Good Morning! Here’s Another Insane Russia Story to Start Your Day
By Charles Pierce, Esquire
22 February 17
It’s time for the tax returns.
There have been two characters in the news over the past couple of weeks that have gone unmentioned here at the shebeen. The first is Milo Yiannopoulos, a bully and a charlatan who has fallen on hard times at the moment, and whom I never knew much about in the first place and couldn’t care less about now. You want to argue about him, feel free. But try not to disturb the folks at the next table, who are talking about Felix Sater—and there, my friends, is a story and a half.
Let me just say at the outset that I will read any story anywhere that contains the phrase, “once stabbed a guy in the head with a broken margarita glass.” (It’s like Raymond Chandler rewritten by Carl Hiassen.) That’s a grabber, that is. But it’s only part of the Felix Sater story which, thanks to great reporting by Josh Marshall and a number of other people, seems to run all the way through the depths of the corruption that has leached into the government thanks to the election of El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago last November.
Sater, it seems, was born in what is now Kazakhstan, but was then part of the USSR, in 1966. He emigrated to the United States. When he was 20, he stabbed the dude with the stem of the margarita glass. He went to the slammer for that and, once he got out, he got involved with a stock scam that also involved both the Genovese and Columbo crime families. He seemed to be headed back into the jug for a longer stretch this time but, as Marshall and others have indicated, this is where the story becomes an exploded ball of yarn.
Somehow, after he got busted on the stock scheme, Sater became an asset to the American intelligence community, buying arms in the wild-west weapons bazaar of the former Soviet Union. As Marshall writes in TPM:
After Sater got busted, somehow he managed to offer his services to the FBI and supposedly the CIA to work on their behalf purchasing stinger missiles and other weapons on the then wild and free-wheeling Russian black market. Whatever Sater was doing for the CIA in the black market arms smuggling world seems to have become much more important after 9/11 – thus Sater’s high value to the US government.
Marshall asserts that whatever work Sater was doing for the spooks was important enough for them to shield him from actual punishment for the stock scam. This is not an unfamiliar scenario for those of us who were in and around Boston during the last 30-odd years. It appears that the intelligence community may have made of Felix Sater an international Whitey Bulger. Good move!
Somehow, Sater—and another guy named Salvatore Lauria, who’d been in the bar when Sater stabbed the guy, and who was his partner in the stock swindles—got into business with the Trump organization. Marshall points us to a New York Times account of how they all got together in a project known as Trump SoHo through something called Bayrock Group, where Sater finally landed.
Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.
Sater and Bayrock also were involved with the Trump organization’s abortive Trump Fort Lauderdale, which went belly-up and subsequently was buried under an avalanche of writs. Most recently, Sater popped up in the news as an alleged intermediary for a Russian-favorable peace plan involving the Ukraine and Crimea. The plan would have lifted sanctions on Russia. There also was a proposal for a referendum whereby the Ukrainian people would decide whether to “rent” Crimea to Russia for 50 or 100 years. This strikes me as being dangerously close to the law-school definition of chutzpah and, anyway, the Russians slapped it down.
In addition, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, there’s a reek of kleptocracy around the deal. From the NYT:
But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin. “A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?” The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.
Russian ratfcking in the West seems to be the old Tsarist imperatives hitched to an outlaw plutocracy that possibly might have its hooks in the President of the United States and/or in his corporation’s business, about which the Congress should demand more information. The burlesque about the tax returns has to end, very soon. If there’s a single Republican chairperson of a relevant committee with any sense of patriotism at all, those returns have to be subpoenaed as soon as possible.
Right now, we’ve thrown national security—and the presidency itself—into the blender with a Dostoevsky novella and some sort of pulp spy fiction. Enough is truly enough.