Donald Trump’s connections to a gentleman named Felix Sater have long been one of the more tantalizing threads of the Russia–special counsel story. Sater is a Russia-born ex-con who helped Trump raise money for real estate projects during the 2000s—a process that, according to a disgruntled former partner of Sater’s, involved laundering money that originated in Russia. Sater, in other words, might—might!—have information about Trump’s connections to Russians who held incriminating information about him before the 2016 campaign got underway. What a wild new BuzzFeed News profile of Sater seems to suggest, in addition to being a bonkers crazy story, is that he’s also the kind of guy who would definitely sell Trump out if he thought it would be even marginally useful to him personally.
It’s been reported publicly before that Sater was given a lenient sentence in a racketeering case in exchange for his work as a federal informant on matters including black-market missile sales. BuzzFeed’s story—based, it says, on “legal documents, emails, letters, and interviews with 10 current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with his undercover work”—corroborates those reports and says Sater was also crucial to other intelligence operations that yielded such information as phone numbers used by Osama Bin Laden (!) and the location of the training camp that Bill Clinton famously ordered a missile strike on during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal (!!):
In August 1998, President Bill Clinton authorized Operation Infinite Reach — a bombing strike against al-Qaeda in retaliation for the terror attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people. Sater, 10 current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials said, supplemented US intelligence by providing location coordinates for al-Qaeda camps that the US military ultimately bombed in Khost, Afghanistan.
In other words, Sater wasn’t just a guy desperately trying to convince prosecutors he had useful international connections in order to get out from under a racketeering bust—he was a guy who did have useful international connections and used them very successfully to get out from under a racketeering bust. (CIA officials were skeptical of Sater’s claims about black-market missiles, BuzzFeed says, until he sent them photographs of the missiles that featured serial numbers and “a copy of a daily newspaper to prove the photo was current.”)
Almost everyone in Donald Trump’s orbit involved in the Russia story comes across as either too incompetent to have done anything of consequence (Carter Page, Sam Nunberg, George Papadopoulos), too much of a toadie to ever totally sell Trump out (Hope Hicks, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen), too deeply involved in whatever malfeasance took place to do anything except fight Robert Mueller until the very end (Paul Manafort), or all three (Jared Kushner). That’s not to say the people in those groups can’t still be useful to Mueller in some fashion—but Sater, in BuzzFeed’s profile, seems like someone who is both smart enough to have carried out a key part of a criminal conspiracy and confident enough in his own ability as an independent hustler to decide that enthusiastic participation with Mueller’s team (which includes a prosecutor he worked with as an informant before) is the right move. (For what it’s worth, BuzzFeed says Sater “has been questioned by Mueller’s team” but “won’t say what he was asked or what information he provided.”)
Also, Sater once “told his [spy] handlers that two female al-Qaeda members were trying to recruit an Afghan woman working in the Senate barbershop to poison President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.” So there’s that.