stunning that Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Cohen, and who knows who else were trying to work a multimillion dollar deal with the Kremlin while Trump was leading the race for the GOP nomination. We wouldn’t accept it from any other politician, and we shouldn’t accept it from this one.