Michael Cohen’s guilty plea set off a furious flurry of “smoking gun” stories in the mainstream media, but one nugget stuck out for the degree of exaggeration involved – the one about President Trump allegedly wanting to give an apartment to Vladimir Putin.
“Report: Trump Organization planned to give $50 million penthouse to Putin amid Moscow deal,” read the headline in USA Today.
“Trump Organization planned to give a $50 million gift to Vladimir Putin,” wrote the New Republic.
“Donald Trump’s Company Reportedly Planned to Gift $50 Million Penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow to Vladimir Putin,” read the headline on Slate.
And the headline that started it all from Buzzfeed: “The Trump Organization Planned to Give Vladimir Putin The $50 Million Penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow,” with a subhead that read: “During the presidential campaign, Michael Cohen discussed the matter with a representative of Putin’s press secretary, according to two US sources.”
BuzzFeed reporters Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold wrote that “President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.”
Two anonymous law enforcement sources that Cohen, Trump’s former private attorney, told BuzzFeed that they “discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.”
“The revelation that representatives of the Trump organization planned to forge financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about President Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin.”
But the next paragraph says “the plan never went anywhere because the tower deal ultimately fizzled, and it is not clear whether Trump knew of the intention to give away the penthouse.”
The Washington Post wrote that the idea was floated to Cohen by Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman with whom Trump had done business for a decade.
“At one point, Sater suggested to Cohen that they give a $50 million penthouse unit to Putin as a way to market the new Trump Tower,” the Post wrote. “’If we have Putin in the penthouse every oligarch in Russia would want to live in that building,’” Sater told the Post Thursday in an interview. He recalled “that he told Cohen that the giveaway would pay for itself many times over,” the Post reported.
There is no evidence the conversation went any further than Sater and Cohen. But BuzzFeed updated its story on Friday with news that “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.”
“It is not clear whether Trump knew of the plan.”