House Intel to publicly question Trump associate Felix Sater in March

House Intel to publicly question Trump associate Felix Sater in March
© Greg Nash

The House Intelligence Committee plans to question Felix Sater, the longtime business associate of President TrumpDonald John TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report MORE involved in efforts to build a Trump property in Moscow, in a public hearing in March, committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats struggle to keep up with Trump messaging on coronavirus Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday. 

Schiff said the open hearing with Sater is scheduled for March 14 and would focus on the Trump Moscow discussions.

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Sater, a Russian-born businessman who served as managing director for the New York-based real estate firm the Bayrock Group, worked with former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to move the real estate project forward, though it never came to fruition.

Schiff announced the hearing after a daylong closed-door testimony from Cohen, which was widely expected to focus on the Trump Moscow discussions. In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the extent to which the Moscow project was discussed within the Trump Organization. His testimony was part of a deal to cooperate in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation.

Cohen admitted, in part, that the discussions extended as late as June 2016 — six months later than he previously testified — at which point Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

According to court filings, Cohen and an unnamed “Individual 2” — widely believed to be Sater — discussed efforts to gain approval from the Russian government for the real estate deal as late as June 2016. They also discussed Cohen traveling to Russia in connection with the project during the heat of the campaign, filings say.

Sater has attracted media scrutiny as a result of his ties to Trump and involvement in the proposal. The New York Times reported in August 2017 that Sater referenced his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin in emails to Cohen and said the real estate deal would help elect Trump to the presidency.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in November 2015. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

In public testimony before a separate House committee on Wednesday, Cohen said he briefed the Trump family on the project roughly a half-dozen times between January and June 2016 and that the president asked for updates on it during the campaign. He also said he briefed Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTwitter says coronavirus disinformation spread by Chinese officials does not violate rules Former lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump administration A rarely used fine could limit the spread of the coronavirus to the United States MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpPrivate equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans MORE on the plans.

While the real estate proposal never came to fruition, it has drawn scrutiny from congressional investigators and Mueller as they probe Russian interference and links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Cohen also alleged in public testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday that Trump's attorneys reviewed and edited his original false statement to Congress. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow later vehemently denied that the president attorneys edited or changed the "duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations" in his statement. 

Schiff on Thursday described the closed-door interview with Cohen as “productive” but offered up few details.

“We were able to drill down in great detail,” he said. Cohen, who endured three days of Capitol Hill testimony in succession this week, is expected to return to finish testifying privately on March 6. Cohen will report to prison in May to serve a three-year sentence for a series of crimes he pleaded guilty to last year. 

Schiff, who took the helm of the committee in January after Democrats won the House, said the committee intends to conduct as much as of its revived Russia investigation as can in open session, but he sought to temper expectations. 

“We are going to do as much as we can in open session. Some we can, and some we can’t,” Schiff said.

“We have to look at these on a case-by-case basis in terms of investigative needs as well as equities of the Department of Justice, but we are going to try to do as much as we can in the open,” he added.