Donald Trump the man has always been indistinguishable from Donald Trump the business, and since winning the election last November, both have been indistinguishable from Donald Trump the president.
That creates a range of problems, from the legal to the ethical to the logistical. In the latest instance, the porous boundary between Trump’s business and political lives is a new front in the investigation into his ties to Russia. Even as Trump was running for president in 2015, the Trump Organization was continuing a years-long effort to build a tower in Moscow.
Central to the effort were Felix Sater, a colorful Russian figure who had worked with Trump on Trump Soho, a debacle of a development in New York City, in addition to having done shadowy work for the U.S. government and having mob ties and a history of securities fraud; and his childhood friend Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney and hanger-on.
“I know how to play this and we will get it done,” Sater wrote to Cohen in November 2015, in an email reported by The New York Times. “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.”
Cohen said in statements on Monday that Sater had a tendency to exaggerate—a claim bolstered by an excellent profile by Andrew Rice earlier this month. Yet even if Sater was overstating the extent of his sway in the Kremlin, it’s clear that the Trump Organization was interested in the project. In January 2016, Cohen attempted to contact Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, to request his assistance with the project.