Sater unmasked

Sater unmasked

by digby

This story in Buzzfeed about Trump and Michael Cohen buddy Felix Sater is just wild:

In the sprawling Trump-Russia investigation, one name constantly pops up: Felix Sater. In story after story, Sater is described as Donald Trump’s former business partner, a convicted stock swindler who was born in the Soviet Union, worked in Russia, tried to win Trump a deal in Moscow, and even helped broker a Ukrainian peace plan that Vladimir Putin would have loved.

Basically, he’s portrayed as something just short of a Russian spy.

Effectively, he has been a spy — but for the United States. For the first time, BuzzFeed News has verified the surprising sweep of Sater’s undercover work and many of his specific exploits. He worked as an asset for the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (or DIA) and tracked Osama bin Laden. Then he worked for more than a decade for the FBI, providing intel on everything from the mob to North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons. He still operates as a source for the bureau, according to two current FBI agents.

He did some of this work to fend off prison time after he admitted guilt in a stock scam — but he had started helping the US government before then, and he continued to report back to the FBI after the agreement ended. Today, as he is being questioned about Trump's business deals and ties to Russia, he has built relationships with at least six members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, some going back more than 10 years.

“At the direction of the FBI,” Sater traveled to the Middle East after 9/11 to collect “valuable intelligence” on “key leaders in al Qaeda.”
Fragments of Sater’s work for the government have leaked out, partly because Sater himself has bragged about “building Trump Towers by day and hunting Bin Laden by night.” But his “cloak-and-dagger claims of chasing down terrorists” were often dismissed as “wildly unlikely,” while Sater himself remained “an obsession of the many investigators — professional and amateur — searching for Trump’s Russia connection.”

Now BuzzFeed News has obtained the statement Sater gave under oath to House Intelligence Committee investigators at his attorney’s office in December, interviewed him extensively, and corroborated many details of his spy-thriller account through legal documents, emails, letters, and interviews with 10 current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with his undercover work.

“At the direction of the FBI,” the Department of Justice stated in a newly unsealed court filing, Sater traveled to the Middle East after 9/11 to collect “valuable intelligence” on “key leaders in al Qaeda,” and he helped “in a number of other areas, including Russian organized crime.” In other court filings, the Justice Department said Sater’s work on behalf of the United States “involves 18 foreign governments” as well as “various families of La Cosa Nostra,” and that his help was “of an extraordinary depth and breadth.”

Specific exploits confirmed by BuzzFeed News include:

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.

The CIA, DIA, FBI, and leaders of the House Intelligence Committee all declined to comment.

Over the past month, two BuzzFeed News reporters met frequently with Sater in Los Angeles, where he’s been living since February and which seems to suit him. He’s tan. He had his Porsche shipped over from Long Island. He gets the good table at Delilah, a see-and-be-seen West Hollywood nightclub. He said he is telling his full story, long kept secret by the government, to clear his name. “I am being given no choice because of the ongoing Trump investigations,” he said. “The media lies about me.”

But ...

Even as he was helping US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Sater racked up enemies in his business dealings. An Arizona man said Sater threatened to cut his legs off during a failed development deal. Florida investors said his company, Bayrock, ripped them off. A former colleague said in a lawsuit that the entire Bayrock operation was run by organized crime figures, and that Sater threatened to have him killed if he didn't cooperate. Sater denied doing any of these things.

But he doesn't deny that he is always looking for an angle. As the Trump campaign kicked into high gear in 2015, Sater saw an opportunity.

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?”

Who in the hell are these people???? How in the hell did this happen?

Read the whole thing. It's an amazing story.His connections to Trump and Michael Cohen run deep with business deals and that weird Ukrainian peace deal etc.

What it means, I have no idea except that it might be a good idea not to elect mobster con men as president.