BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A spokesman for Russia’s government said Saturday that only two emails and a phone call took place between President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian officials about a planned Trump Tower project.
But Russian officials gave the exchanges no more attention than any other business proposition, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina.
Peskov told NBC News in an interview that “every week dozens and dozens of foreign businessmen are approaching us, mentioning possible investments, searching for contacts.”
He said Trump representatives ceased contact with the Russians.
"For us, it's not different," Peskov said. "For you, it’s a future president Trump. For us, it’s one of the other applicants."
Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty this week to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow and admitted discussions continued into June 2016 during the presidential campaign.
The revelations raised new questions about Trump's involvement in a possible Moscow deal that never came to fruition.
Peskov said there were “two emails and one telephone call, returned telephone call, asking what they wanted and why they wanted to be in contact with [the Russian] presidential administration.”
He said “we told them that Russian presidential administration is not dealing with construction works” but they could arrange contacts with potential Russian counterparts at an economic forum in St. Petersburg.
Peskov claimed the Trump side stopped making contact and “they did disappear,” and Peskov said he never had any personal conversations with Cohen.
Asked about how some might struggle to believe that the lawyer for a U.S. presidential candidate made contact with Peskov’s office and that it came to nothing, Peskov said: “This is not our struggle, it's their struggle, we wish them success.”
Peskov’s statements Saturday and documents filed in relation to Cohen’s plea deal seem to contradict Peskov’s prior statements on Russia’s involvement in the proposed Trump Tower deal.
Peskov said in August 2017 that "we do not react to such business topics — this is not our work — we left it unanswered," the Washington Post reported.
But Peskov seemed to say Saturday that there was a return telephone call. In the plea agreement documents, prosecutors wrote that Cohen did receive a response from the Putin press secretary’s office.
Cohen’s plea on Thursday marked the first time that Trump and his private business dealings in Moscow were named in open court as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.
Prosecutors said Cohen lied to minimize links between Trump and his Moscow building project and to give the false impression that the project had ended before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016. In reality, Cohen continued to pursue Russian approval for Trump's project as late as June 2016.
Trump has claimed Cohen is lying to secure a lesser sentence and called him a "weak person."
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August to eight felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, including two counts related to hush-money payments that Cohen said were made to women at the then-candidate's direction during the 2016 campaign to keep them from discussing affairs they said they had with Trump.
The president claimed that "everybody knew" about the project, which he characterized as "more or less of an option that we were looking at in Moscow."
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday’s guilty plea “provides additional documented proof that President Trump’s inner circle has brazenly lied and covered up the truth to protect the President,” and that "this desperate dishonesty makes all Americans ask what the Russians have on Trump, politically, personally or financially."
Pelosi, who could become House Speaker once the new Congress takes session, said Congress must pass legislation to protect Mueller’s investigation from any interference.
Cohen will be sentenced in both his cases Dec. 12 in federal court in Manhattan. In Thursday's case, brought by Mueller, Cohen could receive up to six months jail time. In the previous case, it remains to be seen if prosecutors in New York seek to further decrease their recommended sentence of 46 to 63 months.
Keir Simmons reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina; Phil Helsel from Los Angeles.