So here’s the deal, as simple, brief and straightforward as I can make it:
In 2015-16, while running for president, Donald Trump was also eagerly wooing Vladimir Putin, seeking his OK for a deal to build a 100-story Trump Tower in Moscow, which would be a crowning and extremely lucrative achievement in Trump’s career.
And as Trump closed in on the GOP nomination, Putin understandably became more eager to give Trump what he wanted.
Can you say “quid pro quo”?
The deal was being negotiated via Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s top aide, who invited Michael Cohen to come to Russia in June of 2016, in the midst of the campaign, to talk business and perhaps meet Putin. Any claim that Trump and his family were unaware of all this is absurd. Cohen was not by any means a decision-maker in the Trump Organization.
By that point, Russia had already been eavesdropping on Trump’s foes at the Democratic National Committee; it was already using social media to undermine Hillary Clinton and promote Trump. In April, Trump aide George Papadopoulos had been tipped off that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary via hacked emails.
Those dual tracks -- the Moscow project and the campaign to elect Trump -- collided on June 14, 2016, when Russia’s role in hacking the DNC became public. Suddenly, the mutually beneficial courtship between Trump and Putin became a huge liability. Cohen’s trip was immediately canceled, and both parties quickly went into denial mode.
Trump and Putin now shared a secret, in effect becoming co-conspirators in hiding the truth from American voters. Trump, Cohen, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway and others spent months vehemently denying any business interactions with Russia, and Putin quietly played along with the sham, biding his time, waiting for his payoff.
Today, Trump claims that “This deal was a very public deal. Everybody knows about this deal. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.” That's a blatant lie. Trump’s concerted effort to build a huge, career-making project in Moscow only became public in July 2017, long after the election. Even after it was exposed, Cohen and others risked perjury by lying about how serious it was, and how close it came to fruition.
They lied to protect the president, and they will pay the price.
Even now, we have learned most of this only because of the Mueller probe that Trump continues to try to kill. We have every reason to believe that the biggest revelations are yet to come, and for that reason we have every reason to believe that a desperate Trump will try anything within his power -- and some things outside that power -- to prevent the truth from emerging.