A short history of Trump denying any connection to Russia

Talks with the Russians about a hotel stretched into the summer of 2016, weeks before Trump accepted the GOP presidential nomination.
Trump-Russia-timeline

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to lying about the timing of his talks with Russian officials about building a Trump tower in Moscow on Thursday, renewing questions about the president’s business dealings in Russia and how they might have influenced his election campaign.

In August 2017, Cohen told Congress that the discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow development ended in January 2016, before the primaries and when Trump’s presidential campaign was just heating up. That was a lie, Cohen now says, adding in his plea that Trump’s family members also knew about the ongoing discussions with Moscow.

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Now, Cohen says he held discussions about ways to win the Russian government's approval for a tower in Moscow up until June 2016, just weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination for president and around the time reports of Russia’s election meddling first surfaced.

Read: Mueller just drew a direct line between Trump's business and the Kremlin

Trump's pursuit of a mega deal in Moscow dates back to the 1980s, according to the Washington Post. It appeared to be reinvigorated in the late 2000s, with Donald Trump Jr. telling investors at a 2008 real estate conference that he had visited the country six times in the past 18 months.

Here’s what happened after Trump announced he was running for president in June 2015:

2015

September: Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and longtime partner to the Trump Organization, meets with Cohen to discuss a potential development in Moscow. After some back-and-forth between the two, Sater sends Cohen a letter of intent regarding the upcoming development deal on Oct. 13.

Oct. 17: The Washington Examiner published an article headlined “Putin loves Donald Trump.” Trump shared it on Twitter, writing: “Russia and the world has already started to respect us again!”

Oct. 28: According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News, Trump signs the letter of intent to pursue development of the Moscow tower Oct. 28. By November, Sater had started hyping up both Trump’s presidential campaign and the potential for Trump World Tower Moscow in internal emails obtained by the Washington Post. He proposed that Trump travel to Moscow in support of the development, which never wound up happening.

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Around that time, Vladimir Putin called Trump a “colorful and talented” man during his annual press conference in Moscow. Dec. 2: In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump denies knowing Sater, a twice-convicted felon, despite the fact that Sater has appeared alongside him in photographs and once carried a business card reading he was a “senior adviser to Donald Trump,” according to ABC News. The Bayrock Group, where Sater was an executive up until 2007, also had an office in Trump Tower. Dec. 31: Sater tells Cohen he was still trying to plan a meeting between Cohen and Kremlin officials, including Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov. According to messages obtained by BuzzFeed, Sater told Cohen that he had received an invitation from GenBank, which was under U.S. sanctions at the time, to send Cohen to Moscow.

Cohen became angry at the pace at which the plans were progressing and at the suggestion of being hosted by a “third-rate bank.” Cohen told Sater he was “done” with negotiating a meeting with Russia.

2016

Jan. 14: Cohen reaches out to Peskov’s office about arranging a meeting regarding the Moscow project, but Peskov says he never responded. Yet according to Cohen’s new guilty plea, both parties did in fact connect, with Cohen speaking to Peskov’s assistant by phone for 20 minutes. A few weeks later, Cohen was invited to Russia by Andrey Ryabinskiy, a boxing promoter, to talk more about the Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen later testified to Congress that this is where communications ended. It wasn’t. Jan. 27 - May 3: Over the next few months, according to BuzzFeed News, Sater and Cohen started talking again over an encrypted messaging app called Dust, where messages were deleted automatically. March 21: John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton, was the target of a phishing attack by Russia-linked hackers who allegedly stole at least 50,000 of his emails.

April: Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with alleged connections to the Kremlin, tells George Papadopoulos, who was then the foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, that he had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

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June 7: Trump secures the GOP nomination.

June 9: Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign adviser, meet in Trump Tower with a Russian attorney with ties to the Kremlin. June 14: Cohen and Sater also meet in Trump Tower, where it was reportedly decided that the Russia trip would be dropped for the time being.

July 22: WikiLeaks releases 19,252 hacked internal emails from the DNC, just before the Democratic National Convention.

July 25: Trump tweets that “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me,” referring to WikiLeaks dumping leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee on July 22.

July 25: FBI confirms it opened an investigation into the DNC hack.

July 26: Trump writes on Twitter that “for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

July 27: Trump calls on Russia to “find the 30,000” emails that were wiped from Hillary Clinton’s private email servers. A few hours after that, according to an indictment released by special counsel Robert Mueller this year, Russian government hackers attacked the email accounts of people working in Clinton’s personal office.

Nov. 8: Trump wins the presidency amid allegations that Russia had helped tilt the election in his favor.

Dec. 29: Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn meets with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to urge him to “refrain from escalating the situation” in response to new sanctions against Russia announced by the Obama administration, according to Mueller charging documents.

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2017

Jan. 7: Trump writes on Twitter that only “stupid” people would think it was bad to maintain a tight relationship with Russia. A few days after that, he again said on Twitter that he has “NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA.”

Jan. 13: Before Trump is inaugurated, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announces it would launch an investigation into whether Russia influenced the 2016 elections.

Jan. 25: The House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence announces it's conducting its own investigation. Aug. 27: Cohen sends a letter to each Congressional panel and now now admits he lied and said the business dealings with Russia ended in June. Trump Jr., meanwhile, testified he didn’t know about the project in development, nor did he know about Cohen’s communications with Russia.

Sater has said that he once accompanied Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on a trip to Moscow, and told BuzzFeed News that he even took them on a tour of the Kremlin, including Putin’s office. He alleges that Ivanka spun in Putin’s desk chair.

2018

Nov. 29: When Cohen reverses his timeline on the business developments in Moscow and pleads guilty to lying to Congress — while implying that Trump and his family were aware of these ongoing developments — Trump accuses him of lying again to get a reduced sentence.

“He’s got himself a big prison sentence, and he’s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story,” Trump told reporters Thursday morning after Cohen appeared in federal court.

“Even if he was right, it doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign,” Trump added.

Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a new federal charge and agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, admitting that he lied to Senate investigators about his former boss's business plans in Russia. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images