The unexpected appearance in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, added a new layer of understanding to the interplay of Trump, his business and efforts to build a Trump-branded property in Moscow. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the duration of an effort to develop a property in the Russian capital which, as The Washington Post reported last year, continued well into Trump’s campaign for president.
The interaction of Trump, Cohen and the businessman with whom Cohen was working on a deal stretches back more than a decade. Below, using the criminal information document filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team and a detailed report on the development negotiations compiled by BuzzFeed News earlier this year, is a timeline of the deal that led to Cohen’s most recent admissions of criminal guilt.
2002 to 2011. Bayrock Group, among whose principals is Russia-born developer Felix Sater, partners with the Trump Organization on a number of projects including a hotel in Manhattan called Trump Soho. Bayrock’s reported contacts are Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. (Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2007.)
For a period in 2010, Sater worked out of the Trump Organization’s offices in Trump Tower and carried a business card identifying him as “senior adviser to Donald Trump.”
Nov. 8, 2013. Trump arrives in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, hosted at a property secured by a development firm called the Crocus Group and its president, Aras Agalarov. His son Emin, a singer, performs.
Nov. 11, 2013. Trump praises Agalarov on Twitter.
June 16, 2015. Trump announces his candidacy for the presidency.
September 2015. Developer Sater sets up a meeting with Cohen in Manhattan to discuss a possible deal in Moscow.
Oct. 9, 2015. Sater emails Cohen to tell him he plans to meet with a Moscow developer about possible land for a building.
Oct. 12, 2015. Sater informs Cohen over email that his associates would be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a deputy on Oct. 14 and that VTB Bank would fund the project. VTB was and is subject to sanctions by the U.S. government.
Oct. 13, 2015. Sater sends Cohen a letter of intent to move forward on a deal in Moscow. He includes a note.
“Lets make this happen and build a Trump Moscow," it reads. “And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics. That should be Putins message as well, and we will help him agree on that message. Help world peace and make a lot of money, I would say thats a great lifetime goal for us to go after.”
Oct. 28, 2015. Trump reportedly signs the letter of intent. That evening, he participates in the third Republican primary debate.
Nov. 3, 2015. Sater emails Cohen.
“Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” he writes. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
"My next steps are very sensitive with Putin’s very, very close people. We can pull this off,” he writes.
Dec. 2, 2015. Trump is asked about Sater.
“Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump said. “I’m not that familiar with him.”
Dec. 17, 2015. Cohen sends Sater a news article in which Putin calls Trump “talented.”
"Now is the time,” he writes. “Call me."
Dec. 19, 2015. To facilitate a trip to Russia, Sater asks Cohen to provide information about his and Trump’s passports. A contact in Russia, Evgeny Shmykov (who Sater later testifies once worked for Russian intelligence), needs the information to facilitate getting visas through VTB. Cohen sends photos of information from his own passport but not Trump’s.
Dec. 30, 2015. Cohen, angry at the slow pace of progress, emails Sater.
“One month plus since the signing of the [letter of intent] that I wasted my time on,” he writes. “I put the others all on hold and still, despite every conversation with you, nothing. … Not you or anyone you know will embarrass me in front of Mr. T when he asks me what is happening.”
Sater replied that he’d helped bury a story from ABC News in which Trump denied knowing Sater “because I kept my mouth shut for you and your team.”
Dec. 31, 2015. Sater informs Cohen that the new funder will be GenBank, itself subject to sanctions shortly before. He indicates that meetings in Moscow will include Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.
Cohen responds unfavorably about how things were proceeding.
"We’re done. Enough. I told you last week that you thinking you are running point on this is inaccurate. You are putting my job in jeopardy and making me look incompetent,” he wrote. “I gave you two months and the best you send me is some ... garbage invite by some no name clerk at a third-tier bank."
Late 2015 and early 2016. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump are included on email messages about the project in this period or communicate directly with Cohen about it. Ivanka Trump recommends an architect.
Jan. 14, 2016. Cohen emails Peskov to ask for help with the Moscow project.
Jan. 16, 2016. Cohen again emails Peskov’s office, asking to speak with someone who speaks English.
Jan. 20, 2016. Cohen and Peskov’s assistant (identified as “Assistant 1” in the statement of offense) speak on the phone for 20 minutes.
From the statement of offense: “COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.”
Part of this conversation, BuzzFeed News reports, allegedly included the prospect of giving the penthouse property, valued at $50 million, as a gift to Putin.
Jan. 21, 2016. Sater emails Cohen asking him to call. The message says, “It’s about Putin they called today.”
Jan. 25, 2016. Cohen receives a letter from a Russian businessman inviting him to come to Moscow for a working visit “[i]n furtherance of our previous conversations regarding the development of the Trump Tower Moscow project.”
Jan. 26, 2016. Sater asks Cohen to take a call from Evgeny Shmykov, the former intelligence officer coordinating the deal in Moscow. Cohen says he will.
Feb. 2, 2016. Iowa holds its presidential caucuses. Trump comes in second.
February to June 2016. Cohen continues to discuss a possible Moscow deal with Trump on occasion. He also “briefed family members of [Trump] within the Company about the project,” according to Mueller’s team.
May 4, 2016. Sater texts Cohen.
“I had a chat with Moscow,” he wrote. “ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention. Obviously the pre-meeting trip [you only] can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert.”
Cohen replies, “My trip before Cleveland,” site of the convention. "[Trump] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”
May 5, 2016. Sater texts Cohen to extend an invitation from Peskov to attend an event in St. Petersburg from June 16 to 19. The invitation includes a possible meeting with either Putin or Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
May 6, 2016. Cohen replies, saying the proposed St. Petersburg dates would work.
May 22, 2016. In a Politico article, journalist David Cay Johnston notes Trump’s relationship to Sater and Sater’s ties to organized crime.
June 7, 2016. The final primaries end. Trump formally clinches the Republican nomination.
June 9, 2016. Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner meet with a Kremlin-linked attorney at Trump Tower. The meeting is set up through the Agalarovs.
Meanwhile, Sater tries to get Cohen to confirm his trip, an effort that continues for several days.
June 14, 2016. Sater and Cohen meet in the lobby of Trump Tower, and Cohen says he won’t attend the event after all.
The same day, The Post reports that Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s computer network.
June 2016. Cohen and Sater have final conversations about the proposed project.
July 18 to 21, 2016. The Republican Party holds its convention in Cleveland.
July 26, 2016. Trump denies investments in Russia.
Nov. 8, 2016. Trump is elected president.
Jan. 9, 2017. BuzzFeed publishes a dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian actors. Among the claims: Cohen traveled to Prague to facilitate cooperation.
Jan. 10, 2017. Cohen tweets a photo of his passport, denying a visit to the city.
Jan. 13, 2017. The Senate Intelligence Committee announces an investigation into interference and possible coordination.
Jan. 20, 2017. Trump is inaugurated.
Jan. 25, 2017. The House Intelligence Committee announces an investigation.
Aug. 28, 2017. Cohen’s legal team sends a two-page statement to the House and Senate committees making false claims about the termination of the Moscow project.
Sept. 7, 2017. Trump Jr. testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s questioned about the Moscow project, claiming he knew “very little” about the proposed deal, only receiving the letter of intent signed by his father. He claimed not to know about Cohen’s outreach to Peskov.
At another point he says that only he or Ivanka Trump would have known about other Moscow deals.
Oct. 25, 2017. Cohen testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Nov. 22, 2017. Trump Soho, the Bayrock-Trump project, announces plans to drop Trump’s name.
April 9, 2018. Federal agents raid Cohen’s homes and office in New York.
April 27. The Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee release a report summarizing their findings.
"It appears the Trump Tower Moscow project failed in January 2016,” that report determines, noting that Cohen “attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points of contact."
Aug. 21. Cohen pleads guilty to eight criminal counts in a New York courtroom, including two in which he implicates Trump in campaign finance violations.
Nov. 29. Cohen pleads guilty to misleading congressional investigators.
“COHEN made the false statements,” the statement of offense reads, “to (1) minimize links between the Moscow Project and [Trump] and (2) give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before ‘the Iowa caucuses and ... the very first primary,’ in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, serving as counsel to the president, responds in a statement.
“Michael Cohen is a liar,” it reads in part. “It’s no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He’s a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization. It is important to understand that documents that the Special Counsel’s Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide.”
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump addressed the development directly.
“My focus was running for president. But when I run for president, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to do business. I was doing a lot of different things when I was running,” he said. He later added: “There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”