The failed attempt at a deal to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow, as well as Michael Cohen’s initial lies to Congress and his subsequent special counsel confession about that deal, have fueled a firestorm of examination in recent months. In the midst of that firestorm, much attention was deflected away from perhaps an even more significant development, one that focuses on Russia, Qatar, numerous shell companies, and the Trump Organization. The deal specifically centered around commissions on the sale of a 19% stake in oil giant Rosneft a publicly traded company that is owned mostly by the Russian government, specifically, Putin and his closest allies and oligarchs.
Upon further examination, it appears that just when the Trump Tower Moscow deal fizzled out, Carter Page began discussing a different means for Russia to monetarily assist Trump in exchange for the lifting of U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia.
Trump Tower Moscow
Back in October of 2017, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before Congress. Much of the questioning focused on a reported Trump Tower Moscow deal that the attorney had been working on as a representative of Donald Trump.
Initial talks of building a Trump Tower in Moscow appear to have begun in November of 2013 at Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Just two months later, on January 22, 2014, the Advisor to the Minister of Economic Development of Russia, and an organizer of this Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Yulya Alferova, tweeted a photo with Donald Trump. Attached to that photo was an interesting comment which read, “I’m sure @realDonaldTrump will be a great president! We’ll support you from Russia. America needs [sic] ambitious leader!” (see below).
— Alferova Yulya (@AlferovaYulyaE) January 22, 2014
Trump didn’t officially announce his candidacy for President until June 16, 2015.
On October 12, 2015, Felix Sater, a Russian-born developer who had been working with Trump for years and would later become one of the major proponents of the Trump Tower Moscow deal, emailed Michael Cohen telling him that a Russian bank named VTB Bank would fund a Trump Tower Moscow deal. VTB Bank happens to be sanctioned by the U.S. government.
On November 3, 2015, less than four months after Trump announced his candidacy, Felix Sater sent another email to Cohen which read as follows:
“Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. 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.”
Also soon after Trump announced his candidacy, Maria Butina, a woman who has had ties to the NRA and has been charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation, asked President Trump about his position on Russia, to which he responded:
“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin … I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”
Note: On Monday it was reported that Maria Butina is preparing to sign a plea deal with federal prosecutors in the United States.
Discussions for Trump Tower Moscow appear to have continued well into Donald Trump’s political campaign, even though Michael Cohen initially lied about the timeline. Cohen originally told Congress back in October of 2017 that the Trump Tower project in Moscow had ended in January of 2016. Cohen has since changed his story, admitting he initially lied and that he had continued to pursue the deal with Russia into June of 2016.
There is email evidence to support Cohen’s claim that talks continued. Emails show that Cohen was planning to visit Russia in June of 2016 to discuss the deal, but on June 14, 2016, Cohen abruptly told Felix Sater that he would not be traveling to Russia after all.
If the Trump Tower Moscow deal would have gone through, Trump organization “could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues,” according to the special counsel’s sentencing memo for Michael Cohen, which was filed last Friday. The deal also likely relied on the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia, given that a sanctioned bank was allegedly going to provide the financing to Trump Organization.
We are all left guessing, at least for now, as to why the Trump Tower deal seems to have abruptly ended in June, but it is worth noting that around this time, the media had begun heavily scrutinizing the Trump Tower deal.
On May 17, 2016, less than a month before the deal appears to have ended, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post published a bombshell story entitled, “Former Mafia-linked figure describes association with Trump“. This story shed light on Felix Sater and his relationship with Trump and the Moscow deal. In the article, Sater claimed that the deal had fallen apart, even though this now doesn’t appear to have been the case, considering the fact that Cohen admitted to still be working on the deal until mid-June of that year.
Then a week later on May 22, 2016, Politico’s David Cay published a report showing more details of Trump’s relationship with Sater and the Trump Tower project.
The media had discovered these shady connections to Trump. They were also beginning to expose the fact that he was working on a Trump Tower deal in Russia as he was also speaking so fondly of Putin and seemingly pushing the idea that sanctions against the Kremlin were not necessary.
Could this, along with the fact that Trump had just won the Republican nomination in May of 2016, have been the reason why talks abruptly ended? While there is no direct evidence at this time, it appears to be very possible.
A Quick Change of Plans?
Putin seemingly had lost some of his value in pushing to entice Trump to continue supporting the idea of lifting sanctions against Russia, given that the Trump Tower deal had fallen apart and eliminated Trump’s need to deal with sanctioned VTB Bank. Putin and Trump, however, may not have stopped dealing. Examining the Steele Dossier, it alleges that around the same time that the Trump Tower deal fell apart, a new deal began being discussed between Putin’s people and Trump’s campaign — one which would also focus on financial gains for Trump in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia.
The Emergence of the Rosneft Allegations
On January 10, 2017, just 10 days before Trump would become our 45th president, BuzzFeed published the Steele Dossier, a 35-page report compiled by Former British MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele. At the time, the report seemed controversial, but as time has gone on, an increasing amount of the dossier has been corroborated in court filings and through media reports.
In the dossier, there is a particular portion which discusses events that took place in July of 2016, less than one month after the Trump Tower deal apparently came to an end. This portion, much of which has been corroborated through both media reports and congressional testimony, focuses on Trump Campaign Adviser Carter Page’s frequent visits to Russia and meetings with representatives from Russia oil and energy company Rosneft.
Rosneft is one of the largest publicly traded oil companies in the world. However, the majority of the company is also owned by Vladimir Putin and many of his close oligarchs and associates. The company is currently valued at approximately $70 billion.
According to the Steele Dossier, in July of 2016, CEO of Rosneft, and close ally and “de facto deputy” of Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin, “confided details of a recent secret meeting between him and visiting Foreign Affairs Advisor to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Carter Page.” U.S. Intelligence has also reportedly confirmed that Page met with Sechin in Russia during this time period.
The Steele Dossier then goes on to state:
“According to Sechin’s associate, the Rosneft President (CEO) had raised with (Carter) Page the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia. Page had reacted positively to this demarche by Sechin but had been generally non-committal in response.”
The dossier then continues to claim that:
“In terms of the substance of their discussion, Sechin’s associate said that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page/Trump’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft in return. Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.”
While these terms, nor the agreement, have yet to be corroborated by anyone in the media, something interesting did take place a little over a month after Trump won the election. In December of 2016, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on state TV that a 19.5% stake in Rosneft was sold to Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore PLC (remember that according to the dossier Trump was promised the brokerage fees on the sale of up to 19% of Rosneft). The deal also involved many anonymous shell companies which are almost impossible to track, including QHG Shares, QHC Holding, and QHC Cayman Limited.
To make matters more interesting, in June of 2017, Russia bought back their stake in Rosneft, that was sold just 6 months prior, leaving many people scratching their heads as to why the original deal ever took place. Qatar claimed that they were merely betting that oil prices would rise, thus making the stock’s value soar, but that certainly seems like a risky bet. For the record, the price of crude oil dropped approximately 10% during Qatar’s ownership of the company.
Could this sale, and then the quick reversal, have simply been a means for Russia to funnel those brokerage fees on the 19% sale of Rosneft to Trump and his campaign associates like the dossier suggested had been offered? It definitely seems possible, and without a doubt, the special counsel is looking into the deal.
Trump would have stood to make several hundred million dollars if he did become the beneficiary of these brokerage fees, as a mere 3% commission would have equated to over $300 million dollars. That deal would seemingly make up for the fact that the Trump Tower deal fell apart, which would have also brought in “hundreds of millions of dollars” to the Trump Organization, according to the special counsel, while helping ensure, on Putin’s behalf, that Russian sanctions would still be lifted.
The Qatar / Qatar Investment Authority / Al Rumaihi Connection
As we’ve detailed above, the sale of the 19.5% stake in Rosneft was to both Glencore PLC and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The Qatar Investment Authority is a state-owned holding company for the nation of Qatar, which was established in 2005 in order to diversify the nation’s wealth both domestically and internationally.
A man named Ahmed Al-Rumaihi headed up a $100 billion division of the QIA at the time that the Rosneft deal took place. This means that Al-Rumaihi was a central figure in the deal, which was announced by Putin on State Television on December 6, 2016.
Just six days after the announcement, on December 12, 2016, Al-Rumaihi was pictured at Trump Tower in Manhattan alongside both Michael Cohen and soon to me National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
Warning ignored. So here it goes.
December 12, 2016 – Trump Tower. Details to follow… pic.twitter.com/aEuuhRHB4a
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 13, 2018
“Mr. Al-Rumaihi was at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016. He was there in his then role as head of Qatar Investments, an internal division of QIA, to accompany the Qatari delegation that was meeting with Trump transition officials on that date,” a QIA spokesperson told CNN. “He did not participate in any meetings with Michael Flynn, and his involvement in the meetings on that date was limited.”
This statement seems rather curious when one considers the fact that not only was Al-Rumaihi visiting Trump associates, campaign officials and likely Trump himself, days after the Rosneft deal was announced, but he bragged to business associates that he had bribed Trump administration officials, according to a sworn declaration filed in court.
In May of this year, Jeffrey Kwatinetz, the co-founder of BIG3 Basketball, sued Al-Rumaihi and other investors, alleging that they failed to fund their end of the bargain, instead, using their influence and money to gain access to President Trump. In a sworn declaration Kwatinetz stated that Al-Rumaihi wanted to set up a meeting with his friend and former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon. Al-Rumaihi was told that Bannon could not be bribed to influence the Trump Administration. He then responded, “Do you think [Michael] Flynn turned down our money?”
Just last week, as Michael Flynn’s sentencing memo was filed by the Mueller team, Al-Rumaihi provided notice to the court in his BIG3 suit that the U.S. State Department has just recognized his diplomatic status and has issued him credentials, meaning that he is now privy to ‘diplomatic immunity’.
So in essence, the man responsible for buying a portion of the Rosneft stake, which the Steele Dossier alleges Trump would receive the commission from, met with Trump officials at Trump Tower days after the deal was finalized, then implied to his business partners that he had bribed Michael Flynn.
It’s also worth noting that Michael Flynn has admitted, as part of his guilty plea, to meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak toward the end of December (2016) to discuss U.S. imposed Russian sanctions. This was just weeks after Al-Rumaihi visited Trump Tower and the Rosneft sale was completed.
Trump’s Attempts to Lift Russian Sanctions
The one key component that is missing here is the fact that Trump has not actually lifted Russian sanctions. That, however, hasn’t been for the lack of trying. Trump has on many occasions discussed lifting sanctions against Russia.
NPR has reported that “Almost as soon as President Trump took office, his top aides told the State Department to develop proposals to lift penalties on Russia that had been imposed by the Obama administration.”
In July of this year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the administration was considering lifting sanctions against a Russian aluminum company, Rusal, a company with strong connections to Vladimir Putin. Then in April, the administration actually did eased these sanctions.
In August of this year, President Trump said he “would consider [lifting sanctions on Russia] if they do something that would be good for us,” before continuing, “We have a lot of things we can do good for each other. You have Syria. You have Ukraine. You have many other things.”
Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies have been opposed to lifting or easing sanctions against Russia, and this has made it almost impossible for Trump to easily act. Undoubtedly we will learn more on whether a legitimate quid pro quo actually existed between Trump and Russia as the Mueller investigation unfolds.
Wrapping it all up
The public doesn’t have all of the facts and can’t see all of the evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller has at his disposal. We can only make assumptions based on the facts and evidence that have come to light thus far.
We know that Trump’s campaign had multiple contacts with officials within the Russian government. We also know that Russia supported a Trump presidency over a Hillary Clinton Presidency. Additionally, we understand that Russia wanted sanctions relief, and they had notified Trump officials of their desires. It’s also known that Trump desired to profit from Russia as we have seen with his attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. When that deal failed, however, Russia likely would have sought to convince Trump to lift or ease Russian sanctions through other means.
Did these other means include offering Trump hundreds of millions of dollars through the brokerage fees on the sale of Rosneft, just as the Steele Dossier alleges? We probably won’t know for sure until Robert Mueller issues his report, but various events seem to imply that this could very possibly be the case. With Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn both fully cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller likely holds all of these answers.