Trump associate Felix Sater grilled by House Intel
President Trump’s onetime business associate Felix Sater was interviewed privately by House Intelligence Committee staff Tuesday about his years-long business relationship with President Trump and failed efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
Sater spent nearly eight hours behind closed doors with committee staff, telling reporters later that he spoke truthfully about his knowledge of the discussions to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 presidential campaign and answered all of the questions posed by congressional investigators.
But the committee issued a rare statement Tuesday evening vehemently pushing back on Sater’s suggestion he was fully cooperative, saying he still has not provided documents including unredacted telephone records and files related to a joint defense agreement that the committee required he produce under subpoena.
“Mr. Sater has not fully cooperated with the Committee, and he will remain under subpoena until he does so,” House Intelligence Committee spokesman Patrick Boland said in a statement.
Boland also said Sater asserted “a baseless claim of attorney-client privilege” in response to a question about former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s false statement to Congress about the property discussions in summer 2017.
“Our investigation thus far has revealed that Sater was not a part of any joint defense agreement, and has no basis to assert this privilege over these documents,” Boland said.
Sater downplayed the importance of the real estate deal when questioned by reporters following the marathon session, saying it was “no different” than the dozen other Trump Tower projects he pursued domestically and internationally in the course of his years working with Trump.
“In hindsight, I should have probably tried to revive Trump Paris. A lot less questions,” Sater quipped.
The House Intelligence Committee sought Sater’s testimony as part of the panel’s sweeping investigation into Trump’s financial dealings and ties to Russia, a probe unveiled by Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) in the weeks before former special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Sater, who cooperated extensively in Mueller’s investigation, is a key person of interest for House Democrats because of his efforts with Cohen to bring a Trump property to Moscow.
Schiff has raised national security concerns about the defunct business proposal, noting that the Trump Organization was pursuing the project at a time when then-candidate Trump was speaking positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail. Trump signed a letter of intent to pursue the project but never went through with the plans.
“This was a deal that he was seeking the Kremlin’s help to make happen — a deal that Michael Cohen believed, and others as well, that without Putin’s support they could not make happen,” Schiff said during an appearance at the National Press Club in June.
“That may not be a crime. Maybe it should be, but it may not be a crime. It is however, a counterintelligence problem of the first order of magnitude,” Schiff said.
The project attracted scrutiny from Mueller’s prosecutors and Sater’s involvement in the talks is detailed in the special counsel’s 448-page report. The special counsel did not unveil charges in connection with the real-estate discussions, beyond Cohen’s guilty plea to making false statements to Congress about the duration of the talks within the Trump Organization.
Mueller also did not find sufficient evidence to charge members of the campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election.
Schiff’s panel is also examining whether attorneys working for Trump’s family obstructed the congressional investigation into Russian interference by shaping or editing Cohen’s false statement.
Sater, the former managing director for the New York-based real estate firm Bayrock Group, said Tuesday that he provided the committee with documents in the form of phone records, business records and emails.
“I pretty much brought just across the board everything having to do with Trump Tower Moscow and some other areas. Whatever they have asked me for, I have provided. Whatever I have not yet been able to get, I will get them,” Sater said, flanked by his attorney, Robert Wolf.
Echoing the president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. in minimizing the importance of the Trump Moscow project, Sater stated he believes the project was no different from other real estate projects that were also in the works.
“I have worked on probably five or six Trump Tower projects in the United States and at least that many internationally, so to put all the onus on Trump Moscow as that important — yes, it’s one of the twelve deals that we worked on,” Sater said.
Sater, who said he never talked with the president about the business deal, would not say if he believes Trump misled the American public during the 2016 presidential campaign about his business ties to Russia.
“I don’t speak for the president and I don’t opine on what the president says,” Sater told reporters.
Trump had repeatedly said he had no business deals in Russia, and did not disclose the existence of the real estate discussions during the heated presidential race. Cohen told Congress in February that he offered Trump updates on the project “at least a half-dozen times” between the Iowa caucuses and the following June.
The president has attacked Cohen, who is currently serving a three-year prison term for various crimes, as a liar.
Sater said he also wished that his interview could’ve been public, but the “committee chose to do otherwise.”
The committee initially announced it planned to question Sater publicly in March, following Cohen’s closed-door testimony, but the interview was twice delayed. And then last month, Sater did not appear for a scheduled private interview before the committee, prompting the panel to issue a subpoena. At the time, his attorney blamed “unexpected health reasons” for preventing his client from appearing.
The Intelligence panel’s probe is one of numerous Democratic-led investigations the White House is fighting in the lower chamber.
Trump’s private attorneys are currently locked in a dispute with the Intelligence and Financial Services Committees over financial documents they have subpoenaed from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.
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