Former Sands Point resident Felix Sater, a businessman with ties to both Russian officials and President Donald Trump as well as a figure of interest in the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, discussed the rise and fall of the Trump Tower Moscow deal he spearheaded in the two-part HBO documentary “Agents of Chaos,” which aired last week.
Referred to as a “gangster” by Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson and as an “enigma” by director Alex Gibney in the film’s opening minutes, Sater was one of the key figures interviewed in the documentary’s second half, which premiered Sept. 23.
Sater first appears following a brief introduction in which Gibney describes his past, including his birth in the Soviet Union, working on Wall Street before serving time for “attacking a broker with a broken margarita glass,” and his ties to Russian intelligence making him a valuable FBI informant leading to his beginning to work with Trump.
“Did you have any inside understanding of what his motivation was?” Gibney asks offscreen. “‘I could win, I could be president, but if I lose, I make a lot of money.’ You think he saw it that way?”
“Maybe, I don’t know, there’d be nothing wrong with him thinking that running for president could enhance his business,” Sater said. “The other people that ran, it was good for business for them. Their business happens to be politics. Is there a different standard for a businessman than there is for a politician? Aren’t they all running to see what happens? And there’s no downside because they get better name recognition. There’s always another election later. There’s always a new post to be filled.
“And the higher your name recognition, the better the post. In business, the better name recognition the more possibility to build more towers or sell more things. Everyone wants to create a huge conspiracy, and how inappropriate and improper everything is. Give me a break.”
He then discusses his projects with Trump, including the completed Trump Phoenix, Trump Ft. Lauderdale, and Trump SoHo, and the proposed but not built Trump London, Trump Paris and Trump Istanbul.
“We were developing real estate, we were developing Trump Towers, and if Russian buyers had bought some units, well, you know what they say, any customer whose check clears is a good customer,” Sater said. “But I wasn’t bringing Russian money into the Trump organization. Never have. Not a dollar, not a ruble.”
He continues that as Trump gained momentum and press attention in the leadup to the Republican National Convention in 2016, he saw a way to have the tower built.
“I was sitting in my backyard, reading the news on my iPad, and it just dawned on me,” Sater said. “I said, wow, this would be the perfect time, we could get a Trump Tower Moscow deal done.”
He adds that aesthetically, he had high hopes for the tower.
“My vision was building the tallest building in Europe,” Sater said. “I actually used to dream about making it the tallest building in the world.”
Trump on the campaign trail is then shown, complimenting Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Sater says gained him positive press in Russia.
“The positive press was happening in Russia about him, he was saying good things about Russia,” Sater said. “I certainly was happy that he was saying those things because I was trying to get a Trump Tower Moscow deal done.”
A Nov. 3, 2015, email from Sater to an unknown party is then shown, reading: “I just watched the Trump press conference. Loved Putin/Russia reference. I need that part of the press conference cut into a short clip to be played for Putin.” Sater explains that the positive attention was needed due to the necessary “protection” for the proposed project.
“For a project of that size like ours, the highest levels of power would have had to allow it to happen in Russia, especially in Moscow,” Sater said. “Everything ends at the very, very top, and the bigger the deal, the more likely it would get to the very, very top. It certainly would have been very helpful if it was blessed at the top. The entire system is so messed up that if you try to work legitimately you will fail.
“You cannot operate there without what they call a roof, which is protection from somebody because somebody else is gonna want to take you out. And somebody else is going to use the tax department or the police department to attack you and destroy you. So you need the protection of a politician or intelligence guy or policemen or somebody of that nature. And it starts at the very, very top.”
Before the election, Sater said, the prospect of a Trump Tower Moscow was not as appealing in Russia, where his profile wasn’t as big at the time.
“You have to understand that Donald doesn’t really develop, Donald licenses his name. He’s got a brand and his brand is Trump,” Sater said. “I went a few times to Russia to try to build the Trump Tower, way before the election. In the past, his profile wasn’t as big in Russia and the developers in Russia at the time couldn’t understand why they would pay him a premium to use his name if they couldn’t resell it for a higher number.”
Following a rise in Trump’s profile in Russia when he brought his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013 and competition to develop a tower with Trump from the producer he worked with to get the pageant there, talks began again.
“Me and Michael Cohen were having lunch one day talking about marketing of the building and I said, ‘Wow, we give a top floor unit to Putin, the whole floor,'” Sater said. “We could probably charge an extra $250 million from all the Russians that would want to live in the building.”
Sater said he had the idea of taking Cohen and then-candidate Trump to the 2016 St. Petersburg Economic Conference to quickly get a deal.
“All the wealthiest people in Russia, everyone’s there,” Sater said. “And in a two-, three-day time frame, we could get a Trump Tower Moscow deal. The reason that we couldn’t go was because of politics.”
The documentary said the deal went cold not long after the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 among Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Russian lobbyists to hear incriminating evidence on Hillary Clinton, which was not actually presented.
“Michael Cohen said, we’re gonna have to postpone, and let’s see how things happen after the [Republican National Convention],” Sater said. “At that point, it dawned on me that there’s just no way we can continue doing this deal.”
“Why couldn’t he do both, if it’s just business?” director Gibney asks from offscreen.
“Because I don’t think we are geared to accept a businessman being a businessman at the same time as being the president of the United States,” Sater replies. “I could have made maybe as much as $100 million, or Donald Trump getting elected president. Which one are you guessing I’m sort of leaning towards?”
Sater sold his Sands Point home in February 2019 to relocate to waterfront property, said local real estate agent Kathy Levinson. He had purchased the home in 2004 and moved from another property within Port Washington.