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A Trump associate bragged that a business deal with Putin could “get Donald elected”

“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”

Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater attend the Trump Soho Launch Party on September 19, 2007 in New York
Mark Von Holden/WireImage/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

A business associate of Donald Trump tried to set up a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015 — and bragged in emails to Trump’s lawyer that the deal could “get Donald elected.”

That’s the takeaway from a pair of new Washington Post and New York Times reports making clear that while Trump was running for president, his company was pursuing business opportunities in Russia.

On Sunday night, Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig, Tom Hamburger, and Rosalind Helderman wrote that in late 2015, Trump’s company signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and Russian-born developer Felix Sater seems to have been heavily involved in the project (which didn’t end up moving forward).

Then on Monday, the New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman got ahold of emails Sater sent around that time to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen — emails seeming to claim that a business deal with Russia could help elect Trump president. Here’s one excerpt posted by the Times:

The Times’ excerpt of an email Sater sent to Cohen on November 3, 2015.
New York Times

Among other things, Sater wrote: “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it,” and “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”

Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and the recipient of Sater’s emails, told the Times that Sater was just using “colorful language” and “salesmanship,” and that he “ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible.”

It’s unclear what, exactly, Sater meant when he emailed Cohen claiming that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would get Trump elected president. Was Sater merely engaging in some rather absurdly exaggerated hype about how a business deal in Russia could somehow make Trump popular in the United States? Or was he alluding to some sort of broader cooperation — or collusion — that Trump’s team could engage in with Putin’s team, to help get him elected?

We don’t know. What we do know is that when Trump denied having any dealings in Russia, he conveniently left out the fact that his company had been trying to pursue a very big opportunity there during at least part of his presidential campaign (Trump’s company claims the deal was dead by January 2016). And this, of course, puts Trump’s frequent campaign trail praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a new light.

Who is Felix Sater?

Felix Sater has long been a curious side character in the Russia scandal, and you can read about his tangled history in this profile from New York magazine’s Andrew Rice. He worked in finance and was convicted of securities fraud in a case that remains mysterious — many records related to the case (which involves the Mafia in some way) have been sealed, apparently because Sater agreed to inform for the FBI to get his sentence reduced.

After his conviction, Sater moved into real estate and began working with Trump — Rice calls him “the moving force behind the Trump Soho tower, which was built by developers from the former Soviet Union a decade ago.” Eventually, Sater began calling himself a “senior adviser” to Trump, though the Trump Organization has claimed he was never an official employee. And in late 2015, he worked on this deal for a potential Trump Tower in Moscow.

Sater again made news in murky circumstances at the beginning of this year when Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen met with a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko. Artemenko was pushing a proposal for a deal between Russia and Ukraine, which would involve the US lifting sanctions against Russia and was reportedly paired with “kompromat” intended to demonstrate corruption of the president of Ukraine. Cohen sent the proposal to then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the New York Times’s Megan Twohey and Scott Shane.

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