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What the real estate industry should watch for in the Robert Mueller hearings

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the proposed Trump Tower Moscow (Credit: Getty Images/Trump Tower Moscow via BuzzFeed)

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the proposed Trump Tower Moscow (Credit: Getty Images/Trump Tower Moscow via BuzzFeed)

Former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify in back-to-back hearings before Congress on Wednesday to discuss the 400-plus page report that has elicited calls for impeachment from some Democrats and declarations of victory from President Trump and his supporters.

Though it’s unlikely that much new information will be revealed— the Justice Department reportedly instructed Mueller to limit his testimony to the report’s findings — members of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees are expected to drill Mueller on whether he believes the president obstructed justice. In his report, Mueller indicated that he was abiding by a Justice Department policy that bars the indictment of a sitting president — but in his only public remarks since, he declined to clear Trump of wrongdoing.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said during a press conference in May.

At least a portion of the hearings will likely be dedicated to failed plans for a Trump-branded tower in Moscow, as well as meetings between Jared Kushner and a Russian bank. The report left many questions unanswered, including whether or not Trump instructed his associates to lie about the Russia tower.

Sometime between October and November 2015, the Trump Organization signed a letter of intent with I.C. Expert Investment Company, a Russian development company, to build a large residential, hotel and commercial building in Moscow. Felix Sater, a former associate of the Trump Organization who built Trump Soho, wanted to arrange a public meeting between Vladimir Putin and Trump before the election, an encounter he hoped would not only help boost Trump’s profile internationally but also promote the $1 billion Trump-branded tower.

“I didn’t have access to the president of China, otherwise I would’ve gotten him on stage. I would’ve gotten the president of China onstage and made it a trifecta,” Sater told TRD in April. “They believed, and so did I, that if he was meeting with foreign leaders, and able to conduct business deals with them, it would help him on the foreign policy component. To show that he is capable. That’s what we thought the benefit would be. Nothing else.”

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison in late2018, in part for lying to Congress about his communications with a spokesperson for Putin, whom he contacted seeking help to launch the Trump Tower project in Moscow. Cohen admitted to Mueller that Trump instructed him to lie about the condo project’s timeline by saying negotiations ended several months earlier than they did, Buzzfeed reported in January. Although Cohen initially said discussions about Trump Moscow ended in January 2016, they lasted through June 2016, according to Mueller’s report. The report found that Trump knew Cohen described a false timeline to Congress,but it ultimately concluded that there isn’t enough information to establish that the president directed Cohen to lie. Earlier this month, Sater refused to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee about whether or not he knew that Cohen planned to lie in his testimony, the Washington Post reported.

Much is still unknown about a meeting between Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, and Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian government owned bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), which was under sanctions at the time. According to Mueller’s report, Kushner met with Gorkov on Dec. 13, 2016, at the Madison Avenue offices of Colony Capital. Kushner maintained that the meeting didn’t involve business but focused on improving U.S.-Russia relations. But in a 2017 public statement, VEB described the meeting as one of many business meetings with major U.S. banks and companies. At the time, Kushner Companies was seeking financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, which raised some conflict of interest concerns. In his report, Mueller couldn’t conclude whether or not the meeting dealt with strictly business or diplomacy or both, but noted that there wasn’t significant follow-up between Kushner and Gorkov after the meeting.

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