The Mueller Thread: The FBI Informant Who Came Home to Roost

Why you should care

Someone as adept at working both sides of the law as Felix Sater is going to find themselves at the center of history.

Based on OZY’s hit podcast The Thread, which delves into surprising connections in history, The Mueller Thread weaves together the strands linking the sprawling investigations around President Donald Trump.

In ancient Greece, there was nothing quite like the satyr play. Part comedy, part tragedy, the bawdy burlesque featured a chorus of satyrs — half-man, half-goat creatures — engaging in unbelievable antics and raucous escapades. A somewhat more modern version of the satyr play opens on Capitol Hill this month, starring the aptly named Felix Sater, a bizarre half-hero, half-goat of a figure whose own outlandish antics have ranged from multimillion-dollar stock fraud to helping U.S. intelligence track Osama bin Laden.

Sater, a former felon turned FBI informant, has become something of a Forrest Gump of modern American history — if Gump had purchased Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and slashed open a man’s face with a broken margarita glass. Sater’s next cameo on the big stage of history will come on March 27 before the House Intelligence Committee where Individual 2 — as he is referred to in court filings — will be questioned about Individual 1, President Donald Trump, including the infamous attempt to secure a Moscow Trump Tower deal. This is not Sater’s first trip to the high-crimes rodeo. Indeed, Sater crossed paths with one of special counsel Robert Mueller’s most senior prosecutors two decades ago, an interaction that played a key role in launching Sater into Trump’s orbit and kick-starting the unfolding tragicomedy.

Sater, whose FBI code name was “The Quarterback,” was a valuable U.S. asset

The story really begins with that margarita glass. Born Felix Mikhailovich Sheferovsky in Russia, Sater moved as a child to Brooklyn, where his father established himself as a local crime boss and young Felix met a Long Island boy named Michael Cohen, who would go on to become a close business associate of Sater’s, not to mention Trump’s personal lawyer. For a while, Sater seemed destined for a high-flying but perfectly legal life as a Wall Street stockbroker who wore Zegna suits and collected luxury cars. Then came a drunken bar fight in which Sater plunged the stem of a margarita glass into the face of a rival stockbroker — a wound that required 110 stitches for the stockbroker and 15 months in prison for Sater.

Barred from legitimate trading, Sater turned to bilking unwitting investors of more than $40 million in a massive “pump and dump” stock scheme that involved members of the mob from his homeland of Russia. Once the law caught up to him again, Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering and cut a deal with prosecutors that led to them indicting 19 of his co-conspirators and kept him from going back to prison. The prosecutor who supervised Sater’s deal was none other than Andrew Weissmann, an assistant U.S. attorney at the time and now one of the leading prosecutors on Mueller’s team. The deal launched Sater’s career as an FBI informant and turned him into, as Sater himself modestly put it, “one of the all-time great cooperators.” 

 

Sater’s remarkable cooperation ranged from acquiring Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in Afghanistan to obtaining personal satellite telephone numbers for bin Laden to helping thwart assassination threats against President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he says. With his fluent Russian and access to Russian military officials and oligarchs, Sater, whose FBI code name was “The Quarterback,” was a valuable U.S. asset, one whom the feds were willing to defend, even when Sater got his hands messy on the financial front yet again … this time with the Trump Organization.

Trump has a very poor memory when it comes to Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump claimed of Sater in a 2013 deposition. Two years later, in December 2015, when asked again about the man who was spearheading his Trump Tower Moscow project, Trump again replied, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it.” By that point, Sater had spent more than a decade dropping into Trump’s office, showing Trump’s children around Moscow and working together on a number of huge real estate deals. It started in 2002, when Sater joined the Bayrock Group, a real estate development firm in Trump Tower, and began licensing Trump’s name.

How could a man with Sater’s criminal history pull off siphoning millions of more dollars from wealthy investors for massive real estate deals? Because federal prosecutors had kept their valuable asset’s file sealed and out of public view. After a $200 million Sater-led, Trump-branded condo project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cratered during the recession, jilted investors were furious when they learned that the man behind the project was a convicted felon. Still, shielded by prosecutors and publicly forgotten by Trump, Sater was free to operate in some exclusive, consequence-free shadows, a role that finally led him again to Russia for the Holy Grail of Trump-Sater projects, a Trump Tower Moscow.

That project allowed the hybrid geopolitical goat-man to marry his political and business interests as never before. “Lets [sic] make this happen,” Sater wrote to Cohen in an email, “and build a Trump Moscow. And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics.” Of course, the commercial and the political are inextricably intertwined in Vladimir Putin’s oligarchic Russia. The extent to which they are in America is now of keen interest to congressional investigators.

Read more: Will Paul Manafort bring this D.C. power broker down with him?

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