The Trump Organization pursued a luxury hotel and condominium project in Moscow—dubbed the Trump Tower Moscow—during the Trump presidential campaign. This project was facilitated by Michael Cohen, then an attorney for the Trump Organization, and from January 2017 to May 2018 Trump's personal attorney. Trump signed a nonbinding "letter of intent" dated October 13, 2015, to proceed with the project. The letter, also signed by Russian investor Andrei Rozov, was forwarded to Cohen by Russian-American real estate developer Felix Sater, who had worked with The Trump Organization on prior deals, including Trump SoHo and Trump International Hotel & Residence. Sater has also been involved in criminal activities involving organized crime and has served as an informant to the FBI relating to those activities. He boasted to Cohen about his connections to Vladimir Putin, saying in an email to Cohen on November 13, 2015, "Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this. I will manage this process." He also asserted that he had secured financing for the project through the Russian state-owned VTB Bank, which was under sanctions by the United States government. Cohen emailed Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 to request assistance in advancing the project and later stated he didn't recall receiving a response. Cohen told the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that the deal was abandoned in January 2016, but in November 2018 admitted in a guilty plea that he had minimized Trump's role in the plans "to be consistent with [Trump's] political messaging" and that negotiations had actually extended through June 2016. Cohen also admitted that Peskov's office had, in fact, replied to his January 2016 email and discussed the deal with him on the phone. In a sentencing memorandum filed the day after his guilty plea, Cohen's attorneys stated he kept Trump "apprised" of the "substantive conversation" Cohen had with the Russian official, and discussed with Trump traveling to Russia to advance the project during the summer of 2016. BuzzFeed News reported on March 12, 2018, that Mueller's investigators had questioned Sater, and on April 13, 2018, reported that a former Russian spy had helped secure financing for the project. In 2010, Sater was provided business cards describing himself as "Senior Advisor to Donald Trump" with an email address at TrumpOrg.com. In a 2013 sworn affidavit, Trump said "If [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn't know what he looked like," and in 2015 he stated "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I'm not that familiar with him."
As Rosenstein later informed Congress, he elected to use a Special Counsel rather than have the FBI itself oversee the investigation because did not believe acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe was the right person to lead the investigation. Instead, he would appoint a Special Counsel, as had been done in the past. U.S. Attorneys serve as special counsel, but in May 2017 there were only three Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys serving at the time, the Senate having not yet confirmed the new president's nominees, and those three had remained as holdovers from the previous administration pending the arrival of the new attorneys. As a result, Rosenstein decided to select Robert Mueller, though he was retired, because of his reputation.More Info
The New York Times reported on January 11, 2019, that FBI counterintelligence grew concerned about Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off opening an investigation because of uncertainty about how to proceed on such a sensitive matter. Trump's behavior during the days immediately before and after Comey's firing caused them to begin investigating whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against U.S. interests, knowingly or unknowingly. The FBI merged that counterintelligence investigation with a criminal obstruction of justice investigation related to Comey's firing. Mueller took over that investigation upon his appointment, although it was not immediately clear if he had pursued the counterintelligence angle.More Info
Whitaker, a vocal Trump supporter, had publicly criticized the Mueller investigation on several occasions before joining the Justice Department in September 2017, asserting it was "going too far" and referring to it as a "lynch mob". Whitaker is also a personal friend of Sam Clovis, a former co-chair of the Trump campaign who has testified to Mueller's investigators and grand jury. Because of his prior statements and involvement, many Democrats and some Republicans have asserted that Whitaker's potential conflicts of interest require him to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller, although Whitaker reportedly indicated he had no intention of doing so. Justice Department ethics officials typically review conflicts of interest to recommend recusals, but their findings are not binding and are usually kept confidential.More Info
On 6 August, the UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced the suspension in Kuwait, where the talks were being held. He said that the negotiations were not a failure and that they would resume in a month at an undisclosed location. Mr. Ahmed is the second United Nations envoy to try to broker peace talks between the Houthis and other factions in Yemen since March 2015. His predecessor quit after similar peace talk efforts failed. After the breakdown of the talks, one of the Houthi negotiators, Nasser Bagazgooz, blamed the United Nations envoy for seeking what he said amounted to a military solution on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition. Previous negotiations floated the idea of forming a unity government—composed of Houthi and former Hadi government leaders. But the exiled Hadi leaders have consistently rejected any deal that would diminish their power over Yemen, and the Houthis have said that they will reject any deal that does not give them a seat at the table.More Info
U.S. intelligence agencies in January 2017 concluded "with high confidence" that the Russian government interfered in the election by hacking into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and forwarding their contents to WikiLeaks, as well as by disseminating fake news promoted on social media, and by penetrating, or trying to penetrate, the election systems and databases of multiple U.S. states. de Volkskrant reported on January 25, 2018, that Dutch intelligence agency AIVD had penetrated the Russian hacking group Cozy Bear in 2014 and in 2015 observed them hack the DNC in real time, as well as capturing the images of the hackers via a security camera in their workspace. The New York Times reported on July 18, 2018, that American, British and Dutch intelligence services had observed stolen DNC emails on Russian military intelligence networks. NBC News reported on March 1, 2018, that Mueller was assembling a case for criminal charges against Russians who carried out the hacking and leaking. Those charges were brought on July 13, 2018.More Info
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