Perhaps this was his greatest deception of the 2016 campaign.
Donald Trump has told many lies and falsehoods. He's lied about the Russia scandal. He's lied about his ties to organized crime. Perhaps he's lied so much that freshly excavated prevarications don't register greatly. Yet recent news reports revealing that Trump was pursuing a huge development deal in Moscow in late 2015 and early 2016 show that during the campaign Trump committed a tremendous act of deception.
This mammoth duplicity was encompassed in a small fib. On December 2, 2015, during an interview with an Associated Press reporter, Trump was asked about his relationship with a fellow named Felix Sater. Trump, who was then the front-runner in the GOP presidential nomination contest, replied, "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I'm not that familiar with him." He referred questions to his Trump Organization. One of his lawyers, Alan Garten, subsequently told the AP that Sater once prospected for real estate deals for the Trump Organization and that the arrangement lasted for six months in 2010.
What neither Trump nor Garten said was that -- at that very moment -- Trump was in the middle of the deal to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital and that Sater had put together the venture. As he was running for president, Trump was hiding this project from the American public, and he was insisting he barely knew the man at the center of it. This was serious deceit.
Trump's claim that he was unfamiliar with Sater was regarded at the time as absurd by journalists who have followed Trump's career; it appeared the candidate was attempting to distance himself from a one-time felon. Sater had a substantial criminal record. In the early 1990s, when he was in his mid-20s, Sater went to jail for about a year after he smashed a broken margarita glass into the face of a man during a barroom altercation. After that, he became part of a mid-1990s stock swindle tied to the Mafia and Russian organized crime. To escape going back to jail, he pleaded guilty to racketeering and became a cooperating witness for the FBI.
While an informant for the bureau, Sater hooked up with a real estate development firm in New York City called Bayrock, and in the 2000s he cooked up various projects with Trump. Many fizzled out and ended up in lawsuits. But at least one was built: the Trump SoHo hotel and condominium project. (That deal also prompted a lawsuit in which buyers of units there claimed to have been defrauded by Trump, his adult children, and others. Trump and his co-defendants settled the case, agreeing to refund 90 percent of $3 million in deposits but admitting no wrongdoing.) Throughout this stretch, Sater, who was born in what is now Russia and who boasted connections there, worked with Trump to try to land a tower project in Moscow, which had long been a dream for Trump.
In 2007, the New York Times revealed Sater's past as a criminal and reported that Trump was in business with a man who had been accused of "conspiring with the Mafia to launder money and defraud investors." Trump told the Times he knew nothing of Sater's dark past. Though Sater departed Bayrock after the Times' article, Trump's organization brought him on board three years later, and Sater was wheeling and dealing, seeking projects for Trump and handing out Trump Organization business cards describing him as a "senior advisor to Donald Trump."Go to Mother Jones to read the rest of this article.