Trump, Felix Sater, and the FBI

I’ve been staring at this article for days now. It makes me feel like some 19th century yokel who’s struck oil on his property, knows it’s valuable, but doesn’t have the first idea what to do about it.

Try as I might, I can’t figure out how to either distill it or add to it. It was particularly fun to read this legal brief on Felix Sater. Sater really should be understood as a second Whitey Bulger, although one who worked very closely with the future president of the United States, as well as for the most powerful and dangerous crime boss in the world. If you want to read it for yourself, scroll down to where the Statement of the Case starts, and you won’t be disappointed. Suffice to say that you’ll want to know why a judge let him keep about $80 million of ill-gotten gains and refrained from imposing any jail time on him despite his rampant criminal activities, including making terroristic threats on several occasions.

The point of the piece is that the FBI is ill-suited to get to the bottom of their investigation of Trump’s Russia connections because their handling of Sater would be exposed.

You can see previous Washington Monthly coverage of Sater here, here, here, and here. His name came up most recently in this connection:

Hopefully, you’ve already seen the New York Times piece from this weekend detailing how Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen took a dossier to Michael Flynn that had been provided to him by a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician named Andrii V. Artemenko and a Russian mob-connected former employee of the Trump Organization named Felix Sater.

The dossier reportedly contained damaging information about the anti-Russian Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that the Trump administration could conceivably use to oust him. It also contained some kind of Russian-Ukrainian “peace plan” that would facilitate the lifting of sanctions on Russia.

What people are focusing on, quite justifiably, is the involvement of this Felix Sater character. I could write a whole, very long piece dedicated to nothing more than how obviously crazy it is for a personal lawyer to Donald Trump to meet with Sater, let alone carry his information personally to Trump’s national security adviser. Hopefully, however, you can find that argument made elsewhere.

As you can see, even then I was struggling with how to report on Sater in a way that is consistent with short-form blogging. So, I am going to cheat here and quote from the Russ Baker, C. Collins AND Jonathan Z. Larsen article cited at the top:

Sater and Trump sometimes traveled together. In September 2005, Trump and apparently Sater flew along with his wife Melania to Colorado, where Sater talked to a local reporter about possible Trump-Bayrock development projects in Denver.

The real estate tycoon and the undercover mobster were close enough that, according to his deposition testimony, Sater could simply walk up a flight of stairs to Trump’s office and stop in for an impromptu chat. Indeed, Sater and the Trump clan grew so close that in February 2006, at the personal request of Donald Trump, the mobster joined his children Ivanka, Donald Jr., and his son’s wife Vanessa in Moscow to show them around, according to his deposition testimony. While he was in Moscow he emailed a journalist about possible Trump-Bayrock developments in Denver, in which he indicated he was with Don Jr.; a few days later Sater is alleged to have called one of the partners at the Arizona project and threatened to have him “tortured and killed,” according to later court filings.

Sater’s tenure at Bayrock might have lasted longer, had The New York Times not “outed” his criminal past in 2007.

Yet a few years later, after Sater had left Bayrock, he could still be found in Trump Tower. But now he was apparently working directly for Trump himself, with an office, business cards, phone number and email address all provided by the Trump Organization. The cards identified him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”

Today, Trump claims to have trouble remembering Sater.

“Trump was asked about Sater in depositions related to other cases in 2011 and 2013. In the first, Trump acknowledged that he used to speak with Sater ‘for a period of time.’ Yet in the second, Trump said, ‘if he were sitting in a room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,’” Mother Jones reported.

In early December 2015, Trump still seemed unclear when asked by an Associated Press reporter about Sater. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” he said. “I’m not that familiar with him.” Ivanka and Don Jr. also later said that they had no memory of being with him in Moscow.

One aspect of the FBI’s protection of Sater is that it has prevented Trump from facing legal liability from defrauded investors, particularly on the Trump SoHo project. But, on the other hand, there is some question whether Trump was witting about the fact that he was partnering with a Russian crime figure who had been flipped by the FBI, or whether the FBI orchestrated Sater’s rise at Bayrock and facilitated his partnership with Trump.

Either way, Trump’s organization was penetrated by the FBI and the Russian mob when he began working closely with Sater, and his work with Sater was criminal in nature, both because Sater never disclosed to investors that he was a felon and because Sater ran Bayrock in a criminal manner.

Given all this, it really is remarkable that Trump’s lawyer was still willing to sit down with Sater just a couple of months ago and agree to convey his message to the National Security Adviser of the United States.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.