Felix Sater, the man at the center of a controversial email "tying" President Trump to Russia while trying to work a business deal, has come forward in a comprehensive BuzzFeed News Exposé, which if Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Cormier and co-author Jason Leopold hadn't verified - nobody would believe.
Sater went from a "Wall Street wunderkind" working at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, to getting barred from the securities industry over a barroom brawl which led to a year in prison, to facilitating a $40 million pump-and-dump stock scheme for the New York mafia, to working telecom deals in Russia - where the FBI and CIA tapped him as an undercover intelligence asset who was told by his handler "I want you to understand: If you’re caught, the USA is going to disavow you and, at best, you get a bullet in the head."
Sater - whose code name was "The Quarterback," ended up providing such valuable information to U.S. intelligence agencies - such as five of Osama bin Laden's satellite phone numbers (by flipping Mullah Omar's personal secretary, "who was living inside a cave with bin Laden") - that the FBI and two federal prosecutors showed up at his trial after the $40 million stock scheme caught up with Sater - and vouched for him.
In 2009, 11 years after he formally started cooperating, the US government was finally going to hold up its end of the bargain. Sater headed to a federal courthouse in Brooklyn in October 2009 for his sentencing in the stock fraud scheme.
Two federal prosecutors and four FBI agents showed up to vouch for him. A transcript of that hearing is heavily redacted, but it makes clear that Sater was no ordinary cooperating witness.
Finally, it was Sater’s turn to face the judge. “Yes, I am guilty of the things that I have done,” he said. But, he added, “I am trying to rehabilitate myself.”
US District Court Judge I. Leo Glasser, who had sentenced dozens of people to prison based on information Sater had provided to the FBI, told him, “For 11 years, I would suspect you had gone to bed every night or every other night sleeping a little restlessly and wondering what your sentence is going to be. So, in effect, there has been a sentence which already has been imposed.” -BuzzFeed
Sater ended up paying a $25,000 penalty for the scheme.
Meanwhile, Sater is still working for the FBI, according to two current FBI agents. Moreover, he has relationships with at least six members of Robert Mueller's team, "some going back more than 10 years."
To this day, Sater continues to cooperate with the FBI and Justice Department, he said in his statement to the House Intelligence Committee. He wouldn't disclose additional details, except to say that he works on “international matters.” Two US officials confirmed Sater continues to be a reliable asset.
As for his regular life, when he relocated back to the US in 2010, he recalled, “Donald said, ‘Where have you been?’” Sater said Trump asked him to join the Trump Organization. “That's when I became senior advisor to him,” he said. The Trump Organization and the White House declined to comment. -BuzzFeed
In effect, Sater - at least according to BuzzFeed, is more or less a rockstar opportunist spy with a shady past, who redeemed himself as an asset for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the FBI. During the course of his work for the agencies, all unpaid, BuzzFeed confirmed the following exploits:
- He obtained five of the personal satellite telephone numbers for Osama bin Laden before 9/11 and he helped flip the personal secretary to Mullah Omar, then the head of the Taliban and an ally of bin Laden, into a source who provided the location of al-Qaeda training camps and weapons caches.
- In 2004, he persuaded a source in Russia’s foreign military intelligence to hand over the name and photographs of a North Korean military operative who was purchasing equipment to build the country’s nuclear arsenal.
- Sater provided US intelligence with details about possible assassination threats against former president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell. Sater reported that jihadists were hiding in a hut outside Bagram Air Base and planned to shoot down Powell’s plane during a January 2002 visit. He later told his handlers that two female al-Qaeda members were trying to recruit an Afghan woman working in the Senate barbershop to poison President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.
- He went undercover in Cyprus and Istanbul to catch Russian and Ukrainian cybercriminals around 2005. After the FBI set him up with a fake name and background, Sater posed as a money launderer to help nab the suspects for washing funds stolen from US financial institutions.
And how did he get bin Laden's sat phone numbers? He tricked his Northern Alliance source into believing he would become the "Alan Greenspan of Afghanistan" - running the country's federal reserve after the U.S. invasion.
Sater said he set up Delaware LLCs in the US — for the “Bank of Kabul” and the “Bank of Afghanistan.” He registered websites to convince the Northern Alliance source that he was serious about his intentions, going so far, he said, as to print out the corporate registrations, adorn them with ribbons, and use a wax stamp to make them seem more official. He said he mailed the documents, and a satellite phone, to the source.
Two former Justice Department officials said Sater took these steps without the FBI’s knowledge or authorization, telling his handlers about it only after the fact. -BuzzFeed
Sater and Trump
Sater, who was born to Jewish parents in the Soviet Union but emigrated to Brooklyn as a child, is the guy behind Trump licensing his name to real estate projects through his Real Estate firm, Bayrock Group, among many other projects.
Bayrock rented office space in Trump Tower, and one afternoon the ever-confident Sater said he knocked on Trump’s office door and introduced himself: “I’m going to be the biggest developer in New York City — and you want to be my partner.”
Bayrock worked deals all over the world, paying Trump a fee to use his name while others put up the money to actually build the various projects. "Sater and Trump are pictured celebrating deals together across the globe, and Sater accompanied Ivanka Trump and her brother Don Jr. on a trip to Russia," writes BuzzFeed.
After a 2007 New York Times article outed Sater's involvement in the pump-and-dump scheme, investors bailed on Bayrock, and Sater "had to leave the company that I built with my own hands." He moved abroad, working deals in Russia with a large real estate developer, the Mirax Group - and worked on two London projects, "including a group of townhouses near Regent's Park" that he says made good money.
Long before Russia became the catch-all bogeyman to blame everything from Hillary Clinton's loss to trending Twitter hashtags popular with conservatives, Sater says he saw Trump's 2015 Presidential bid as an opportunity to line up a real estate deal.
In emails initially revealed by the Washington Post, Sater wrote to Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, boasting about being able to finally line up a real estate development in Moscow — a deal the Trump Organization had long sought.
In one of the emails, Sater told Cohen that he could get buy-in from Putin himself and that “we will get Donald elected” in the process. Those emails have become a flashpoint in the Trump-Russia investigation — but Sater, who denied having anything to do with Russian interference in the election, told BuzzFeed News he was just doing what he’s always done: working a deal.
Did he actually know Putin?
“No, of course not.”
Did he think the Trump Moscow deal could get Trump elected?
Even Trump “is fucking surprised he became the president.”
Then why send that email?
“If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the fuck is the downside, right?” -BuzzFeed
This email is perhaps the strongest "evidence" tying Trump to Putin, which many believe has become a key focus of the Mueller investigation.
Sater, Russia and Ukraine
After Trump won the presidency, Sater - with his connection to the new President, saw another opportunity to cut a profitable deal while brokering peace between Ukraine and Russia.
In early 2017, Sater says he was trying to close an Eastern European energy deal with a Ukrainian politician and others - estimating that he and his partners could earn billions. As the deal approached completion, the Ukrainian, Andrey Artemenko, reportedly asked Sater if he would broker a meeting with Trump's team "to discuss a "peace plan" for Ukraine and Russia."
The deal, which Sater said set out a way to lift sanctions on Russia, surely would have pleased the Kremlin, but it would have been a sharp departure from previous US policy. Still, Sater summoned Trump’s personal lawyer, Cohen, to a Midtown Manhattan hotel in February 2017, and Artemenko gave him a letter about the plan. Cohen has denied passing the plan to the White House and told BuzzFeed News he threw it out.
Where some see the meeting as foreign interference in US policy, Sater sees opportunity. If he could grease the skids with a potential business partner while bringing peace to a war-torn region, Sater said, who could argue with that? “No more war,” Sater said. “People not getting killed. Beautiful situation.”
But the encounter is now reportedly part of the special counsel’s investigation, and Sater finds himself in the spotlight. Of the Ukrainian plan, Sater said, “I thought everybody wins. Turns out, I lost.” -BuzzFeed
Sater has been summoned to discuss his affairs with congressional investigators - and is scheduled to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee in April. Moreover, he's been questioned by Mueller's team - "several of whom he knows from his past undercover work." Of note, Mueller was the FBI director for most of the time Sater was providing undercover information.
The U.S. attorney who oversaw Sater's pump-and-dump scheme was none other than Loretta Lynch - President Obama's Attorney General. During Lynch's confirmation, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asked her about Sater's fraud case, to which she replied:
“The defendant in question, Felix Sater, provided valuable and sensitive information to the government during the course of his cooperation, which began in or about December 1998. For more than 10 years, he worked with prosecutors providing information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra. For that reason, his case was initially sealed.”
Paying the price...
Sater says that since the Russia investigation began to heat up, things haven't gone so well. His marriage of 29 years collapsed, his reputation is in tatters, and he has "recently been the subject of anti-Semitic messages and phone calls from neo-Nazi groups." He's also more than a little hurt that Trump - who he considered a good friend, now pretends not to know him.
Trump has denied knowing the man who had an office three doors down from his own and who helped his company explore deals across the globe. In a 2013 deposition, Trump said of Sater, “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”
Over dinner last week at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Sater was clearly hurt when he spoke about the president’s statement. “It’s very upsetting but, you know, what am I going to do?” Sater said. “Start calling him a liar?” Sater said he hasn’t talked with Trump in a couple of years, but he sees an angle to keeping in Trump’s good graces.
That said, Sater is pressing on.
“First thing I plan to do when Trump leaves office, whether it's next week, in 2020 or four years later, is march right into his office and say, ‘Let's build Trump Moscow.’