A plan by Donald Trump’s company to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse will be in the crosshairs of the House Intelligence Committee when Democrats take control of it in the new year, several members said. The plan, hatched during the 2016 election and involving the proposed but never realized Trump Tower Moscow, was reported Thursday by BuzzFeed News.
“If true, this story further underscores the need to finish the Committee’s counterintelligence investigation to determine what, if any, financial leverage the Russians may hold over President Trump and the Trump Organization, and what Trump may have hoped to gain by any financial offer to Putin,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News Thursday evening.
The committee, which spent more than a year on an investigation into Russian election interference, already questioned Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, about the real estate development project. On Thursday Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project in order to protect Trump and his campaign.
“The Committee looks forward to inviting Mr. Cohen back to help answer these and many other outstanding questions,” Schiff said.
The details of the Trump Tower Moscow deal were first revealed by BuzzFeed News in May.
The committee has also questioned Felix Sater, a business associate of Cohen’s and Trump’s, who told BuzzFeed News that it was his idea to give Putin the penthouse.
It is not clear whether Trump knew of the plan, but Cohen said in court documents that he regularly briefed Trump on the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to build the tower. The Trump Organization did not comment on the report about the penthouse, nor did Michael Cohen or a representative of the Kremlin.
The House committee’s investigation was defined by deep partisan rancor, and Republican members, who have been in control of Congress, shut it down in March. But earlier this month, Democrats won back the majority in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, setting them up to take control of the chamber’s committees come January. Democrats on the panel will now have broader investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena documents and witnesses.
“As a member of the committee, I would strongly urge us to bring in everybody associated with this deal and figure out what was offered, who it was offered to, and who knew about it,” Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democratic member of the committee, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.
Castro also said he believed the plan could have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “If this was an attempt to speed up the project or secure the project and make sure it got done, it could amount to bribery for an official of a foreign government and anyone who was part of that could be in violation of this federal statute,” he said.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, another Democrat on the committee, said he wants it to investigate the plan as well. “Now we’re in a position where we can look at third-party communication records, third-party travel logs, third-party bank records, to see what was really going on in the background, and to further probe what the candidate’s knowledge was of the prospective deal and Moscow and the offer by the Russians to help him,” he said.
“We’re way beyond bribery,” he added. “If a candidate for president is offering a foreign adversary a $50 million gift while that adversary through his own backchannels is offering support of the campaign, that’s betrayal at the highest level; that’s conspiracy.
“Bribery would be the least of Donald Trump’s worries.”