'Harm to Ongoing Matter'
Thursday morning nine fifty seven president of the United States tweeted, an image of himself in a sea of fog with words, no collusion. No obstruction in big game of thrones. Style font game over. Of course, he was talking about the Muller report which hadn't yet been released to the public minutes. Earlier Trump's attorney general William bar briefed the American people on what was in the report on live TV, but thanks to the special counsels thorough investigation. We now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign or the knowing assistance of any other American for that matter that is something that all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed bar said there was no collision and no obstruction and then sticking with his own script. He spoke about the president's state of mind as the investigation unfolded at the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency propelled by his political opponents and fuelled by illegal leaks. And then the report appeared with some reductions on the Justice department website and that Trump Inc. We set up our, laptops, and the biggest conference room, we could find with put our phones on airplane mood closed out of Twitter, and we read and compared notes and read and read and read some more. It's more than four hundred pages. Incredibly interesting stuff. We learned for example, that the president tried to enlist those around him, even his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski to get Jeff Sessions to limit the molar investigation Lewandowski, and others did not go along we learned that flat. Amir Putin had quarterly meetings with Russia's top oligarchs who he saw as his tools to implement policy, and we learned that the president of Ukraine once gave Paul Manafort an enormous jar of caviar birth estimated thirty thousand dollars. Summarizing? This report would be a little bit. Like a bridging the bible adamant, even the snake the Jews flee, Egypt Jesus born he's crucified. He's resurrected. It's too much to do in one episode. So for our report on the mullahs report, we're going to focus on the part of the Trump organization business that probably got the most scrutiny from Robert Muller. Trump organization real estate deal in Moscow tower in Moscow tower in Moscow tower, Trump Tower Moscow tower Moscow showers in Montreal tower, in Moscow, it's a deal that the Trump organization pursued at the exact same time that Trump the candidate was taking off and Trump. The man wanted us to know nothing about it. But I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal the I have no businesses that have no loans from Russia. I very very one Michael Cohen exposed that as a lie. There would be nothing wrong. If I did do I was running my business while I was gaining. That was a good chance that I wouldn't have Robert Millard did not find evidence to bring charges of conspiracy against Trump or people in his campaign involving Russia's efforts to disrupt the two thousand sixteen election, but he laid out rich evidence of two other seaward 's conflicts and cover up maybe nowhere more than on the Moscow deal which promised to bring big returns for little or no spending on the part of the Trump organization. So I'm going to bring in three people now who have reported extensively on that deal. They're all from our trumping team WNYC's Andrea Bernstein and from propublica Heather Vogel, and katie's of ad sqi. Heather, katie. Andrea welcome. Hi. Hey, hey, Ilia high. I think you guys already showed very convincingly that Trump Tower Moscow matters. Now, we have a wealth of additional information about that project from Arbor Muller. Andrea how does this information change our understanding of what Trump Tower Moscow was going to be? White matters. So first of all it was much bigger than we realized. And there's a point at which Michael Cohen is very clear he says his conversations about this. We're not just Chit chat. This was a billion dollar deal. It was worth a lot of money. So it was bigger. It went longer. It was not actually formally closed out until after the election. And they were a lot more efforts to cover it up behind the scenes to cover up the business deals than we had previously. Understood other think you should jump in on this point. He yeah. I think one of the things that really caught my attention quickly. When I was reading was that we already knew that Michael Cohen had reached out to the people close to Putin in order to seek some help with getting this tower Bill, but what this report showed was that there were at least three other people who reached out to the Trump campaign offering help on behalf of Putin and his administration. Help with the campaign, you know, sort of bringing Putin together with potentially with Trump, and they really to Trump to travel to Russia to go to this economic forum this conference in Saint Petersburg. So it was a two way thing. So yeah. So what it looked like to me that Putin and his people wanted something out of Trump, and we're approaching and trying to build that relationship and at the same time Trump through his intermediaries was trying to reach Putin's people and to leverage that relationship for his business interests. And I think it's worth saying at this point that all of these communications were going on on both sides while Russia was attacking the US election. So there were two sets of activities. There was the hacking by the military intelligence, and there was the injection of these anti Hillary Clinton. Pro Trump messages by the internet research agency, and that's laid out in another part of the report. But what is so remarkable is that both these things are happening at the same time that there are these discussions going on about building a Trump Tower and all of these surrounding discussions about approaches between Trump and the Russians and the Russians and Trump. I think it's important to note at this point that mother did not show any evidence in this report that there was kind of a connection between all these connections that lead to some situation where the tower in Moscow was linked in any way to the Email hacking. But there were these conversations that were going on. But it was the same people. I mean, it was the Kremlin. It was Putin and people around him that were directing those hacking activities and at the same time there were these approaches to the Kremlin many more than we knew about. So Katie when we were reporting this episode about Trump Tower Moscow couple months ago now before the Miller report had come out one of the central figures in that report was. Andrei Rozov, he was the co developer for as far as we know the fifth attempts to build a Trump Tower Moscow, and that really got going like in the fall of two thousand fifteen do I have that. Right. That's right. So Andre Razov was one of the key questions for us in our reporting on Trump Tower, Moscow Rozov wasn't really someone who had led a project of this magnitude, and we were trying to figure out why of all of the developers in Russia all the developers who had led project at this magnitude off these developers who had led international projects why they went with this guy. They got a letter Vinton signed by Donald Trump. Yes, he was campaigning. Yep. So you dug up a bit of interesting stuff about Rozov for that episode, including the fact that he tried to develop a mall in this sort of nowheres. Ville town in North Dakota did Robert Muller answer any of those many questions surrounding who this guy is. And why Trump wanted to work with him Muller didn't really touch. Upon Rozov qualifications. But what the Miller report did do is lay out the deal that Rozov was giving the Trump organization and the reality is that the Rozov deal was just a home run for Trump, just more generous, licensing fees, more fees, more fees, more fees. It looked too good to pass up for a million dollars up front, right? And one of the things that we found while we were reporting on Rozov and this Trump Tower Moscow project was that something of that magnitude something in the locations where they were looking to build that would probably need a stamp of approval from Putin. Right. And I should probably say here. Katie you're out to Rozov and never heard back from him. Heather one of the things. That's really interesting. I think in the Miller report is the Russians were also reaching out to the Trump organization. Yes. And in some cases, they were actually. Offering or seemed to be offering potential connections to the Kremlin to get. Precisely the approvals that they might need to build. Exactly Trump was approached by the ex wife of Dmitry cluck off who is a he's an executive with the state owned electricity transmission company, and he was a former aide to an energy minister. And he was basically saying that he could offer the political synergy, and the synergy on a government level that the Trump campaign needed and that he would be able to facilitate a later meeting with a person of interest who turned out to be Vladimir Putin himself. And what I thought was really interesting about this whole interaction was that he's sort of making these offers related to the campaign, and which are very interesting and co and comes back, according to the Muller report and starts talking about. Well, I'd like to come to Russia to do site surveys and talk about Trump Tower Moscow. So you could see your to see Cohen really trying to leverage these relationships in this. New interest. That was being thrown toward the Trump organization, and sort of new legitimacy into leverage that into this massive business deal that they were trying to negotiate. But we'll is so incredibly crazy about this interaction with Dmitry cloak off. Is that Michael Cohen Google's him? According to them all a report, and he gets them confused with an Olympic wrestler by the same name by the same name. And he thinks even I mean, he he believes for so long that he's a wrestler that actually when Michael Cohen goes in his interviewed by the special counsel. Prosecutors he refers to him as the Olympia in. This is such a window into the Trump organizations lack of due diligence and we've done so much reporting on how do they get these business partners that they get and one of the things that we learned from this report is that while all of these people in Russia seemed to have the Trump organization. And or Donald J Trump for president on their radar. Michael Cohen as the of front guard of Trump organization officials in Moscow is doing so little research that he does a misguided. Google search to understand who a potential business partner might be now that actually partnership actually goes nowhere to be fair to Michael Cohen. But. It comes through in so many different places in the mullahs report where we see Trump and the people around him not enquiring about who is coming to offer them help. And it is one of the explanations for why so many of these Russians are able to get so close to people at the very top of the campaign. It seems no one of the things that I found actually very unsatisfying in reading this report is we see so much more contact between the Trump organization and the Russians and it's in both directions. And this is really the heart of the conflicts Trump is campaigning. And he's pursuing business opportunities in Russia in secret. And yet these flirtations with the Russians never really go anywhere. There is a mutual attraction as almost like the miss connection section. If you remember the village voice when they had that. And yet they keep missing those connections. They don't make the connection in cloak of. And in so many other cases. The deal doesn't go forward. They don't form a partnership. I just want to point out late. Let's remember that you know, mother didn't interview everybody on the other side of this conversation. He had some key interviews with people on the Trump side of the conversation somewhat limited access to Trump, obviously. And really no access from what I could read to most of the Russians who were on the other side of these conversations, which leaves I think a lot of questions unanswered. And I think these approaches by the Russians are so important when thinking about this issue, more broadly, the mullahs report is focused on particular legal questions. But we've known from the very beginning that Trump campaign officials were being approached by Russians who are trying to, cultivate, them as sources this has so many intelligence implications about how Trump's business in Russia opened him up two approaches by Russian intelligence, we see this in. Cloak of. We see this in the fact that this is a man who tells Michael Cohen that this meeting is not about business that after we meet this will go so far beyond the Trump Tower Moscow. You have no idea the Russians were harnessing business, which is Trump's language to approach him for non business means I think one thing that is really striking about reading the Mahler report is that we know that when fusion GPS this is an opposition research firm that was funded by Trump's opponents learned about possible Russian interference in the election. They went to the FBI, and the reason that they said was because they wanted to stop a crime in progress, and it is so striking the difference between that and all of the people who approached people in the Trump campaign saying they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Had Hillary Clinton's emails that all of these people were saying the Russian government has something on your opponent and nowhere in four hundred plus pages of the Muller report. Is there one example of anybody around Trump going to law enforcement and saying we think something wrong happened here which goes right back around to this idea of no due-diligence? I mean, I think very interesting point that you make in your Trump Tower Moscow story, which was of course, done before. This report came out is that Michael Cohen, and the Trump organization wanted to go to Russia to check out sites and talked to partners to do that they needed an invitation from a Russian business and to do that Michael Cohen turned to one of his associates Felix Sater and Seder got them in touch actually with a bunch of sanctioned Russian banks as the potential vehicle to get that invitation that they needed. Yeah. And one of those was a Bank called Jenn Bank that had a part owner named give Guinea voskan. And this was something that we uncovered in our. Previous reporting. He has a very interesting colorful past including having been born in Russia having moved to Brighton Beach when he was young growing up at the same time as Seder did in Brighton. Beach getting involved in his twenties in what became one of the sort of largest and most notorious Russian mafia's schemes of the time which was a gas bootlegging scheme, and he was arrested, and he was convicted he ended up being deported from the United States, he faced securities charges, and he ended up landing at this Bank, Jenn Bank, and when Sator needed to get an invitation for Trump people to come to Russia that was the Bank that he turned to the additional information that we got in. The Muller report was that at one point Seder was on the phone with voskan figuring out how to get him passport information on Cohen and Trump. So that he can issue this formal invitation to get them to Russia, and we know that Cohen ended up. Providing his information and that he sought Trump's information. But Muller said he didn't see any evidence that that ended up being passed on to voskan. In fact, divall skinhead, Michael Cohen's passport a photo of it. And he potentially could have gotten the future. President of the United States is passport. And this is a guy who was expelled from the United States, and who is part owner of a sanction Russian Bank. Yes. And who has allegedly had Russian mafia ties just to underline all this. As Trump organization is pursuing this massively profitable tower plan that they had and Trump is campaigning. The whole situation puts him into a position of seeking a favor from an adversarial foreign power at the same time as he's seeking the presidency. So there's the conflict that we've been talking about. Now cover up. I want to read you guys from the section of the report that comes under the heading the president's. Efforts to remove the special counsel. Specifically it's page to ninety and what Muller does here is he paints this really vivid White House seen on the day. That Muller was appointed as special counsel. Here's the quote session stepped out of the Oval Office to take a call from Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who told him about the special counsel appointment and sessions then returned to inform. The president of the news, according to notes written by hunt that sessions chief-of-staff when sessions told the president that special counsel had been appointed the president slumped back in his chair and said quote, oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked. What was going on here? And specifically do any of you guys think that the president was actually thinking about the Trump Tower Moscow deal coming to light, which he had done so much to conceal until that point. I think one thing was clearly going on which is because it's been happening in plain sight, which is Trump has felt that the entire discussion about Russian attacks and interference in the election undermines his legitimacy. This is someone who didn't win the popular vote who won by eighty thousand votes in three midwestern states, he has quite explicitly said that bringing up Russian interference suggest that he didn't win fair and square and that this is an effort by the Democrats to claim that he didn't actually win. He wasn't actually the winner that he was the loser. So the special counsel for him becomes assertive manifesto. Nation of those efforts to undermine him on top of that as we learn in the report, there are all kinds of details that he is trying to keep from the public about this very Trump Tower Moscow deal because they underline his associations with Russia, and perhaps for some of the reasons that we've been raising about the people that he was associated with the report doesn't actually address that point. Whether Trump was worried and. One of the I think unsatisfying aspects is that Trump was not interviewed that he answered written questions in language that the word that jumped out at me was enthused, which is not a word that I've ever heard Trump say so it's written in language that is doesn't really sound like Donald Trump. So one of the things that's very unsatisfying is that what was pretty clearly written by lawyers has served to define Trump side of the narrative. So so we don't know exactly what he was worried about. But certainly the behavior that the report outlines suggests that he was quite anxious about these details coming out about Trump Tower Moscow. So during the Trump campaign, Donald Trump said he had no business in Russia. Trump is elected special counsels appointed and then this question of his business in Russia takes on this really kind of red hot importance like Strobe ING drudge report light. When Michael Cohen is rated. And we got fascinating insight in this report into not just the public posture that President Trump had around Michael Cohen, but privately what the communications were between the two men and the representatives walked me through it. So this is I opening the president said, and I'm quoting Muller. Now that he wanted to check in with Cohen and ask if Cohen was okay and encouraged him to hang in there and stay strong. But then there are more communications. So in the Muller report. It says Cohen recalled that a friend of the president's reached out to say he was with the boss in mar-a-lago. And the president has said he loves you and not to worry. Another associate said, the boss loves you. Everyone knows the boss has your back. So this is what Cohen is hearing after he's been raided while he is incredibly anxious about. Going to jail and the rest of his future, and yet the bosses love does not seem to have shown itself in any lasting way. Because Michael Cohen ended up pleading. You know, we obviously at Trump Inc. Have come up against a lot of nondisclosure against secret shell companies against disclosure forms that list LLC's, but don't list partners and investors and don't really tell the complete information, and we don't have Trump's tax returns. And we don't have basic information that we've had about other presidents, including things like visitor logs. So one of the things that this report does is it really lifts the curtain on. How information is retained in Trump world and contain there's reference to Trump and Michael Cohen discussing talking points at one point what they were going to say about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. There's another point where. Hinted to Michael Cohen. He shouldn't go rogue. There's another point where Michael Cohen is essentially telling the special counsel's office that he's not concerned that his false testimony is going to be contradicted because he knows the other people who know the truth are not going to say anything that everybody is hanging together in this tight mass. So it seems that Cohen at one point even when he was still right in the heat of this alliance with President Trump on all of these matters that he was trying to be truthful and make at least a mild reference to the fact that he'd had contacts with Russian government officials. He in fact, included in his original statement a sentence saying that that the building project led me to make limited contacts with Russian government officials, but that statement was lowered and not just by his lawyer. But by the president's lawyer, and by other lawyers and that statement ended up getting dropped and Cohen decided not to push back on the deletion. This was his statement to congress. Yes, it's so striking because Cohen showed his loyalty in that moment. And yet this attempt to have each other's back fell apart and Michael Collins, go into jail and Donald Trump is not being charged with the cover up here. I think it's a little unclear about what happened there, obviously, the special counsel's office was putting the lean on Coen during this period. There was also an observation that Trump started to talk about Cohen in the past tense as somebody that he liked instead of somebody that he likes and there was this turning point interview. Which is cited in the report where he sits down with ABC, and he says, well, I'm putting my country and my family first, and that's the point at which Trump starts to call him a rat and threaten his family and do all kinds of things which Muller does say in his report could be construed as trying to impede. Justice and trying to dissuade other witnesses from coming forward. So a lot is Ben said in going to be said about does not exonerate Trump. But this is definitely one of the areas where Trump very clearly and in public view was threatening a witness who may or may not have been giving information against him in a prosecution in an ongoing prosecution. I mean that was happening. We all saw that. So Robert Miller never did get to interview President Trump, but Trump and his lawyers did provide prepared written answers to our Motors questions. Katie how did Trump explain Trump Tower Moscow? Yeah. The written responses were a lot of legal ease and a lot of I do not recalls and one asked about his business deals in Russia. Donald Trump said as I recall, neither I nor the Trump organization had any projects or proposed projects in Russia during their campaign. Other than the letter of intent, which of course, is the whole point. It is a billion dollar deal that requires the blessing of flat, Amir Putin, and the mayor of Moscow, and essentially the support of a hostile foreign power. And here is Donald Trump, saying, don't worry. Don't worry. I had no deals in Russia. Other than this major thing. I'd been trying to do for basically my entire adult life since the late eighties. And you Trump really distances himself from what would normally be I think very appealing deal for him. He writes sometime in two thousand fifteen Michael Cohen suggested to me the possibility of a Trump organization project in Moscow, and he talks about vaguely sort of about the terms of the deal required. No, equity or expenditure on our end. I had a few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject as I recall, they were brief and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal. I think what. It's so interesting about that is the timing. So that statement was given to Muller on November twentieth. Twenty eighteen just over a week later. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lung to congress. So at the time Trump was submitting his answers to Muller. He did not know what Michael Cohen was going to say. And there is a description in the report of some anxiety on Trump's part about that Muller goes back to Donald Trump after Cohen's guilty plea and ask them additional information and Trump's lawyers refuse to give it to Muller. They do the same thing which they've done with us. Which is they say we've answered enough we're not answering any further, and it is one of the ways in which Donald Trump succeeded in blocking the flow of information in a way that does give us an incomplete picture of what happened here, sir, guys. We knew a bunch of stuff about. Trump Tower Moscow. Now, we know a bunch more. What are the questions that you still have Heather can I have to? Of course, one is what about the penthouse. We learned before that Cohen and Felix Seder were talking about offering Putin a penthouse in the Moscow Trump Tower sort of as a marketing plan to try to lure other all guards the tower. There's no mention of that here the middle. No, not that I found so here's the other one. Now, this one is a little more complicated. So what we've learned about the Trump Tower Moscow deal? How it was started? How it unfolded? What else was going on at that time from Muller? It raises some more questions that we hadn't really been focused on before. And those questions are basically centering around whether this effort was part of the Russian government's approach to Trump and his advisors at the time. There's a few things that. Would point to that being a possibility and one is that we now know that Felix Sater brought Rozov and the Rozov proposal to Cohen. It didn't happen. The other way. This wasn't Cohen going out there and contacting the people he knew that were involved in development business and head Russian contacts. You know, another piece of information that was interesting was just looking at how lucrative the steel was it was really a situation where Seder in rose offer dangling, an incredibly incredibly lucrative deal in front of Trump kind of one that he couldn't refuse almost it's sort of blew the other ones out of the water, and then third the other piece of information. I find that was helpful from the Muller report was the way he laid out the approaches that other people connected to the Russian government made to Trump at the same time that Seder in Rozov were also making overtures to Trump. And when you look at that. Can see that all of these people these three people and Seder so four of them. They were all claiming to have a connection to Putin. They were all seeking meetings with Trump and or his advisers on Russian soil, and they were promising both help with the business plan and help with the campaign. So we reached out to Seder to see if he could clarify any of this for us, and he declined to comment for this podcast you, and of course, Robert Muller had oversight of the FBI's counterintelligence investigation. But he has nothing to say about that in this report. Well, what I'm hearing is that there is some confusion and a feeling of sort of a desire for more information. I suspect we'll be hearing more from congress about this. Or they'll be you know, pursuing their own leads about this in coming weeks. Okay. So that's a lot of unanswered questions from you Heather Andrea urine answered questions. I think that there's still a great deal. It we do not know about the Trump. Organization. It's unclear if anybody other than Michael Cohen from the Trump organization spoke to Robert Muller's prosecutors, and we did not see Donald Trump's tax returns. So there's still an awful lot. We don't understand about his business dealings and the way that his past business dealings may or may not be influencing current US policy evoked Renault that Trump was concerned that Muller was going to take a careful look at his business. It appears from my first reading of this report that Muller took a very circumscribed view of the Trump organization and really only looked at the pieces that appeared likely or possible to touch this Russian election interference. I mean, not his business in general, although this very large business deal in particular, and it's unclear whether when Trump was signaling. Don't look at my business. He was saying don't look at. This business deal or don't look at my whole business. I think that is one of the mysteries. It's going to stay with us. Kitty, well, one of the striking things about the Muller team as they have been very generous about sharing what they find in the form of criminal referrals to other US attorney's office. So if they come across something that might be a criminal matter, but does not fall directly within the scope of the Muller probe avai can refer out and at the very end of this report, we see a couple of pages with redacted names of potential, maybe criminal cases, and the reduction save that revealing it would be potentially harm to an ongoing matter. So what we have is. Maybe a dozen maybe more potential criminal probes that will stem from Muller's findings but won't be prosecuted necessarily by his office. And to be clear Michael Cohen was a referral southern district of New York took that up not special counsel. Yes. Because that case was. About the hush money payment that was effectively an illegal campaign contribution and not directly tied to this investigation. So we might see other prosecutions that are adjacent to the Muller pro but not directly involved in it. In fact, there's huge redacted sections. Sometimes it's just a word or a line here or there. Sometimes it goes on for several paragraphs entire pages. And the reason given is H O M harm to an ongoing matter new term for me. Thanks, guys. Thank you. Thank you. As of this recording. The Muller report was released yesterday, four hundred forty eight pages dense with facts and footnotes sparking questions that we will continue to explore on this podcast for a long time. Donald Trump's attorneys did not address the Trump Tower Moscow. But they did release this statement in response to the Muller report, quote, the results of the investigation are eight total victory for the president the report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. It is clear. There was no criminal wrongdoing. Trump ink is produced by may Kramer, Allah's wilder and Catherine Sullivan, but the associate producers, the technical director is Bill moss editing. A Charlie Herman, Eric Manzke and Nick Varsha ver-. Katie's events is Republicans research director rub infield propublica managing editor Jim Schachter is the vice president for news at WNYC and Steve Engelberg is the editor in chief at propublica original music composed by Hans Brown.