What the f-ck are you doing? You’re hanging around my f-ckin’ neck like a vulture, like impending danger.
Hours ago, the New York Times dropped a bombshell.
“A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.”
The timing, as the lede suggests, is important, but the proposal’s authors, a group of Trump operatives, are more interesting:
Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen hand-delivered the proposal. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort, pro-Putin, Ukrainian parliamentarian named Andrii V. Artemenko, and convicted Russian American mobster Felix Sater authored it. You’re going to hear a lot about these guys in the next few weeks, though Felix Sater is perhaps the most colorful of the four.
The son of an underboss to the “boss of all bosses” of the Russian mafia, Felix Sater has a past that would make his father proud:
- In 1993, Felix served a year in prison for stabbing a New York commodities broker in the face with part of a margarita glass.
- In 1998, Felix pled guilty to running a pump-and-dump stock* scheme for his employer White Rock Partners. He was able to buy himself out of jail time by providing useful information to the FBI and CIA.
- More recently, Felix has been charged with tax evasion. He ran the Bayrock Group with another son of a mobster, doing high-end real estate deals, skimming money from the business, not paying taxes, and trying to cover it up. Interestingly, DONALD TRUMP, JR. and IVANKA TRUMP have been named as material witnesses in the case.
Trump’s denials to the contrary, Felix Sater seems to have grown into the Trump organization like a tumor. Sater and Bayrock’s involvement began with Trump Soho, 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.”
It was in these lawsuits that Trump denied knowing Sater. However, as Josh Marshall writes,
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.
In Russia, and apparently in Trump’s business dealings and presidential administration, it’s not easy to separate the businessmen from the criminals. And it’s not hard to believe that Trump and/or more people close to him are actively involved in a shady push to lift sanctions on Russia. As John Schindler, a former intelltigence operative who (ironically) writes for Jared Kushner’s father’s paper, has written about Flynn’s now infamous contacts with Russia on sanctions:
it’s difficult to see how Flynn decided to parley with Moscow without a go-ahead of some kind from Donald Trump. We don’t know this to be the case and cannot allege or even speculate that this occurred. But while Flynn is unquestionably a loose cannon, as a career military man he understands the chain of command with perfect clarity. Moreover, accepting that the soon-to-be National Security Advisor opened up back-channels of communication with the Kremlin all by himself is as credible as the notion that the Plumbers decided to break into the Watergate without orders from higher up.
The plot thickens. The motives on the Russian side are clear. We still don’t know why Trump favors Vladimir Putin or lifting sanctions. He’s been trying to do business in Russia since 1986. He likes authoritarians. He likes money. He has poor impulse control.
* A pump-and-dump stock scheme starts with purchasing a bunch of inexpensive stock on the sly, and then selling stocks quickly and fraudulently to drive up the stock price. When the price gets high enough, the criminals sell their stock at the inflated price. The stock eventually crashes and stock buyers lose their money).