Mueller probe tracking down Trump business partners, with Cohen a focus of queries

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators this week questioned an associate of the Trump Organization who was involved in overseas deals with President Donald Trump’s company in recent years.

Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings.

Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee. Among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump Organization in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The move to question business associates of the president adds a significant new element to the Mueller investigation, which began by probing whether the Trump campaign and Russia colluded in an effort to get Trump elected but has branched far beyond that.

It’s unclear how many properties or deals the Mueller team might be looking at; the Trump Organization’s foreign business relationships span the globe from properties in Panama, Brazil and Uruguay to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Trump’s children — Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric — were parties to talks involving many of the dealings. Generally, the discussions revolved around licensing fees for use of the Trump name.

Prior indictments and guilty pleas secured by the Mueller team to date have focused on campaign personnel such as ex-campaign chief Paul J. Manafort, his aide Richard Gates and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The New York Times reported on March 15 that Mueller had subpoenaed unspecified records from the Trump Organization. Days before that, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s team was looking into a Moscow hotel deal for which Cohen brought to Donald Trump a letter of intent from a Moscow developer during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen left the Trump Organization in January 2017, and has been front-page news of late because of his acknowledgement that he paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the November 2016 elections through a company established for the purpose of buying her silence with a non-disclosure agreement. Daniels has sought to toss out that agreement, appearing last month on a 60 Minutes broadcast to describe her alleged 2006 extramarital affair with then-businessman Trump. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One Thursday, Trump denied knowledge of the payment to Daniels, deferring to Cohen.

You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney,” Trump said. “You’ll have to ask Michael.”

Cohen and Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten did not respond to requests for comment.

Before the Daniels flap, which includes a defamation suit she brought against him on March 26, Cohen was headline fodder because of revelations that he pursued a hotel deal for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

His partner in that effort was Russian émigré and former Trump Organization associate Felix Sater, whose involvement in the pursuit of a Moscow-area hotel became public last year at a time when n ow-President Trump was insisting that he had no business interests in Russia.

The two men have said they teamed with a Russian group called I.C. Expert Consulting, and Cohen last year provided a detailed letter to congressional investigators about the deal and why it did not come to fruition. Appearing on MSNBC last month, Sater said that the local developer had sought financing from the Russian bank VTB, a big lender in Russia but one sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2014, with its subsidiaries added to the list the following year.

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