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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Potential ties among Russia, Trump venture and '16 campaign draw tighter

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, leaves federal court on Thursday in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

The Trump Organization's Moscow project never got off the ground, but it is paying dividends just the same — for special counsel Robert Mueller.

By forcing ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen to admit he lied about the venture, Mueller crosses into what Trump warned would be off-limits: his private business dealings.

Team Mueller found that while Trump closed in on the GOP nomination in summer 2016, Cohen pushed the project in a phone call with a key Russian official and kept the boss and his family informed.

The prosecutors said Cohen lied on behalf of Trump "in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations."

Now a clearer picture emerges of how Trump's Moscow venture and political campaign coincided in a short period with online Russian propaganda efforts.

For the first time, Mueller probers are citing the role of an individual identified in news reports as former Trump real estate associate Felix Sater. His criminal past and informant work for the FBI have been widely known  for years.

Sater crowed in an email with Cohen on the Russia project: "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Questions linger about Sater's propensity to boast and exaggerate, much as they do for longtime Trump adviser and purported Mueller target Roger Stone, who preened about WikiLeaks disclosures during that crucial campaign summer.

On Thursday there seemed to be a curious contradiction in the Trump camp’s responses.

On the White House South Lawn, Trump told reporters Cohen was "trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story." He called Cohen weak and a liar.

But Trump's lawyers told The New York Times that the president's written answers to Mueller's questions about the Moscow development talks aligned with what Cohen admitted.

Neither Trump nor his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were specific about these alleged Cohen lies. They also didn't explain why, if Cohen was lying, Trump's statements wouldn’t rebut him.

In the end, the Trump Moscow project came no closer to fruition than his ill-fated plan a few years back to build a catering hall at Jones Beach.

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