Shady oligarch's case a test of Trump's DoJFeb. 21, 201721:00
A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The "Ukrainian lawmaker," in this case, is Andrii Artemenko, who's allied with Putin's government.According to the Times' reporting, Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, claims he received a sealed envelope from Felix Sater, a controversial figure in Trump's orbit, and Cohen delivered the envelope to Michael Flynn before his resignation.According to the Washington Post's reporting, however, Cohen had a different version of events: he met with the president at the White House, but never dropped off any documents.The Times stands by its reporting. Why Cohen would tell two very different stories to two different newspapers is unclear.To be sure, back-channel communications like these aren't illegal or even uncommon, but the broader context matters: people close to Trump have been quietly passing around a pro-Putin plan, which may yet be part of a White House blueprint to ease Russian sanctions, which may help explain Russia's illegal efforts to help put Trump in the White House.Indeed, any story that further solidifies the connections between the U.S. president and his allies in Moscow is worth paying attention to.Postscript: As the story continues to unfold, keep an eye on Felix Sater, a former FBI informant and a Soviet-born Trump associate who's worked for years to facilitate Trump business deals in Russia.