President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said Monday that the President had no recollection of whether discussions about a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project went through the 2016 election, distancing himself from a claim he made Sunday.
Giuliani’s remarks were an attempt at damage control after comments he made a day prior when he said the talks about the Moscow project continued through the campaign, even possibly as late as October or November 2016. Adjusting his previous timeline, Giuliani told CNN on Monday that there was no way of determining exactly when the discussions ended because they had no record of it.
“My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President,” Giuliani said in a statement. “My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions. The point is that the proposal was in the earliest stage and did not advance beyond a free non-binding letter of intent.”
The project and the length of discussions around have been subject to a changing narrative and is a key part of the legal saga facing Cohen, Trump’s former attorney. The project also came up in written questions that Trump answered for special counsel Robert Mueller as a part of the broader investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
When Cohen pleaded guilty to a charge from Mueller’s office in November, he said had he lied about the duration of the proposed Moscow project. Cohen had previously claimed such discussions ended in January 2016 – ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the first votes being cast in the primaries. But in his admission of guilt, Cohen called the previous statement a lie and said the discussions went through June 2016.
Trump denied any deals with Russia
The fact that there were discussions for a Moscow project at any point during the campaign has undermined repeated denials from Trump that his company had any business dealings in Russia or that he had anything to do with Russia at all.
Trump’s discussions with Cohen about the Moscow project – regardless of when they ended – happened while Trump cozied up to Russia with his rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump bucked his party’s orthodoxy and stunned his critics by repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. He echoed Kremlin talking points on key foreign policy topics like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the usefulness of the NATO alliance and the fight against ISIS in Syria.
While his company secretly pursued a lucrative business deal in Moscow, Trump also publicly floated the possibility of lifting US sanctions against Russia.
Negotiations for a Trump deal in Moscow occurred around the same time that the Russian government was interfering in the 2016 US election. Trump publicly encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s private server, though he later said he was joking.
Giuliani’s previous comments
Giuliani suggested last month that Trump had spoken with Cohen past January 2016, and indicated that conversations occurred later than previously known. Giuliani said Trump did not really remember when the conversations took place, but was comfortable with a general answer that Trump provided Mueller, which “would have covered all the way up to November of – covered all the way up to November 2016.” He added at the time that the conversations could have been in June or July 2016.
On Sunday, Giuliani told NBC and The New York Times that talks about the project continued during the campaign.
“The President also remembers – yeah, probably up – could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election,” Giuliani told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
“So anytime during that period they could’ve talked about it. But the President’s recollection of it is that the – the thing had petered out quite a bit. They sent a letter of intent in. They didn’t even know where to send it they knew so little about it. They’d finally got it straightened out. And then they abandoned the project. And that’s about as much as he can remember of it. Because, remember, 2015, 2016, he’s running against 16 people for president of the United States.”
Giuliani argued on Monday, as he did a day prior to CNN, that Trump viewed the project as insignificant because it consisted at the time of only an unfunded letter of intent. Giuliani said that there was no connection between Trump’s comments related to Russia during the campaign and the proposed Trump Tower Moscow.
“It was such a minor matter, he wouldn’t have equated it,” Giuliani said.
Although Giuliani downplayed the project, there were discussions with others about it and also a discussion with Trump about going to Moscow after the Republican National Convention to help push the deal. The letter of intent was also quite detailed.