The Russia investigation took yet another surprising turn on Wednesday. BuzzFeed News reports that during the presidential campaign, Olympic weightlifter Dmitry Klokov offered to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ivanka Trump introduced the Russian athlete to Donald's lawyer Michael Cohen shortly thereafter. BuzzFeed also reports that lawmakers, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, are scrutinizing email exchanges between Cohen and Klokov as part of their probes into Russian election meddling.
According to BuzzFeed, Ivanka connected Klokov with Cohen in 2015 as part of an effort to get a 100-story, Trump-branded building constructed in Moscow. Beyond that, however, much about the episode remains unclear, including whether Klokov had the ability to introduce Donald to Putin. (It's important to note that Ivanka herself is not being investigated.) Bustle has reached out to the White House for comment.
Victoria Nourse, a law professor at Georgetown University, tells Bustle that the report "suggests that Trump's inner circle was prepared to use Michael Cohen as a conduit to the Russians." Nourse adds, "It is well known that Cohen was a 'fixer.' Perhaps he was simply trying to 'fix' a meeting between Trump and Putin, but perhaps he was also trying to "fix" the election?"
According to Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School, that Mueller's team is looking into this contact shows that it's "focused on every and any contact between the Trump campaign and Russia, even ones that didn’t come to fruition. That’s one of the reasons why the 'collusion' framework in the public discourse is so maddeningly imprecise."
Ohlin says that while the Trump team's connection to Russia "might not have ripened into a full-blown conspiracy," even the communications that did occur "can make the solicitor criminally liable.
According to earlier reports, Donald had designs on constructing a Trump Tower in Moscow for more than a year before the presidential election. BuzzFeed reports that on October 28th, 2015 — the day of the third Republican primary debate — he signed a non-binding letter of intent granting a Russian developer permission to use the Trump name for a forthcoming project. The Trump Organization agreed to let the developer brand the spa facility at the tower "The Spa by Ivanka Trump," and required that Ivanka be given final say on "all interior design elements of the spa or fitness facilities."
Two months after that, Ivanka told Cohen to meet with Klokov, four sources told BuzzFeed. The two men reportedly had at least one phone conversation — though it's unclear what they discussed — and exchanged several emails, which are now being looked at by congressional investigators and Mueller's team, according to BuzzFeed.
Brooklyn Law School professor Miriam Baer tells Bustle that the report "potentially suggests additional channels between the Trump Organization and Russia," though she adds that it's "unclear that Cohen ever used those channels."
Baer also says, "None of this is necessarily illegal, but it is certainly relevant to an investigator tasked with examining direct and indirect contacts between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government."
Over the course of several emails, Klokov reportedly offered to introduce Donald to the president of Russia to facilitate the construction of the Moscow tower. Cohen rejected that offer, told Klokov that the Trump Organization had already struck an agreement regarding the project, and said he would be cutting off contact with the Russian athlete. In what BuzzFeed described as a "final brusque message," Klokov questioned whether Cohen had the authority to make decisions on behalf of the Trump Organization — and cc'ed Ivanka on the email.
One source told BuzzFeed that after this, a frustrated Ivanka questioned Cohen's decision to stop communicating with Klokov. It's unclear in what manner she did this, but BuzzFeed's report suggests that it was not over email.
Either way, Wednesday's report "demonstrates the extent to which Ivanka Trump was assisting in the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow," Baer tells Bustle.
The Moscow tower would have been the tallest building in Moscow, and Trump's associates reportedly spent quite a bit of time trying to get it off the ground. However, the project never came to fruition, and there is no Trump Tower in Moscow.