What Trump Calls the Russian Hoax May Be Closing In On Him

LA Times

Donald Trump’s obsession with Russia, Putin and what he calls the witch-hunt-hoax Russia investigation has always been interesting. Some of Trump’s obsessions are hard to figure. His birther nonsense about where Barack Obama was born was odd until recently. Trump had no particular outward history on race. He wasn’t exactly on the front lines for civil rights, but his main interest in people seemed to be less the color of their skin than the color of their money.

I’m still not totally sure what’s in his heart or even if he has one, but it is now clear he is willing to sell out friends of any color other than white and even the religion of his own daughter and son-in-law if he thinks it will get him money or power.

The key to Trump’s whatever is ticking away in that chest of his has always been how to get money and how to get people out of the way who are between him and money. That’s really all you have to know about Donald Trump, because aside from whatever psychosis his warped father and uncaring money left him, that’s all there really is to the man.

Which is why the explanation for his love of Vladimir Putin being based on something political never made any sense. As is clear to pretty much everyone at this point, he really has no interest in political matters. He said what he needed to say to get the power of the presidency, and that’s all there was to that.

So what became clear as we found out about his grown-up boys bragging of their Russian investment money, this fascination with Russia was always about money. We have known for some time that Trump’s money source after American banks stopped dealing with him in the wake of the Plaza Hotel mess was Deutsche Bank, and we know that Deutsche Bank has gotten into trouble for laundering money from Russia.

Now the Washington Post and New York Times have more. It seems while he was running for president, his company was trying to get a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers, there is correspondence from Felix Sater urging Trump to do it and promising that Sater could get Vladimir Putin to say great things about Trump in exchange for the investment.

In one email Sater writes: “our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage the process.”

Trump’s company actually signed a letter of intent, but the deal fell apart during the primary campaign because they could not get the land and permits to proceed. The e-mails…yes, e-mails…how ironic…talk about keeping the deal or something like it alive through continuing contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. You may remember in July of 2016 Trump maintained — quote — “I have nothing to do with Russia.” Well, actually, as with so many things he has said, that’s not true.

Sater claimed he lined up financing for a Moscow Trump Tower with VTR Bank, which as the Times reminds us, was under American sanctions for its role in Russian undermining of democracy in Ukraine.

What Sater wanted out of this was for Trump to win and Sater to be named to the cushy job of Ambassador to the Bahamas, one of the cushiest such posts imaginable where the biggest thing to handle recently was helping the very rich who got stranded when the Fyre Festival collapsed. If you think such jobs are easy to get, it eventually went to hotel magnate Doug Manchester who combined with his wife contributed more than $900,000 to the Trump campaign.

This was not his first attempt to do something in Russia. Going back to 1987, Trump tried to partner with the then-Soviet Union on a hotel. Sater has been working with Trump on trying to do such a deal since at least 2005. Sater, born in the Soviet Union, but moved to Brooklyn by his parents when he was six, has made a living at being something of a fixer with feet in both countries.

Sater had an office in Trump Tower and had a business card which Trump approved that read he was a senior adviser to Donald Trump, though Trump now claims he would not recognize Sater if he walked in the door. That’s really unlikely.

A bit of history: as Andrew Rice reported for New York Magazine, this past June a federal judge took up the case of a professional money launderer convicted in a 20-year-old stock swindle. That man was and is Felix Sater. Trump may be trying to run from him now but when Trump-o could not find an American banker to give him money, Sater got money from the former Soviet Union to finance Trump’s hotel in SoHo.

Sater, described by Rice quite accurately as a canny operator and colorful bullshitter, who somehow got mixed up in FBI investigations of the Mafia, the Russia mob and Al Qaeda. Sater is, whatever else he may be, a player. He even tried to broker a peace deal for Ukraine by acting as a conduit between Russia and Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer who Sater also used to give updates to possible investments in Russia for Trump.

Sater once squired Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump around Moscow as they looked for business deals, and Sater’s connections there is how Trump Jr. gets to know Russian real estate developer Aras Alagorov, who coincidentally or probably not, was trying to help Trump and Sater build that Moscow Trump Tower. It was Alagarov who sets up the meeting for Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort for the meeting that was supposed to lead to information to torpedo Hillary Clinton.

The Russians thought this would be something of a two-fer. Beat Clinton who took a tougher line on getting rid of Assad in Syria and having a President who owes them not just politically but financially. It was Sater’s handling of money laundering in the building of Trump’s SoHo hotel that apparently led to US Attorney Preet Bharara being fired by Trump after being told he could stay. Mueller has now taken over that investigation, which apparently has Trump seething.

Sater himself is interesting. When interviewed he will often brag about and deny his influence in a single breath. Brought here as a kid, his dad somehow became connected — in the wrong way — running an extortion racket with the Genovese crime family. Sater has done time, though not for what we’ve been talking about here. He assaulted a guy in a fight over a woman, slashing a guy’s face with a broken margarita glass. For a while after that he did an illegal scheme where he would cold call people about penny stocks he said were great. They weren’t. After he got enough people to buy this garbage and run the price up, the people he worked for would dump the stock, cash out and leave the suckers penniless. The guys he worked for were apparently Mafia.

For a long time it’s been hard to tell what side Sater is playing on. He started a business doing business with Russians including arms dealers. He says he was doing this for U.S. intelligence agencies. He certainly has had a relationship with them though how voluntary that has been is a good question. One possibility is that whenever he got caught at it, he would turn sides to stay out of prison.

We do know that he became a government witness, but that was only after an FBI raid that connected him to laundering money for Russian weapons purchases with money from the Mafia. At one point he actually offered the FBI what he said was Osama Bin Laden’s phone number.

In the years after this, free as long as he cooperated with the FBI, Sater set up that office in Trump Tower and though — again — Trump claims he wouldn’t recognize him if he walked in the door, Sater testified under oath that he was in Trump’s office just one floor above his, working on deals together.

Further details of the life and times of Felix Sater are worth reading both in that Rice piece which I put on my Facebook page and Sal Lauria’s memoir The Scorpion and the Frog that Lauria wrote about the scams and and Sater pulled.

But here’s the interesting thing as Mueller continues to probe the Trump-Russia connection:

Two weeks ago Sater told The Spectator’s Paul Wood that he thinks he AND the president are going to prison. Sater also told New York Magazine that something is up, talking as if he is again working with the FBI to flip on an old business partner. He said: “In about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colorful character you have ever talked about. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.”

Sater’s past is he flips to stay out of prison and this, if that IS what’s happening would be his biggest flip yet, though once you’ve flipped on the mob and the Russians, what’s left? There have been rumors, and they are just that as far as I know, that Paul Manafort is also flipping on Trump and cooperating with Trump. Trump watchers have been intrigued by the National Enquirer suddenly dumping on Manafort. The Enquirer, of course, is not a good source on anything no matter what they say in Men In Black, but the Enquirer’s owner, David Pecker, is close to Trump and a big supporter and Pecker’s change of heart from sympathy for Manafort to attacking him is at least interesting.

What is also interesting is IF, and this is still a major IF, this is the thing that ends a Trump presidency, it won’t be about politics. Actually, Pence is a far more reliable far-right conservative than Trump on his best day. This could be, in the end, a case about money laundering, and a case that might have been too much of a pain to go after for a New York prosecutor with limited resources, but is easily done with a special counsel with a team of 16 prosecutors, two of whom worked on the SoHo case in New York.

If Trump is guilty of money laundering, then running for President could turn out to be the dumbest thing he has ever done, and even if through a self pardon or one from Pence he never serves a day for it, it would still have the effect of bringing his business and that of his family crashing down around him.

Only Mueller and his staff know at this point how real this is or isn’t. But Felix Sater is worried, and my guess is that means so is President Donald J. Trump.


Subscribe to Gil Gross’ daily podcast The Gross National Podcast here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-gross-national-podcast-with-gil-gross/id1212496651?mt=2