Trump Sought To Build Trump Tower In Moscow While Running For President

New reports of Trump's business ties to Russia are raising eyebrows.

Trump Russia

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump was seeking to build a skyscraper in Moscow at the same time he was running for President:

While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.

As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested that he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating — both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 6 and grew up in Brooklyn.

Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.

Nevertheless, the details of the deal, which have not previously been disclosed, provide evidence that Trump’s business was actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be president — and in a position to determine U.S.-Russia relations. The new details from the emails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.

White House officials declined to comment for this report. Cohen, a longtime Trump legal adviser, declined to comment, but his attorney, Stephen Ryan, said his client “has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including providing them with documents and information and answering any questions they may have about the Moscow building proposal.”


The negotiations for the Moscow project ended before Trump’s business ties to Russia had become a major issue in the campaign. Trump denied having any business connections to Russia in July 2016, tweeting, “for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia” and then insisting at a news conference the following day, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

Discussions about the Moscow project began in earnest in September 2015, according to people briefed on the deal. An unidentified investor planned to build the project and, under a licensing agreement, put Trump’s name on it. Cohen acted as a lead negotiator for the Trump Organization. It is unclear how involved or aware Trump was of the negotiations.

As the talks progressed, Trump voiced numerous supportive comments about Putin, setting himself apart from his Republican rivals for the nomination.

By the end of 2015, Putin began offering praise in return.

“He says that he wants to move to another, closer level of relations. Can we really not welcome that? Of course, we welcome that,” Putin told reporters during his annual end-of-the year news conference. He called Trump a “colorful and talented” person. Trump said afterward that the compliment was an “honor.”

Though Putin’s comments came shortly after Sater suggested that the Russian president would speak favorably about Trump, there is no indication that the two are connected.

There is no public record that Trump has ever spoken about the effort to build a Trump Tower in 2015 and 2016.

Trump’s interests in building in Moscow, however, are long-standing. He had attempted to build a Trump property for three decades, starting with a failed effort in 1987 to partner with the Soviet government on a hotel project.

As noted, during the campaign Trump denied that he had any business interests in Russia and that his companies had never ‘done any deals’ in Russia over the years. At the time that he made this statements, it appears that the discussions about building in Moscow had ended, or at least been put on a back burner for one reason or another. What this report indicates, though, is that this wasn’t entirely true and that Trump and his related businesses had long been seeking to do business in Russia for at least the last thirty years dating back to the time when the Soviet Union still existed. This demonstrates that Trump’s statement, while technically true at the time he made them, were woefully incomplete in describing the extent of Trump’s actual and potential business interests in Russia. In addition to this report, there have long been rumors that, in the years after several of his businesses were forced to file bankruptcy for a variety of reasons, Trump was forced to rely on loans backed by Russian banks for his projects, something that was seemingly confirmed by one report in Vanity Fair back in May where the President’s son Eric Trump was reported by others to have bragged about in the 90s and early 2000s. Additionally, of course ,Trump has had a long history of praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and brushing aside reports about how he has had political enemies and journalists killed during his time in office. In interviews with both MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and former Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly, Trump largely dismissed those reports and suggested that the United States has done the same thing. All of this has led many to conclude that there have been connections between Trump and Russia in the past that continued while he was running for President, and which have the potential to influence his policy decisions as President as well.

All of this comes, of course, in the context of the ongoing investigations into the 2016 election, including both Russian interference in the election and communications and contacts between Russian officials and people close to Trump. While this report is far from a smoking gun of any kind, it does seem to suggest that Trump’s previous claims of being completely disinterested in Russia as a business opportunity were not entirely truthful and could go a long way toward explaining his often obsequiously kind comments about Putin as a private citizen and as a candidate for President. It also leads to legitimate questions about Trump’s financial ties to Russia that would seem to be a reasonable line of inquiry by both special counsel Robert Mueller and the various Congressional committees investigating this matter. It’s far too early to tell if anything will come of those lines of inquiry, of course, but the fact that Trump apparently sought to conceal these contacts at the same time he was heaping praise on a man like Putin certainly does arose suspicions.




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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Franklin says:

    So Trump said something wildly misleading but technically true. That’s forward progress!

  2. CSK says:

    As I recall, Donald Junior also boasted about the amount of money that was flowing from Russia into the Trump coffers.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    I certainly hope that SOMEONE releases all of Trump’s taxes for the last ten years.

  4. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What we’d learn is what we already suspect:

    1. He has far, far less money than he’d like us to believe.

    2. Russia owns him.

    And why stop at ten years?

  5. CET says:

    I’m shocked that Trump would have glossed over any long term business interest in Russia. Shocked.

    I’ll be surprised if we manage to go for a whole 4 years without at least one clear cut case of Trump actively working against the national interest to net some minor gain for his business. I suspect we’ll see it in East Asia rather than Russia, but I could be wrong.

  6. CSK says:


    Well, given that Trump’s two oldest sons, Tweedledum and Tweedledumber, now run the Trump Organization, you may be sure they don’t make any moves without first getting dear old dad’s approval.

  7. SenyorDave says:

    @CSK: But what about the firewall between Trump and his business interests…

    Silly me, I forgot that we have a POTUS who can’t go 10 minutes without lying.

  8. CSK says:


    He’s probably annoyed and somewhat puzzled that he can’t overtly monetize the presidency. That was certainly his wife’s intent when she sued the Daily Mail and the blogger who called her a paid escort, on the grounds that he was depriving her of the chance “to make millions” off her First Lady brand.

  9. Tony W says:

    None of this matters.

    As long as Paul Ryan is House Speaker, Trump will not be impeached, much less convicted.

    Paul Ryan has no interest in impeaching Trump because Paul Ryan is clearly running for president in 2020. Take, for example, his tour and Q&A session at Boeing last week. That is something a Presidential Candidate does – not something a House Speaker does.

    Ryan needs a weak Trump in office to run against, not a ‘heroic’ Pence who managed to ‘pull the country together’ after Trump was impeached.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    What’s really interesting is that he’s been trying to build in Russia for 30 years.
    I guess he’s not the whiz-bang developer and negotiator as he claims to be.
    A first year law student could make a solid case against Dumb Donnie, based only on what we know from reporting. Mueller is going to have a field day. And by then Dumb Donnie will have wasted all his political capital and no one in Washington is going to want to save him.
    Practice saying President Pence…no better, really.

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    Drip. Drip. Drip. Slowly but surely.

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Tony W:
    Ryan is going to be toast as soon as they pass a debt ceiling bill and the tea-bagger caucus comes after him.

  13. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Tony W:

    Strike that. Reverse it.

    For Paul Ryan to have a snowball’s shot at the Presidency, he needs to take Trump and Pence down. To do that he needs impeachment dirt and proceedings.

    Otherwise, he will merely be the ineffectual, incompetent Speaker of a broken party. Conservative critics will blast him for his failures as Speaker, not that he could do anything about it. Liberals will treat him as a Trump supporter, and Trump supporters will treat him as a liberal. The man has no path to the Presidency other than a redemptive arc where he “calls Trump to account.” The NeverTrump conservatives, many of which are in academia and media, will fap themselves dry at the thought of a Ryan Presidency. TV and web content producers will swoon over Ryan’s blue eyes and square jaw. Democrats will point at Ryan’s many, many flaws, and conservatives and libertarians will close ranks against that with the response “What more do you want?! He brought down Trump! He’s an American hero!”

    But for that to happen, the Trump wing of the party has to be neutered. Paul Ryan has no chance against Trump in a GOP primary. Against Pence, it’s less certain.

  14. Lit3Bolt says:


    An addendum to my previous post: This is about Ryan if he wants to run in 2020. Ryan is still comparatively young (47) for a pol and has had national exposure for more than a decade now I believe. He can easily wait for the memory of Trump and his run as Speaker to fade before he makes his “elder statesman” move towards the WH.

    So yes, Ryan can be eyeing the White House, but he has 5 or 6 more shots at it.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    So yes, Ryan can be eyeing the White House, but he has 5 or 6 more shots at it.

    That’s what we need in the White House, a Randian crackpot…that will really make America great again…

  16. Barry says:

    @Tony W: “Paul Ryan has no interest in impeaching Trump because Paul Ryan is clearly running for president in 2020. Take, for example, his tour and Q&A session at Boeing last week. That is something a Presidential Candidate does – not something a House Speaker does.”

    No, because Trump will be the GOP candidate, barring heart attack or stroke. And if he’s not, President ‘Filling in for the Donald’ Pence will be.

    2024 is a whole ‘nother story.

  17. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    Doug Mataconis, August 24: “Donald Trump Still Has Russia On His Brain”

    Doug Mataconis, August 28: “Trump Sought To Build Trump Tower In Moscow While Running For President”

    Think you kinda overshot the target with that headline, champ.

    Looking carefully at the linked article, several things strike me as significant by their absence:

    –A reference to an “exchange” of emails, but no quotes from anyone actually working for Trumjp.

    –Not a single named source behind any of the allegations, just incredibly vague attributions — “several people familiar with the proposal,” “according to people briefed on the deal,” and the like.

    –Not even an allegation that a single penny (or ruble) ever changed hands, let alone money of the scale the Podesta Group took from Russia (lowball estimate: just under $2 million) or the Clinton Foundation took from Russia (lowball estimate: over $11 million).

    Weak, weak stuff. But it is anti-Trump, so that gives it a ton of extra appeal to the crowd here. That makes up for things like facts and whatnot.

    On other Russian meddling news, Fusion GPS — the Democratic group that ginned up the “pee-pee dossier — refuses to say who paid them to put together that fake document that so many used to go after Trump. And the above citation of the Podesta Group comes from their recent amended filings where they said “oops, we actually did take a bunch of money from Russia over the last few years, our bad!”

    Too bad the filter around here on Russia-related news requires that anything that makes Trump look bad gets promoted, regardless of accuracy, while anything that reflects bad on Democrats gets tossed in the circular file.

  18. wr says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier: Well, Baby Jenos, that’s because Democrats didn’t conspire with Russian intelligence to throw the election. Do try to keep up, little boy.

  19. Ed says:

    Another story painting a mole hill to look like a mountain.

  20. fitley says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    For Trump it’s ” Slowly but sorely”.

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier:

    Too bad the filter around here on Russia-related news requires that anything that makes Trump look bad gets promoted, regardless of accuracy, while anything that reflects bad on Democrats gets tossed in the circular file.

    Donald Trump himself is the majority-creator of the reality-based, non-fake-news coverage that you’re whining about.

  22. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    @al-Ameda: I don’t mind so much the Trump-related Russia news coverage as the blackout on the Russia news that makes Democrats look bad.