A Big Shoe Just Dropped

Cliff Owen/FR170079 AP
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I don’t know how much attention it’s received. But the appearance of the name of Felix Sater in this new article in the Times is one of the biggest shoes I’ve seen drop on the Trump story in some time.

The new story explains that a group of Trump operatives, including top lawyer Michael Cohen and fired former campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian named Andrii V. Artemenko and Mr. Sater are pushing President Trump on a ‘peace plan’ for Russia and Ukraine.

Cohen recently met with Sater and Artemenko; and Cohen agreed to personally deliver the peace plan (actually a sealed envelope with documents detailing it) to the President when he met with him at the White House. Cohen says he left it with General Flynn days before Flynn was forced to resign.

The backstory to all this is amazingly byzantine and murky. Let me try to cover the key points as simply as I can.

Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there’s no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.

On its own, Trump’s relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we’re talking about most generous reads here.)

But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching ‘peace plans’ for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. (Artemenko is part of the political faction which Manafort helped build up in the aftermath of the ouster of his Ukrainian benefactor, deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.) Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen – who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters – is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.

Were Cohen not involved, one might speculate that Sater is just up to yet another hustle, looking to parlay his one-time association with Trump into influence with the new President. Cohen hand delivering his messages to the President changes the picture considerably. How or why Cohen would do this, if for no other reason than the current massive scrutiny of Trump’s ties to Russia and Sater’s scandals, almost defies belief. But here we are.

To get a flavor of some of the details here, I need to quote these three paragraphs at the tail end of the Times article …

Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.

“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.

He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office.

As we’ve all tried to make sense of this very murky meta-story of just what’s up with Donald Trump and Russia, there’s always been the complicated and messy business ties then and the suppliant, fawning attitude and relationship with Putin now. Are they connected? I have yet to see anything more tightly tying them together than Sater’s reappearance in the story.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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