Was the Trump Tower Moscow project key to the collusion that Mueller is investigating?

Rachel Maddow’s show on Nov 30 was entitled by MSNBC “Lifting Russian sanctions key to Trump deal exposed by Cohen.”

Fair enough. But Maddow’s narrative goes much further, and also asserts the converse: that the Trump Tower deal was essential to the lifting of sanctions. That is untrue (even nonsensical), and it is important to understand why.

Cohen and Sater worked hard on the Trump Tower project because they knew Trump wanted it, and because there was a lot of money in it potentially for the two of them. But it was not the deal that powered or underlay the Trump Russia collusion that Mueller has been investigating. Trump Tower Moscow was an important prelude to that, but nothing more. How do we know that? Because, as Maddow has to acknowledge, the deal fell through when the “real deal” came into play: the hacking and stealing of the DNC and Podesta emails.

The real deal involved the lifting of sanctions in return, not for a permit or a VTB loan from Putin to build a hotel in Moscow (!?), but for the assistance of Russian assets like the Internet Research Agency and the GRU (Russian military intel) in defeating Clinton and tipping the election to Trump.

The Trump Tower Moscow project compromised Trump with the Russians. That is very important, because the kompromat encouraged the Russians to proceed with the very risky project of interfering in the election to help Trump. (We know from the Steele dossier that the election interference project was very controversial inside the Kremlin; Steele identifies key Russian players, including Sergey Kislyak, who opposed it as being too risky.) But when the two parties reached a meeting of the minds for a quid pro quo in mid-summer of 2016, the Trump Tower Moscow project was dropped as small potatoes, and even as a potential liability to the campaign.

Basically, Maddow’s thesis amounts to the claim that Trump decided to run for the Presidency — the most powerful office in the world — because he wanted to be able to develop a hotel in Moscow.


Maddow was not the first to place Trump Tower at the heart of the RussiaGate story. A year ago, Seth Abramson published a long thread advancing the same theory of the case. His long thread even made the following extraordinary claims about the Trump Tower Moscow project:

186/ “Now read Steele’s dossier — and you’ll realize it’s all about Agalarov, real estate deals and Trump Tower Moscow.”


187/ “Return to Don’s June 9th meeting — you’ll see it’s all about Agalarov, real estate deals and Trump Tower Moscow.


200/ “Mueller will investigate MANY crimes — see Manafort and money-laundering — but it comes down to Trump, Putin, and Trump Tower Moscow. {end}”


NO, NO, and NO again to tweets 187/, 188/, and 200/.

If you do take the trouble to re-read the Steele dossier, what you’ll actually realize is that Seth Abramson has gotten carried away with himself here and gone off the deep end.

There is NOTHING in the Steele dossier to justify tweets 187 and 188, and Abramson’s suggestion that Manafort’s part in the story is just about money-laundering, and that Manafort is an insignificant story compared to the Trump Tower project, is — quite frankly — nonsense.

By the time Steele entered the scene in late June (the date of his first memo), the Trump-Russia story had moved well beyond the Trump Tower story to what has always been at the heart of the Mueller probe and the Steele dossier: the quid pro quo between the Trump campaign’s interest in, and commitment to, lifting sanctions, and Russia’s promise to help Trump win the election through hacking and other “active measures.”

There never was a quid pro quo involving a Trump campaign commitment to lift sanctions, on the one hand, and a commitment by Putin to approve a Trump building project in Russia (?!), on the other. By the time Steele started working on the memos, the Trump Tower project was seen as insignificant. As Felix Sater has said, the very day WaPo broke the story that the Russians had hacked the DNC and stolen its emails, the Moscow project died. (Significantly, Source E of the dossier, who is in fact Felix Sater, says nothing about the Trump Tower project, but a lot about Russian election interference, which he reports is being managed by Paul Manafort.)

That is exactly what one would expect: continued work on the project could only endanger the really big prize: winning the Presidency of the United States with the help of Russian election interference. Trump might be (undoubtedly is) a dope, but he isn’t dopey enough to have risked winning the presidency on a building in Moscow.

In both the Maddow and Abramson narratives about the Trump Tower project, Michael Flynn plays a crucial role. Flynn doesn’t belong there, though it isn’t surprising that they insist that he does. After all, Flynn (unlike, say, Manafort) joined the Trump campaign very early, and had an important role in the campaign during the time that Cohen and Sater were working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Maddow gives Flynn a central role because she thinks that Flynn and K.T. MacFarland had been compromised themselves by their involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project.

And in a tweet dated 14 Sep Abramson said:

“I love @JeffreyToobin but want to gently correct what I think is a misunderstanding: Manafort has a lot on collusion but it’s not true that “if anyone would know about collusion, it’s Manafort.” Actually that honor goes to…

…Mike Flynn. Mueller’s way beyond where many think.”

In his thread a year ago, Abramson even referred to a Putin-Sater-Cohen-Flynn plot that involved the Trump Tower Moscow project in a central way.

This is wild speculation. There is no reason to entertain it based on anything available in the public domain — particularly because there are other reasons why Flynn would have lied to the FBI when he denied that he had discussed sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak during the post-election transition period.

Flynn was interested in working a deal with Russia in the Middle East (as was Kushner), and hoped to get Russia on the American side and against Iran and Syria; lifting sanctions was part of that deal. Trump, Flynn, and other foreign policy and Natsec advisors wanted and needed to keep that plan secret. (Indeed, there is much about the deal and its negotiations that we don’t know to this day.) Flynn may also have known by then, or at least suspected, that Trump was highly vulnerable on the sanctions issue because of the major role it had played in Russia’s election interference.

Flynn will provide an interesting test of the Maddow-Abramson narratives this coming week. As Maddow pointed out in her show, Mueller will file his sentencing memo on Flynn in federal court on Tuesday (the sentencing hearing itself is scheduled for December 18), so we will learn much (not all) about what Flynn contributed to the Mueller probe and what he didn’t; what he told the truth about and what he lied about, very soon.

It will be quite surprising if there is anything in the sentencing documents showing that Flynn had any involvement in, or even any interest in, the Trump Tower Moscow project. Of course, it is conceivable that Flynn had at least heard of the Trump Tower Moscow project; perhaps suspected that the Russians had compromised Trump over the project; and suspected that it posed a danger to Trump politically; but it certainly isn’t necessary to suppose this. It is even less likely that Flynn was compromised himself over it. Most likely, Flynn didn’t know much, and certainly didn’t care much, if anything, about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

As I explain in a long thread on the defraud statute (18 U.S.C. §371) of the federal code, what Mueller must do — and what he clearly is doing — is establish a quid pro quo conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Here the essential question is: what is the quid, and what is the quo? It is clear that lifting sanctions was key to Trump’s part of the bargain, but what about Russia? What did Putin offer? Election help, or a permit and a loan for a building?

Note that each alternative places a burden on Mueller to produce evidence and witnesses, and the evidence in the public domain to date indicates that Mueller is focused almost exclusively on the former alternative, although he is no doubt interested in the latter as an important part of the lead up and background story.

In any case, we’re approaching something like a test case on Tuesday.

We will begin to learn then from Mueller himself how much, if anything, there is to the Maddow and Abramson narratives about Trump Tower Moscow, and their belief that the project was key to the election collusion between Trump and Russia that Mueller has been investigating.

The Resistance. Vote Blue: True Blue American. We look forward, they look back. We’re progressive, they’re regressive. @twoodiac