When Donald J. Trump took a run at building a tower in Moscow in the middle of his 2016 presidential campaign, it was the high point of a decades-long effort to plant the “Trump” flag there.
The role his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen played in the endeavor entered the spotlight again on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to misleading Congress. But the effort was led in large part by Felix Sater, a convicted felon and longtime business associate with deep ties to Russia.
To get the project off the ground, Mr. Sater dug into his address book and its more than 100 Russian contacts — including entries for President Vladimir V. Putin and a former general in Russian military intelligence. Mr. Sater tapped the general, Evgeny Shmykov, to help arrange visas for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to visit Russia, according to emails and interviews with several people knowledgeable about the events.
For months, the felon, the former Russian intelligence officer and Mr. Trump’s lawyer worked to land the deal, speaking with a Putin aide, Russian bankers and real estate developers. But by July 2016, with Mr. Trump having secured the Republican presidential nomination and accusations of Russian election interference heating up, the project was abandoned, and neither Mr. Cohen nor Mr. Trump traveled to Moscow.
The improbable story of the Trump Tower Moscow deal was thrust onto center stage again Thursday after Mr. Cohen admitted lying to Congress about his role in the project. Mr. Cohen told the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that his involvement went on far longer, and his contacts with Russians and briefings to Mr. Trump were more frequent, than he had previously claimed.