With this week’s bombshell reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times revealing Felix Sater’s efforts in 2015 and 2016 to help Donald Trump build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a simple question needs answering: Where was the media when it came to covering Sater and his obvious involvement with Trump during the election and throughout his presidency?
Felix Sater did not just come out of nowhere. His involvement with Donald Trump dates back to 2002, when his firm, Bayrock, moved into Trump Tower and began partnering with him on a number of ventures, most notably Trump SoHo, which ended in failure with an out-of-court settlement in 2011. We know that Trump either did no vetting on Sater, or knew about his criminal past and just did not care. When The New York Times revealed it in 2007, all he had to say was, “I didn’t really know him [Sater] very well.” We know that Trump still avoids answering any questions about him — in 2013, when under sworn deposition, he said that “If [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I’d have no idea what he looked like.” This, despite a myriad of photographic evidence to the contrary:
So why wasn’t the media writing about Trump’s connections to Sater — a convicted criminal with ties to organized crime — throughout 2016, and throughout the run-up to the revelation that he may have been the third channel of communication to Russia? Why weren’t they talking about all the unsavory details of his association with Trump, his taking Donald Jr. and Ivanka on a tour of Moscow and, supposedly, arranging for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s chair at his desk in the Kremlin? His making the maximum donation possible to the Trump campaign last summer? Or his attempts to push a peace negotiation between Russia and Ukraine — one that was heavily favorable to Russia, this past February?
There’s so much dirt on the guy it’s hard to know where to begin digging, and this is only from the past ten years. There’s also his record at White Street Capital in the 90s, where, like the real-life characters from The Wolf of Wall Street, he engaged in pump-and-dump deals, loading penny-ante stock onto his investors and reaping the profits when the stocks crashed.
To be fair, some reporters did cover Sater in 2016. I’ve linked to some of The New York Times‘s articles on him, and The Financial Times, Forbes, and The Daily Beast all ran pieces about Sater during 2016 too (in fact, the author of the Daily Beast article, David Cay Johnston, is the man who gave the few available pages of Trump’s tax returns to Rachel Maddow.) But why is this only blowing up now? Is it merely because we have an email to prove that he knew something? Or is it because we weren’t paying attention earlier?
I have been keeping tabs on Felix Sater for months now, knowing just how deeply connected he has been to the Trump Organization. As part of my graduate program at Harvard, I spent March-May of 2015 studying at the Moscow Art Theater, accumulating a wealth of knowledge about all things Russia-related. I ended up developing a passion for journalism in the months after I graduated, and it was only when I started researching Sater and the circle of oligarchs surrounding him that I thought I could do this professionally. By the inaugural, I had at least fifteen pages of information on Sater, and became convinced that, whatever Trump’s doesn’t want us to see in his tax returns, it relates to him, Bayrock, and the dirty Russian money flowing into his organization that allowed Donald Jr. to say in 2008, that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our interests.”
This was right under the press’s nose this entire time, and although some knew it, for the most part, Sater, Bayrock, and Trump’s financial connections to the Russians slipped under their radar. It’s astonishing that such a failure to research and follow leads could happen like this. While I’m not a fan of the “Trump is just trying to distract you” line of thought (it gives the man too much credit) it’s true that he enthralled the press by repeatedly shocking them. As CBS’s Les Moonves said, [Trump] may not be good for America, but [he’s] damn good for CBS.” Trump’s twitter outbursts were good for ratings while murky ties to career criminals apparently did not.
The good news is that with the raft of reportage coming out on Sater over the last couple days, the media is finally playing catch-up to what we should have been investigating the whole of last year. And thankfully, Robert Mueller has also begun investigating the criminal activity that went on during the construction of Trump SoHo. Sater has flipped sides before and worked with US intel when he was convicted in the late 90s – should all this airing of dirty laundry force him to flip again, it will be a fatal blow to this appalling administration. Better late than never.
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Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.