(Put this post together last weekend, but… stuff happened.)
Andrew Rice, at NYMag — “Felix Sater has cut deals with the FBI, Russian oligarchs, and Donald Trump. He’s also quite a talker”:
On June 19 in a courtroom in Downtown Brooklyn, a federal judge took up the enigmatic case of an individual known as John Doe. According to the heavily redacted court record, Doe was an expert money launderer, convicted in connection with a stock swindle almost 20 years ago. But many other facts about his strange and sordid case remained obscured. The courtroom was filled with investigative journalists from numerous outlets along with lawyers petitioning to unseal documents related to the prosecution. “This case,” argued John Langford, a First Amendment specialist from Yale Law School who represented a Forbes editor, implicates an “integrity interest of the highest order.” The public had a right to know more about Doe’s history, Langford argued, especially in light of “the relationship between the defendant in this case and the president of the United States.”
John Doe’s real name, everyone in the courtroom knew, was Felix Sater. Born in Moscow and raised in Brooklyn, Sater was Donald Trump’s original conduit to Russia. As a real-estate deal-maker, he was the moving force behind the Trump Soho tower, which was built by developers from the former Soviet Union a decade ago. Long before Donald Trump Jr. sat down to talk about kompromat with a group of Kremlin-connected Russians, Sater squired him and Ivanka around on their first business trip to Moscow. And long before their father struck up a bizarrely chummy relationship with Vladimir Putin, Sater was the one who introduced the future president to a byzantine world of oligarchs and mysterious money.
Sater was a canny operator and a colorful bullshitter, and there were always many rumors about his background: that he was a spy, that he was an FBI informant, that he was tied to organized crime. Like a lot of aspects of the stranger-than-fiction era of President Trump, these stories were both conspiratorial on their face and, it turns out, verifiably true. Langford read aloud from the transcript of a 2011 court hearing, only recently disclosed, in which the Justice Department acknowledged Sater’s assistance in investigations of the Mafia, the Russian mob, Al Qaeda, and unspecified “foreign governments.” A prosecutor once called Sater, in another secret proceeding, “the key to open a hundred different doors.” Many were wondering now whether he could unlock the truth about Trump and Russia.
In the universe of what the president has called, with telling self-centrism, his “satellite” associates, Sater spins in an unmapped orbit. The president has said under oath that he “really wouldn’t know what he looked like” if they were in the same room. (For the record, Sater is 51 years old and olive-complexioned, with heavy-lidded eyes.) Yet their paths have intersected frequently over the years. Most recently, in February, the Times reported that Sater had attempted to broker a pro-Russian peace deal in Ukraine, handing a proposal to Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, to pass to Michael Flynn, who was then still the national-security adviser. Both Cohen and Flynn are now reported to be under scrutiny by the FBI, in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s election interference and Trump’s campaign.
If there really is a sinister explanation for the mutual affinity between Trump and Putin, it almost certainly traces back to money…
And if there is any kind of a logical explanation for Trump’s successful-so-far maneuvers to avoid actual pauperism / serious legal consequences, I’m guessing it rides along the murky confluences where the lures of big money intersect with the desire of “Great Powers” to influence and undermine each other. Like pilot fish and sharksuckers, crime lords and talented grifters are naturally attracted — and attractive — to the “intelligence” services, to a degree where sorting individual actors between legal and illicit becomes more of a timeline than a definition. The biggest barrier to getting honest answers may end up being that no one agency trusts any other (even, especially, its ‘partners’) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sure, they don’t want the criminals to escape… but even more important, they don’t want the other teams in the home league to get more credit and/or information. (She says, as someone living in Whitey Bulger’s and the Tsarnaev brothers’ stomping grounds.)