Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Donald Trump presidential campaign and agents of the Russian government has been remarkably discreet, as it should be. But other sources have leaked three names — Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and Eric Schneiderman — that indicate Mueller’s team is probing very deeply. If there’s a smoking gun to be found, Mueller is getting closer to it.
Cohen is Trump’s longtime lawyer and executive vice president of the Trump Organization. Sater is a childhood friend of Cohen, a former business associate of Trump, and a onetime government informant with ties to all manner of unsavory people, including Russian oligarchs. Schneiderman, at the opposite end of the probity scale, is New York state’s attorney general.
Cohen and Sater are making big blips on Mueller’s radar screen, as well as those of congressional committees looking into possible election collusion. Last week, The New York Times reported that Cohen had written an eight-page letter to the House Intelligence Committee vehemently denying allegations that he was a central figure in contacts between the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government.
The allegations were made in a controversial dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. That dossier identified Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the man in charge of a Kremlin operation to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and promote Trump’s.
In January 2016, six months after Trump announced his candidacy, Cohen emailed Peskov asking for his help getting Russian government approvals for a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. Peskov never replied. Trump had been fully briefed on the Moscow project, but by January 2016 claimed to have no business dealings with Russia.
Sater is the one who encouraged Cohen to contact Peskov. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Cohen. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Sater does have connections in Russia but also has been linked to the Russian mafia, the U.S. mafia, money laundering and al-Qaida. He has served as an informant to the U.S. Justice Department. He also has connections with the Russian oligarchs who helped finance the Trump Soho hotel. Former associates say he met frequently with Donald Trump and traveled with his children.
Schneiderman is reported to be partnering with Mueller’s investigation into contacts that former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort had with entities tied to Putin. If Trump were to pardon Manafort of federal crimes, Manafort might still face state charges — unless he cuts a deal.
The deeper Mueller digs, the more alarming the possibilities become. Even Americans who don’t care for this president should be worried about the presidency.