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Last November, I wrote The Odd Chabad Connection Between Putin and Trump and it’s time to revisit the piece in light of recent events. Presumably you’ve seen the hilarious video of Michael Cohen smoking cigars with sketchy looking gangster types that was set to the theme song of The Sopranos.

While that video is funny, it’s also real. The man in the blue suit is Rotem Rosen, who was the main character in my November piece. While Cohen and Rosen were commiserating over cigars, Cohen was supposed to be in court. Judge Kimba Wood was reportedly displeased by his absence.

On an obvious level, it should surprise no one that Rosen and Cohen are friends. Both of them are honorary members of the Trump family. But, on a different level, the media really should be reporting on the significance of this relationship.

I am going to cite from my previous article on this rather than write it all out again, but you should also reference this article from Ben Schreckinger on how Putin enlisted two Jewish oligarchs back in 1999 to help him build up his political power.

Let’s begin here:

Starting in 1999, [Vladimir] Putin enlisted two of his closest confidants, the oligarchs Lev Leviev and Roman Abramovich, who would go on to become Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide, to create the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia under the leadership of Chabad rabbi Berel Lazar, who would come to be known as “Putin’s rabbi.”

There’s a good chance that if you know of Roman Abramovich, you know him as the owner of the Chelsea Football Club of the English Premier League. You may not know that he was a victor (along with Paul Manafort’s patron Oleg Deripaska) in the bloody aluminum wars of the 1990s, or that he was reportedly the person who convinced Boris Yeltsin that Putin would be a proper successor. You probably are not aware that Ivanka Trump is very close friends with Abramovich’s wife, Dasha Zhukova, with whom she recently attended the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens. Zhukova reportedly attended the inauguration as Ivanka’s personal guest.

It takes a little more doing to understand the Trump family’s connections to Lev Leviev. To begin with, we need to go back to Bayrock, the company that Donald Trump teamed up with to build his Trump Soho project. There were three main actors in that enterprise. One was convicted mob associate and murky FBI informant Felix Sater. Another was Tevfik Arif, a shady man with likely Russian intelligence connections who was once was arrested by the Turks on Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s yacht and “charged with running an international underage prostitution ring.” The third was the late Tamir Sapir, another man with ties to Russian intelligence. If you’re interested in this aspect of the story, I refer you to my Trump’s Soho Project, the Mob, and Russian Intelligence article and also Mike Lofgren’s piece: Mobbed Up, both written in late February.

Interestingly, all these men have connections to the Chabad movement. Felix Sater was honored as Man of the Year in 2014 by the Port Washington, Long Island Chabad house. The same Chabad house’s website lists Tevfik Arif, who is not Jewish, “among its top 13 benefactors.”

But it’s Tamir Sapir who links Trump back directly to Lev Leviev.

Pay close attention to this:

…the late billionaire Tamir Sapir, was born in the Soviet state of Georgia and arrived in 1976 in New York, where he opened an electronics store in the Flatiron district that, according to the New York Times, catered largely to KGB agents.

Trump has called Sapir “a great friend.” In December 2007, he hosted the wedding of Sapir’s daughter, Zina, at Mar-a-Lago. The event featured performances by Lionel Ritchie and the Pussycat Dolls. The groom, Rotem Rosen, was the CEO of the American branch of Africa Israel, the Putin oligarch Leviev’s holding company.

Five months later, in early June 2008, Zina Sapir and Rosen held a bris for their newborn son. Invitations to the bris described Rosen as Leviev’s “right-hand man.” By then, Leviev had become the single largest funder of Chabad worldwide, and he personally arranged for the bris to take place at Schneerson’s grave, Chabad’s most holy site.

The man I want to focus on is Rotem Rosen. He is described here as the CEO of Leviev’s American holding company and his “right hand man.” Now, remember that Leviev was described at the top as one of two oligarch’s who Putin tapped to establish the “Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia under the leadership of Chabad rabbi Berel Lazar, who would come to be known as ‘Putin’s rabbi.’”

Now, let’s flash ahead to Trump’s trip to Moscow to host the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.

After the contest, Trump attended a vodka-infused 1 a.m. afterparty at which ticket holders were promised a meeting with the New Yorker, along with the pageant contestants.

He also met with the Agalarovs to talk business…

…Joining Trump’s November 2013 meeting with the Agalarovs were Alex Sapir and Rotem Rosen, a pair of New York-based Russian developers who helped to develop the Trump Soho hotel and condominium project in Manhattan.

You should know the Agalarovs because they initiated the undisclosed June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Kushner, Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. and a brood of Kremlin-connected conspirators offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in return for sanctions relief.

Alex Sapir is the son of Tamir Sapir, brother of Zina, and brother-in-law of Rotem Rosen.

Just so we’re clear, Trump hosted the wedding of Lev Leviev’s right-hand man at Mar-a-Lago. Lev Leviev is so close to Putin that he was one of two oligarchs tapped to help him gain control of the leadership of the Russian Jewish community back when he assumed power.

Two decades ago, as the Russian president set about consolidating power on one side of the world, he embarked on a project to supplant his country’s existing Jewish civil society and replace it with a parallel structure loyal to him…

…In 1999, soon after he became prime minister, Putin enlisted Abramovich and Leviev to create the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities. Its purpose was to undermine the existing umbrella for Russia’s Jewish civil society, the Russian Jewish Congress, led by oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, a potential threat to Putin and President Boris Yeltsin. A year later, Gusinsky was arrested by Putin’s government and forced into exile.

At the time, Russia already had a chief rabbi as recognized by the Russian Jewish Congress, Adolf Shayevich. But Abramovich and Leviev installed Chabad rabbi Lazar at the head of their rival organization. The Kremlin removed Shayevich from its religious affairs council, and ever since it has instead recognized Lazar as Russia’s chief rabbi, leaving the country with two rival claimants to the title.

These are extraordinarily close ties between Putin and Trump and that also connect Trump’s business discussions in 2013 about Moscow real estate projects with the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that has become one of the strongest pieces of evidence of collusion in the election.

Now, in that November piece, I made a big deal out of the fact that “Trump hosted the wedding of Lev Leviev’s right-hand man at Mar-a-Lago.” This was because Lev Leviev is so close to Vladimir Putin. But it’s even more noteworthy that Lev Leviev’s right-hand man is the man in the blue suit who made sure to visit with Michael Cohen while he was supposed to be in court.

If Vladimir Putin wanted to send a message to Cohen, this was one way to do it. If you are familiar with The Godfather trilogy, you’ll remember the scene where Michael Corleone has Vincenzo Pentangeli flown in from Sicily to appear while his brother Frank is testifying before Congress. Seeing his brother in the grandstands (in the custody of Michael), Frank realizes that he needs to recant his prior sworn deposition to save his brother’s life.

The video with The Sopranos score got a lot of laughs, but this is actually a sinister bit of business, especially when you account for all the people who have dropped dead recently in the United Kingdom when they ran afoul of the Kremlin. Michael Cohen is part of a large criminal enterprise with close ties to Putin. In a way, that’s what the Russia investigation is about and has always been about.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at