The outlaw Felix Sater didn’t show up last Friday for planned closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about the Russia affair. He says he overslept, he wasn’t feeling well, he’d like to reschedule. But the committee isn’t waiting. It issued a subpoena for his appearance.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for new revelations. The Moscow-born Sater is a master of the long con, a Gatsbyesque figure with known ties to organized crime, the FBI, and the CIA—and to Donald J. Trump. He’s fabulously wealthy. Or maybe he’s not. In February, he sold his 10-room house in Sands Point and shipped himself and his Porsche across the country to LA, where he’s reinventing himself again.
He entered Donald Trump’s life around 2002 with some spectacularly unsuccessful real estate deals. Before that, he was a low-level New York criminal, a tough guy from Brighton Beach, allegedly connected to Russian organized crime back in the old country. He was sent to prison for using a broken bar glass to rearrange a man’s face, then busted again for a Mafia-connected pump-and-dump scheme. He turned on his pals and cooperated with the FBI, ran into more trouble, and persuaded the CIA to take him on as an intelligence asset in Russia. He appears to have found his true calling as a government informant. The FBI and CIA say he was a very successful rat. (Read more about his past here and here.)
Sater reappeared in Trump’s orbit in 2015, reviving a foundering scheme to build a billion-dollar Trump property in Moscow just as the candidate’s improbable presidential campaign was gaining traction.
The standard media narrative of the Moscow deal is that candidate Trump did not expect to win the presidency and was reluctant to let go of a shot at a billion-dollar business bonanza. But Sater’s swaggering presence at the center of the action suggests the possibility of a more sinister counter-narrative: that someone may have been trying to lure Trump into a trap—a politically damaging entanglement with Moscow money.
“Beginning in late 2015,” the Mueller Report notes, “Sater repeatedly tried to arrange for [Trump attorney Michael] Cohen and candidate Trump, as representatives of the Trump Organization, to travel to Russia to meet with Russian government officials and possible financing partners.”
The politically suicidal proposal appears to have been swiftly rejected by the campaign. But Sater persisted. “Into the spring of 2016,” the Mueller Report notes, “Sater and Cohen continued to discuss a trip to Moscow.” Sater emails Cohen that he is trying to arrange a meeting between “the 2 big guys,” Putin and Trump.
Sater upped the ante sometime in 2016—the timeline is not clear—when he floated to Cohen the idea of giving Putin a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow.
“My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin,” Sater told Buzzfeed, which first reported the story.
It’s “not clear whether Trump knew of the intention to give away the penthouse,” Buzzfeedreported. But it’s difficult to see news of Trump doing a $50 million deal with Putin, had it emerged during the campaign, as anything other than a death blow aimed at the candidate.
After the election, Sater transitioned to cooperating with the Mueller investigation. A footnote to the Mueller Report notes that Sater was interviewed twice under a proffer agreement. And the Intercept reports that Sater has long been connected to Andrew Weissmann, a top Mueller lieutenant, who supervised the stock fraud case that first led to Sater becoming a government informant.
Much of what Sater did in the past is hidden in sealed in court records and FBI and CIA files. Three separate investigations—by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, U.S. Attorney John Huber, and special prosecutor John Durham—are grinding away at aspects of the Russia affair. And Judicial Watch is on the case with Freedom of Information Act requests and court actions, including FOIAs for all FBI interactions with Sater and the Mueller proffer agreement.
What master was Felix Sater serving during the Trump presidential campaign? Was he a central figure in a Deep State scheme to derail Trump or just another entry in the annals of con men and crooks? We don’t have to wait years for answers to dribble out from federal investigations and FOIA actions. President Trump has given Attorney General William Barr sweeping authority to declassify intelligence related to the Russia case. Barr should start by declassifying the Sater files.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
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