Mueller's Take on Trump Tape Is Disputed by Georgian Businessman

(Bloomberg) -- A Georgian-American businessman is disputing portions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that detail his text messages regarding allegedly compromising tapes of Donald Trump during a 2013 visit to Moscow.

The businessman, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, was referring to a tantalizing footnote in Mueller’s 448-page report. It cited a text Rtskhiladze sent to Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen on Oct. 30, 2016: “Stopped the flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know...”

Rtskhiladze, according to the report, told Mueller’s interviewers that he’d been referring to compromising tapes of Trump that were rumored to be held by persons associated with the Crocus Group. That organization, founded by businessman Aras Agalarov, helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow.

Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake but that he didn’t communicate that to Cohen, according to the report. That could have left Cohen with the impression that real tapes had existed. “Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze,” according to the report.

On Friday, a representative for Rtskhiladze, Melanie Bonvicino, said that in coming days the businessman will address the “false, inaccurate, highly damaging and misleading characterizations made about him.”

“The full text messages were not released in their entirety,” Bonvicino said. “Michael Cohen knew this was a rumor only."

The footnote appeared to refer to one of the most salacious allegations to emerge about Trump, Russia and the 2016 election. James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had briefed Trump in January 2017 about the so-called Steele dossier, which included an unverified assertion that compromising tapes existed of Trump in Moscow in 2013.

In 2012, the Trump Organization announced plans to build a $250 million tower in the Georgian Black Sea town of Batumi with the Silk Road Group, which paid him a $1 million licensing fee. Rtskhiladze was the group’s U.S.-based partner. Plans for the tower were on hold until Trump announced he was pulling out of the project in January 2017 just before he entered the White House.

The Mueller report referred to Rtskhiladze as a Russian businessman. Bonvicino said that he is a U.S. citizen born in the current-day Republic of Georgia.

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