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- Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman and associate of President Donald Trump, confirmed Friday that the Trump Organization was pursuing a deal with a sanctioned Russian bank at the height of the 2016 election.
- The company was trying to secure financing for a Trump Tower in Moscow from Russia’s VTB Bank through a local developer.
- The US imposed sanctions on VTB in 2014 and 2015, which froze its assets in the country and blocked US entities from doing business with the bank.
- The revelation will be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who recently subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman with financial ties to the Trump Organization, confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump’s business was privately negotiating a deal with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 US election.
The detail first emerged in a status report that democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released earlier this week in response to Republicans’ decision to shut down the committee’s Russia investigation. The report outlined dozens of leads – including witness testimony, document requests, and subpoenas – the minority said it was not able to pursue.
On Friday, Sater told MSNBC host Chris Hayes that a local developer in Russia worked on behalf of the Trump Organization to secure financing for a Trump Tower in Moscow from VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest bank and a US-sanctioned entity.
“I had a local developer there [in Russia], and I had the Trump Organization here [in the US], and I was in the middle,” Sater said. “And the local developer there would have gotten financing from VTB and/or another Russian bank, but VTB at that point was the go-to bank for real-estate development.”
VTB, a Russian state-owned bank, was initially added to the US’s Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) in July 2014, which froze its assets in the country and restricted US citizens and companies from doing business with VTB and its subsidiaries. The US later imposed additional sanctions on VTB in December 2015.
Sater and Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, were pushing for the deal with VTB in Moscow at the height of the presidential election, in late 2015 and early 2016. The revelation will likely draw sharp scrutiny from the special counsel Robert Mueller, who recently subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
Sater first sent a non-binding letter of intent to Cohen outlining the terms of the “Trump World Tower Moscow” deal on October 13, 2015, The New York Times previously reported. Andrey Rozov, a Russian investor, had already signed it by the time Sater forwarded it to Cohen, and Trump signed the letter.
Weeks later, the two men exchanged a series of emails gearing up to celebrate the Trump Tower Moscow deal. In the emails, obtained by The Times, Sater bragged about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and told Cohen he would “get all of Putins team to buy in” on the deal.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote, according to The Times.
Sater added: “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”
Sater walked back his comments in an interview with BuzzFeed, telling the outlet he had exaggerated his relationship with Putin in order to secure the deal. On Friday, he told Hayes that his communications with Cohen were not meant to be “something surreptitious.”
“It wasn’t my deal,” Sater said. “I put the deal together. I came through Michael Cohen. Part of the emails is, I’ve known him since I’m a teenager. So it’s basically two old friends saying, hey, our guy can become president. We were excited.”
He added: “It wasn’t something surreptitious, it was two guys who knew each other for over 30 years excited that somebody they worked with was running for president.”