How Does Inking a Luxury Residential Real Estate Deal in Moscow Get You Elected President? In the US, I Mean?

There’s an implicit premise of my posts covering yesterday’s big scoops on the emails between Felix Sater and Michael Cohen turned over to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday:

The NYT republished fragments of two of the emails. Here’s the key one:

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

On November 3, 2015, two months before the GOP primary started in earnest and barely over a year before the presidential election, mobbed up real estate broker and sometime FBI informant Felix Sater emailed Trump Organization Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Trump, Michael Cohen. According to the fragment we read, Sater boasts of his access to Putin going back to 2006 (when the Ivanka incident reportedly happened), and said “we can engineer” “our boy” becoming “President of the USA.”

Before HPSCI got the emails, the Trump Organization did a preemptive leak to the WaPo, which successfully cemented the interpretation of the “news” associated with these emails as proof of another contact between Trump associates and Russians. Cohen’s statement to HPSCI, which WaPo’s later reporting quoted, reaffirmed that view, even though key details about it — why, of all the things he couldn’t recall, was whether Putin associate Dmitry Peskov responded to an email in which Cohen asked for his personal response, or why Cohen would email a press contact like Peskov, who readily gives out his personal email, to a general email line that is less likely to be bugged by western intelligence — remain unexplained.

The NYT only released one paragraph of the emails it published; it’s unclear whether that’s all they got, or whether they’ve just chosen to redact all the context.

Nevertheless, this paragraph, presented as it is, ought to have elicited very different “news” reporting: a year before the election, Sater was boasting he could get Trump elected because of his ties to Putin. In an update (the NewsDiffs on NYT’s version of this story are worth reviewing in detail, particularly for the way they shift emphasis away from Sater’s claims in the email), the NYT reprinted Sater’s lawyer’s explanation, which doesn’t address the underlying question at all, even while it replicates the spin that this would be nothing more than a “political win.”

Through his lawyer, Mr. Sater declined on Monday to address why he thought the deal would be a political win for Mr. Trump. He said he brought the project to Mr. Cohen in late 2015, but that he was not working for the Trump Organization and “would not have been compensated” by them.

“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization,” Mr. Sater said.

Again, perhaps the full emails justify this approach. But absent a better explanation, the question that should be answered by this scoop — well before the excitement of proof of yet one more tie between a Trump associate and increasingly senior Russians — is why Sater believed whatever he was emailing Cohen about would lead to Trump’s election?

Even assuming Cohen’s personal intervention via Peskov got Putin to rubber stamp the missing permits in early January 2016, which was the most optimistic scenario short of the personal trip to Moscow Sater was pushing Cohen to take, how would that have had any influence on the Presidential election at that point 11 months away? Obviously, the actual building, its clients, the possibility it might be used to launder money, perhaps even back into Putin’s pockets — none of that would be in place in time for the election. Yet another luxury residence in a city most American voters will never visit isn’t going to flip many votes, if any. More realistically, the deal would be regarded just as reporters are now spinning it, as an inappropriate potential conflict of interest, even ignoring the Russophobia that would ratchet up later in the year.

The second email NYT published in part might be a quasi explanation.

Michael we can own this story. Donald doesn’t stare down, he negotiates and understand the economic issues and Putin only want to deal with a pragmatic leader, and a successful business man is a good candidate for someone who knows how to negotiate. “Business, politics, whatever it all is the same for someone who knows how to deal.”

That is, perhaps Sater believed that if Trump could negotiate with Putin successfully, voters would value his negotiating ability more highly than former Secretary of State Hillary’s. That’s probably what Trump voters actually did, but it required no fresh deals. But even here, Sater is again positioning his pitch in terms of what will impress Putin, not what will impress American voters.

Sater is a lot of things, but he’s nowhere near the dumbest Trump associate. Why is it that he sent an email to Cohen promising a deal would help Trump get elected?

One more detail. This is not the first exchange Cohen had with the committees. Congress first got interested in Cohen at the end of May; Cohen refused the first requests, declaring them overly broad. And, as the NYT notes, Cohen’s lawyer already started communicating with the committee, issuing a point-by-point refutation of the parts of the Steele dossier that pertain to Cohen.

Earlier this month, Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, wrote a letter to congressional investigators that contained what he said was a point-by-point refutation of a dossier suggesting that Mr. Cohen colluded with Russian operatives. That dossier, compiled by a retired British spy and briefed to Mr. Trump during the transition, was published online early this year.

“We do not believe that the committee should give credence to or perpetuate any of the allegations relating to Mr. Cohen unless the committee can obtain independent and reliable corroboration,” Mr. Ryan wrote.

So was this found amid all his other emails, or is it something he only belatedly included?

Update: As Digby noted, there were rumors flying some weeks ago that Sater may be prepping to flip again, as he has for Robert Mueller’s investigators in the past.

And according to Wood’s sources, Sater may have already flipped and given prosecutors the evidence they need to make a case against Trump.

For several weeks there have been rumours that Sater is ready to rat again, agreeing to help Mueller. ‘He has told family and friends he knows he and POTUS are going to prison,’ someone talking to Mueller’s investigators informed me.

Sater hinted in an interview earlier this month that he may be cooperating with both Mueller’s investigation and congressional probes of Trump.

“In about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colourful character you have ever talked about,” Sater told New York Magazine. “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.”

I doubt Sater is cooperating, given the way his lawyer has adopted the spin Cohen first planted. If Sater is cooperating with some real dirt, it might explain why Cohen would roll out sharing these emails with a pre-emptive leak that succeeded, splendidly, in distracting the coverage from the more fundamental question raised here.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    Rare is the true “former FBI rolled asset”. There are ones that cease being of use and are discarded. There are ones that truly had lawyers good enough to get a limited use contract, but that is rare. But it is pretty easy to see Sater being once and forever in their clutches if they want him.

    No clue what his actual current status is, but it would not be surprising in the least if he is being worked again. Adding, Sater probably had good enough lawyers, but a guy like Sater, once on the scope, keeps giving new leverage.

    • greengiant says:

      Question is how much of the FBI etc. was in Sater’s clutches.  Another “people will die” it’s someone else’s money,  someone else’s life,  inseparable government mob tar baby.  http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article1941682.html  So either Mueller is part of the tar baby or he was cut out because of “national security”.  This is not Sater’s first rodeo at blowing up investigations.  Your choice,  2015 email was hubris or laying a trail.  Sater himself says he’s not stupid and not greedy…   It only took what to take out Dan Rather?

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Sater’s former FBI handler Gary Uher started receiving campaign payments for private security in mid-2015, as did XMark. His other handler, Leo Taddeo, retired as NYC FBI cyber/special ops chief in August 2015, went to work for the US division of a Swedish cybersecurity company, and described the Guccifer 2.0 leaks in mid-2016 as an attempt to put pressure on a future Clinton presidency.

        • Willis Warren says:

          Leo Taddeo, a former FBI agent who worked with cybersecurity operations, says, “This is not [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin trying to help Trump. I think they were messaging Hillary Clinton, telling her that they can get in the way of her election if she doesn’t show some flexibility in her position toward them.”

          http://www.thompsontimeline.com/tag/leo-taddeo/

          I doubt it.  They were actively sabotaging her campaign.  This is hackery at it’s finest, but still hackery.

        • Willis Warren says:

          “There is a basis to believe Russian state actors passed some of the stolen material to Wikileaks to influence US policy towards Russia,” Leo Taddeo, chief security officer of Cryptzone, wrote in comments emailed to SCMagazine.com. “Putin and his leadership are trying to influence Clinton and her future stance toward Europe’s missile defenses and NATO expansion.”
          “It’s probably a deliberate attempt to influence the election by whoever implemented the attack,” said Sirota. He noted that he believed Putin would be inclined to demonstrate its capabilities, as a show of force to gain Clinton. Russia has engaged in similar uses of cyber-strategies in the past to achieve its diplomatic goals. “They certainly have the capability,” he said.
          Taddeo agreed that Putin has a message to Clinton. The message is: If she demonstrates a willingness to ease away from the missile defense shield launched by the U.S. and NATO in May, then Russia will allow her to continue her campaign.
          https://www.scmagazine.com/trumps-russian-interests-and-guccifer-20/article/529908/

          I don’t think this has anything to do with NATO, I’m much more interested in the Panama Papers hypothesis, and the Magnitsky Act, which Trump himself has tipped his hand (with the “adoption” cover up).

          I’d like to see the current Taddeo opinion in light of this information, as this is over a year old.

    • Don Bacon says:

      “No clue what his actual current status is.”
      God, this was difficult. wikipedia:
      In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to his involvement in a $40 million stock fraud scheme orchestrated by the Russian Mafia.[7][8] In exchange for his guilty plea, he agreed to become an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal prosecutors, assisting with organized crime. In July 2017, it was reported that Sater had agreed to cooperate with investigators concerning an international money laundering scheme.[9]

      • bmaz says:

        Yeah, so you just admitted neither you nor wikipedia know his true current status as to working with FBI either. Okay.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    I called it my “first law of dirtballs”: they will always give you another chance to hammer them, for cause.

  3. dalloway says:

    The Trump Tower deal seems to have been a cover story, discarded when no longer needed. Sater was right. He could get Trump elected because of his ties to Putin — ties that would make hundreds of millions of dollars and an army of cyber warriors available to Trump’s campaign — contingent, of course on Trump’s promise to do exactly what Putin asked of him once in office. It explains Trump’s “miraculous” win in the primary and in the general election (oceans of unreported cash and millions of bots deployed per Kushner’s instructions to the few voters who made the difference). Trump’s massive debt, his money laundering for Putin’s friends and his possible sexual indiscretions, the actual kompromat, would have made this a deal he couldn’t refuse. I wonder, though, if Trump didn’t convince himself he couldn’t win even if Putin helped him cheat, and thought he was putting one over on Vlad by skimming lots of those “invisible” campaign dollars to enjoy when he went back to Trump Tower after his loss. In that case, while he may have thought the joke was on Hillary, it was really on him. Only winning the presidency could have exposed him so nakedly for the ignorant, classless charlatan he is.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Interesting notion, that the Moscow Trump Tower was a cover story, or at least tangential to the real purpose behind seeking closer, indeed, direct ties with Putin, which might involve a considerable exchange of funds for which a mega-real estate deal in Moscow would provide cover.  In the end, if the Putin-Trump association matured in that direction, it seems that TTMoscow was not needed as a conduit, and might interfere with crafting a Trump presidency over which Putin excercised undo influence.

    • Fofini says:

      Yes, this.  “Trump Moscow” may have involved a building to some degree or another, but the significant aspects of the deal were something else entirely.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thank you.  Been thinking all day about the non-connection between a NYC real estate mogul, a real estate deal in Moscow hinging upon the direct intervention of the Russian president, and the conviction that putting the two together somehow leads directly to the White House.

    The reported explanations are nonsense, which would mean the real explanations are not among them.  More than one shoe has yet to drop.

  5. Willis Warren says:

    How long was Russia helping Trump is the question, now. Does their help extend into the Republican primaries? if so, that may be where he meets his Waterloo

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    BTW, should someone tell Donald that the Harvey currently visiting Texas is not a six foot invisible rabbit?

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    It’s very underpants-gnomes right now. Definitely more shoes to drop, and the people behind “I.C. Expert Investment Company” (aka “S.C. Anonymous Shell Company”) may be wearing them.

  8. Rick Guggemos says:

    What if the principals want to convey a message which may be recorded? And what if they devise a simple “code” to convey certain messages? The request for help might have been for some other project than Trump Tower Moscow. Please tell Mr. Putin we’d like his help. But for what?

  9. Desider says:

    Maybe Trump Tower Moscow not a cover story – maybe a much bigger, more useful piece of cheese was sitting there, with Putin smart enough to know allowing Trump Tower would prevent the chance to create a President Trump. There’d be no way to hush the Russian connection.

  10. Willis Warren says:

    After reading the New York Mag article on Sater, I’m pretty disappointed in Digby’s characterization of Sater’s comments. The NYM article clearly states that Sater doesn’t think they will ever connect Trump to Russian interference. The “next 30 days” quote is taken out of context and sensationalized. It’s pretty obvious that the writer of this article presents Sater as a douche who brags and blusters his way into looking important. While Mueller may flip him and he may prove valuable, it’s not for the reasons Digby thinks.

    Boo

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/08/felix-sater-donald-trump-russia-investigation.html

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