Felix Sater, a Soviet-born American businessman who has raised funds for real estate developments on behalf of the Trump Organization, said there was nothing nefarious about the proposal to build ‘Trump Tower Moscow’ during the height of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Sater discussed the proposal, which would have brought the tallest building in the world to Moscow, in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos airing Friday morning on ABC News’ Good Morning America, just as The New York Times reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization for any Russia-related documents as part of his ongoing probe of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“Eventually, it will become known that I’m guilty of trying to build the world’s tallest building, and that’s about it,” Sater said.
"Felix Sater was very enthusiastic and very tenacious” in trying to put the deal together, Sater said, but any perceived alignment of Trump’s business and political interests was purely coincidental.
“I was trying to do a real estate transaction,” Sater told ABC News. “I clearly was not involved in the campaign, nor was I involved in any of the political end, and the hope that a large transaction like that would be built, if that was helpful to his run, that would be great.”
Sater has decided to speak out in order to counter what he calls a false narrative spread in media reports that focus on his felony assault conviction stemming from a drunken bar fight in which he slashed a man’s face. Intsead, Sater says, he should be viewed as a patriot because of his covert work as an intelligence asset for the FBI and CIA on highly sensitive matters of organized crime and national security.
As detailed this week in a report by Buzzfeed, Sater has assisted U.S. law enforcement in operations targeting everything from mafia members to cybercriminals to terror threats.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referred questions about Mueller’s subpoena to the Trump Organization, and Alan S. Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said they have been cooperating with Mueller’s office.
“Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the Special Counsel, and is responding to their requests," he said in a statement. "This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”
Sater pushed the project in his onetime role as a “senior adviser” to Trump, who signed a non-binding letter of intent, which promised a $4 million initial payment to the Trump Organization, to pursue a Trump Tower–style building development in Moscow in 2015. The existence of the project seemed to contradict statements Trump made during the campaign that he had “no relationship to Russia whatsoever.”
The Washington Post and The New York Times published emails between Sater and his childhood friend Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, discussing ‘Trump Tower Moscow,’ in which Sater appears to celebrate the apparent nexus between Trump’s business and political fortunes.
“I know how to play it, and we will get this done,” he wrote. “Buddy, our boy can become president of the USA, and we can engineer it … I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”
Sater told ABC News that those email reveal only that he was “beyond giddy” about the dual prospects of a billion-dollar deal and Trump’s candidacy. If the deal had progressed further, he said, he would have “gotten to people who know Putin to try to get his blessing” for the project.
“I do not know Putin,” Sater said. “If this transaction was moving forward, I certainly would have made the effort to get to him.”
According to a statement released by Cohen in August, Cohen told Trump about the project three times, and did, in fact, reach out to the Kremlin at Sater’s behest before the project was ultimately abandoned – before, Cohen says, any money changed hands.
“In mid-January 2016, Mr. Sater suggested that I send an email to Mr. Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for the president of Russia, since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued,” Cohen’s statement says. “Those permissions were never provided. I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal.”
Asked if then-candidate Trump could have softened his stance on Russia because he was simultaneously pursuing a business deal there, Sater demurred.
“I can’t speak for the president,” he said.
ABC News’ Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.