In interviews, and even in a 2013 sworn deposition, Donald Trump has claimed that he does not know the 51-year-old Russian-born businessman, Felix Sater. Sater is a man with alleged ties to both Russian and American organized crime figures, and was Trump's business partner in the troubled Trump Tower Soho project in lower Manhattan. He pled guilty in 1998 to racketeering as part of a $40 million stock fraud scheme that also involved members of the Genovese and Bonnano Mafia crime families.
But on Friday, a federal court ordered that previously sealed documents from Sater's fraud case be made public, along with a court brief by an investigative journalist that could shed light on Trump's relationship with Sater.
The documents themselves have not yet been made public, so specifics of what they might say about the Trump-Sater relationship remain unclear. However, several important details of how the two have done business have been reported publicly for several years. In fact, Sater has been described as Trump's "original Russian connection." Born in Moscow, Sater emigrated to the United States at age six and grew up in Brooklyn, New York.
Perhaps most significantly, it was Sater who, in a 2015 email to Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen, promised to enlist the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin to "engineer" a Trump victory in the 2016 presidential election.
If Trump has "a great memory"...and Felix Sater had an office 1 floor below Trump's in Trump Tower...and Felix Sater had a business card from Trump Organization job title "Senior Advisor to Donald Trump"...Why does Trump say he wouldn't know Sater? pic.twitter.com/O6kTLOJd5b"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater said in one email to Cohen. "I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."
— Todd Lytle (@ToddLytle) January 15, 2018
Sater and his company, Bayrock Group LLC, rented office space in Trump Tower in Manhattan, just two floors below Trump's own business office, in 2003. Bayrock later developed the Trump Tower Soho with Trump, a building that opened in 2008, but was immediately plagued with scandal, with many condominium purchasers in the building suing to get their money back.
The troubled Trump Tower Soho went into foreclosure in 2014 where it was purchased in an auction by a California-based real estate investment firm. Last year that firm, CIM Group, paid off the Trump Organization to end all of Trump's involvement with the project, and even stripped Trump's name off the building, which is now known as the Dominick Soho Hotel and Spa.
But Sater was also a key participant in another failed Trump real estate deal: Trump Tower Moscow, a deal that was active throughout Trump's presidential campaign and as late as February of 2017, even as Trump repeatedly denied that he had any business deals in Russia.
At the same time as he and Trump were attempting to get the Moscow Trump Tower development underway, Sater was part of a "back channel" proposal to lift U.S. sanctions against Russia in the event of Trump becoming president. Cohen, Trump's lawyer, was also part of the "back channel" deal.
Despite Trump's apparent close ties to Sater, Trump stated under oath in a 2013 deposition that even if he and Sater were in the same room together, Trump "wouldn't know what he looked like." In an interview with the Associated Press in December of 2015, a time when Sater was actively involved in the Trump Tower Moscow project, Trump again claimed to be unacquainted with Sater, saying, "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I'm not that familiar with him."
David Cay Johnston, author of the 2017 Trump biography, The Making of Donald Trump, and who also wrote the "friend of the court" brief that will be unsealed along with the Sater stock fraud documents, called the court's order releasing the files a "victory for transparency."