Andrew Weissmann helped oversee the bizarre Felix Sater case.
While President Donald Trump fumes about the expanding Russia investigation, the man in charge of the probe has been busy assembling a murderer’s row of experienced prosecutors boasting backgrounds in government corruption, fraud, cybersecurity, corporate crime, and organized crime. One of the first hires made by special counsel Robert Mueller was Andrew Weissmann, the leader of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud division. And in a curious twist, Weissmann once played a role in an unusual case—involving the Mafia, the Russian mob, and securities fraud—that is now oddly linked to Trump.
Weissmann has a reputation as a fierce prosecutor, having headed up the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force. Before that, as an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of New York, he pursued cases targeting Mafia wise guys and Russian organized crime members.
As a prosecutor in the Eastern District, Weissmann signed a 1998 cooperation agreement between the US government and Felix Sater, a violent felon and securities trader who had pleaded guilty to financial crimes. Sater went on to become a confidential informant for the FBI and a Trump business partner. During the years in which Sater was secretly cooperating with the Feds, he was also engaging in key real estate ventures with Trump. This included scouting for deals in Russia and Eastern Europe, projects that never materialized. Trump has consistently claimed that his business empire has “nothing to do with Russia.” Yet Sater’s intriguing tale represents at least one important Russia connection for Trump.
Though Weissmann served in various positions of authority within the Eastern District, it is unclear how closely involved he was with the Sater case. A spokesman for Mueller says, “Apart from his role as an office supervisor in 1998, Mr. Weissmann does not recall any direct involvement.” Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Weissmann had a role in the Sater case. But might Weissmann, who left the Eastern District in 2002 to join the Enron probe, have any inside information—or insight—into the Trump-Sater matter and how it relates to Trump’s decades-long effort to forge ties in Russia?
The Sater episode has raised serious questions for Trump, who has denied knowing much about Sater. There are unresolved mysteries: what Sater did as a confidential informant and what Trump knew, if anything, of Sater’s criminal activity.
Sater’s business dealings with Trump appear to have faded several years ago, but he has maintained his ties to the Trump camp. In August 2016, Sater told Politico that he had visited Trump Tower the previous month, but he declined to disclose with whom he had met or the visit’s purpose, saying only that it was “confidential.” At the start of the Trump administration, Sater joined with a Ukrainian legislator and Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for Trump, to develop a Putin-friendly Ukrainian peace plan that they presented to Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security adviser.