'I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected': Trump's lawyer is at the center of questions about his ties to a Russian businessman

The Russian-born businessman who pushed for the Trump Organization to pursue a massive real-estate deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential election was spotted at Trump Tower months after the deal allegedly fell apart.

The businessman, Felix Sater, told Politico at the time that the purpose of his visit last August was "confidential." But his presence there seven months after the Moscow real-estate deal fell through, and less than three months before Election Day, raises questions about who in President Donald Trump's orbit he was still in touch with — and why.

Some answers could lie in a referral from the White House on Sunday night. Asked to comment on reports that the Trump Organization had pursued this deal, a senior administration official first directed questions to Trump's lawyer in the Russia investigation, Ty Cobb.

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June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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Minutes later, the official backtracked and referred questions to Stephen Ryan, the lawyer for Michael Cohen — Trump's personal attorney at the time the Moscow deal was reportedly pursued. Ryan did not respond to a request for comment.

Cohen, who was the executive vice president of the Trump Organization until he resigned from his post there in January to serve as Trump's personal lawyer on a full-time basis, had been in touch with Sater about the Moscow deal, according to The Washington Post

Emails exchanged between Sater and Cohen in November 2015 indicate that they were preparing to celebrate not only Trump's election victory, but also the potential Russia deal. 

Sater boasted of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the emails, which were obtained by The New York Times on Monday, telling Cohen that he will "get all of Putins team to buy in" on the Moscow deal.

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote, according to the Times. "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected."

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US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 7, 2017: Melania Trump (L), First Lady of the United States, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit. Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA), Donald Trump, President of the USA (C) meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA) Donald Trump, President of the USA (left), meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (right), at the opening of the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Steffen Kugler /BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: International leaders attend the group photo on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to the US first lady Melania Trump (R) as they attend a state banquet in the Elbphilarmonie concert Hall on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. . (Photo by Felipe Trueba - Pool / Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: World leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Leaders of the G20 group of nations are meeting for the July 7-8 summit. Topics high on the agenda for the summit include climate policy and development programs for African economies. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a family photo along with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S.President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazilian President Michel Temer, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Senegal's President Macky Sall, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Saudi Arabia Minister of State Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Secretary Jose Angel Gurria, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director Roberto Azevedo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director Guy Ryder, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Financial Stability Board (FSB) President Mark Carney and other leaders at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and other leaders pose for a family photo at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to Melania Trump during the official dinner at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kay Nietfeld,Pool
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C-R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C-L) hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Sater told Talking Points Memo earlier this month that his "last Moscow deal for the Trump Organization was in October of 2015" and it "didn't go through because obviously he became president." The Trump Organization, which employed Cohen at the time, had signed a letter of intent to pursue the deal, according to the Post.

Cohen told the Times that Sater "sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to 'salesmanship,'" adding tha he "ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia."

But that Cohen, who has been called Trump's "pit bull," was in touch with Sater as late as November 2015 indicates that the Trump Organization's relationship with Sater went deeper than Trump let that December.

"Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it," Trump told The Associated Press at the time. "I'm not that familiar with him."

Sater, who was accused nearly two decades ago of being a conspirator in a $40 million fraud and money-laundering scheme involving four Mafia families, began advising the Trump Organization while he was an executive at the real-estate firm Bayrock in the early 2000s. But Trump's deflection in December mirrored comments he made in a sworn deposition in 2013, when he said that he wouldn't recognize Sater if they were in the same room. 

Former assistant US attorney and longtime federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Sunday night that he thought the report about the Trump Organization pursuing the Moscow deal was "interesting as it relates to Michael Cohen, who allegedly had unusual contacts with Russia much later on."

Mariotti said he wasn't surprised that the Trump Organization had a potential investment in Russia, and that whether or not special counsel Robert Mueller — who is overseeing the FBI's probe into Russia's election interference — finds the information relevant will depend on whether Trump knew anything about the deal himself. 

But given that the deal "got scuttled," Mariotti said, "it's mostly relevant for giving context to what people like Cohen did later."

Cohen evidently maintained contact with Sater through at least January 2017. One week after Trump was inaugurated, Cohen and Sater met with a Ukrainian lawmaker at a New York City hotel to discuss a potential Russia-Ukraine peace plan that would involve lifting sanctions on Russia.

Both Cohen and Sater's wives are Ukrainian, and the lawmaker they met with, Andrii Artemenko, told Business Insider in interviews earlier this year that he felt it was his patriotic duty to find a peaceful solution to the war. 

Cohen acknowledged in a series of text messages to Business Insider at the time that he met with Sater and Artemenko in New York for "under 10 minutes" to discuss a proposal that Artemenko said "was acknowledged by Russian authorities that would create world peace."

Cohen was mentioned in an explosive but unverified collection of memos detailing the Trump campaign's ties to the Kremlin that was published in full by BuzzFeed in January. The memos, which cited high-level Kremlin officials British spy Christopher Steele said he cultivated during his time on MI6's Moscow desk, alleged that Cohen served as a go-between for the campaign and Moscow during the election. 

Cohen has denied the charge and insists he has never been to Prague, where the dossier said he met with "Kremlin representatives" in "August/September 2016."

But the revelations about the Moscow deal "looks very bad for team Trump," said Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who served in the White House as associate counsel to President Barack Obama.

"It stands in stark contrast to all Trump's blanket denials about contacts with Russia," Wright said. 

"If true, these contacts demonstrates a nexus between Trump Organization business dealings and US policy toward Russia and Ukraine," Wright said. "It also presents a number of further evidence trails that Mueller's team will feel compelled to pursue."

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