WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani says Trump's discussions with Russian officials over construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow went on throughout the time he was campaigning for the White House in 2016, months longer than previously acknowledged.
“It's our understanding that they went on throughout 2016," Giuliani told NBC's Meet the Press. Giuliani said there "weren't a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can't be sure of the exact date."
"Probably could be up to as far as October, November — our answers cover until the election," Giuliani said, referring to written questions Trump has answered from special counsel Robert Mueller, who for 20 months has been investigating Trump campaign ties to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.
"So anytime during that period they could've talked about it," Giuliani said. "But the president's recollection of it is that the thing had petered out (subsided) quite a bit,” and the construction project never materialized. During the early stages of the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump often said he had no business ties to Russia.
Giuliani, a former New York mayor, said that Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, "would have a much better recollection of [the Moscow negotiations] than the president. It was much more important to him. That was his sole mission. The president was running for president of the United States. So you have to expect there's not going to be a great deal of concentration on a project that never went anywhere."
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the lead Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating Trump campaign ties to Russia, said on the NBC show the length of Trump's efforts to build a Moscow skyscraper, extending into the November 2016 national election, was "news to me, and that is big news. Why, two years after the fact, are we just learning this fact now when there’s been this much inquiry?”
Warner added, “I would think most voters — Democrat, Republican, independent, you name it — that knowing the Republican nominee was actively trying to do business in Moscow, that the Republican nominee at least at one point had offered, if he built this building, Vladimir Putin, a free-penthouse apartment, and if those negotiations were ongoing up until the election, I think that’s a relevant fact for voters to know. And I think it’s remarkable we are two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”
Cohen has pleaded guilty to, among other offenses, lying to Congress about the extent of Trump's involvement with the Moscow project, telling a congressional panel that Trump's efforts ended in January 2016, just as the Republican presidential nominating contests were starting three years ago. He has said he lied to comport with Trump's own public comments to voters, but more recently has said he recalls the Moscow discussions extending to June 2016, a shorter time frame than Giuliani acknowledged Sunday.
The online news site BuzzFeed said last week that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Moscow timeline, but Mueller's office late Friday said the report was "not accurate." BuzzFeed said it continues to stand by the story.
In a separate interview on CNN, Giuliani said he had "no knowledge" of whether Trump talked to Cohen before his congressional testimony.
Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings from his lengthy investigation. He and other federal prosecutors have secured convictions or guilty pleas from several key figures in Trump's orbit, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos and Cohen.