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Alex Brandon / AP

President Trump has heatedly denied campaign connections to Russia. But congressional investigators are looking into claims by one of his closest business associates that he briefed the candidate three times on a frantic effort to get a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Why it matters: A Republican close to the White House tells Axios' Jonathan Swan: "It gives Mueller all the excuse he needs to open a full-blown investigation into Cohen. And it's worth noting that Cohen's financial affairs are inextricably intertwined with the president's."

The two key stories:

  • WashPost: "A top executive from Donald Trump's real estate company emailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin's personal spokesman ... last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow ... The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump's closest business advisers.''
  • ''Cohen said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015. ... [H]e said that the project was abandoned 'for business reasons' when government permission was not secured."
  • N.Y. Times: "A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency."
  • "The associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which ... he predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump's savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy. 'Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.'"

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

4 hours ago - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.