The Wikipedia Whitewash That Cleared the Way for Trump Tower Moscow

As he was chasing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow, Trump associate Felix Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — was working hard to whitewash Trump’s Wikipedia biography.

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Felix Sater — the Russian-American real estate developer and former adviser to President Donald J. Trump — is back in the news, following a new report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee, published Tuesday.

The report details, in part, Sater’s ill-fated efforts to help Trump build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 U.S. presidential election — namely, Sater’s “high-level outreach to Russian businessmen and officials that Sater claimed to have undertaken related to the deal.”

From the report:

In September 2015, Trump authorized [former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen] to pursue a deal in Russia through Felix Sater, a longtime business associate of Trump. By early November 2015, Trump and a Russia-based developer signed a Letter of Intent laying out the main terms of a licensing deal that promised to provide the Trump Organization millions of dollars upon the signing of a deal, and hundreds of millions of dollars if the project advanced to completion.

(U) Cohen kept Trump updated on the progress of the deal. While these negotiations were ongoing, Trump made positive public comments about Putin in connection with his presidential campaign. Cohen and Sater sought to leverage Trump’s comments, and subsequent comments about Trump by Putin, to advance the deal.

…the Committee found that Sater did, in fact, have significant senior-level ties to a number of Russian businessmen and former government officials, and was in a position, through intermediaries, to reach individuals close to Putin.

What the report doesn’t mention is that, shortly before Trump gave Cohen the go-ahead on the Moscow deal, Sater — or someone working on behalf of Sater — launched a surreptitious effort to scrub Sater’s convictions for racketeering and assault from Wikipedia.

The eight-month timeline of edits closely correlates with the Trump Tower Moscow timeline and suggests that Sater anticipated and may have sought to preempt any negative responses to his involvement.

Felix Sater (centre) with Donald Trump (source)

As I covered in a previous post (before information about the Moscow deal became widely known), the Wikipedia editing campaign began in August 2015, when someone using the handle “591J” made repeated attempts to edit Trump’s biography to whitewash the aspiring candidate’s business ties to Sater and delete references to Sater’s alleged “mafia and Russian criminal ties.”

591J appeared to reveal their true identity in January 2015, when the user admitted owning three websites that had been registered using Sater’s name, physical address, email address, and phone number.

Sater has not yet replied to any of my requests for comment.

591J’s first three edits to Trump’s biography were made as Sater was busy negotiating the preliminaries of the Moscow deal with Cohen. These edits removed details of a 2013 BBC Panorama interview that Trump cut short after being asked about Sater by British investigative journalist John Sweeney.

Here’s a clip:

And here’s one of 591J’s attempts to remove a reference to the interview:

August 25, 2015 edit of Trump’s Wikipedia entry by user 591J (source)

When that information was later reinstated, 591J created Sater’s current biography, in which 591J described Sater as a “prolific senior advisor” to The Trump Organization, boasted about his various real estate deals, and, inexplicably, claimed that Trump’s mother and father were Sater’s own biological parents.

This first draft also included an explicit warning to other Wikipedia editors atop the page: “DO NOT REMOVE prior to the result of the Presidential election.”

Over the course of three months starting February 2016, 591J obsessively revised the page, adding details of Sater’s “major role” in the development of the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in Lower Manhattan (since renamed The Dominick) and attempting to roll back what the user claimed were “illegitimate” references to his 1993 assault conviction and 1998 stock fraud conviction.

591J stopped editing in April 2016, shortly before 591J and four associated accounts were banned from Wikipedia following an investigation by the site’s administrators. (In 2018, Sater hired a third-party content writing company to edit his biography to add reporting from BuzzFeed News about his undercover work for the FBI, according to an admission on Wikipedia’s talk pages.)

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By then, Sater’s Trump Tower Moscow dream was quickly unraveling, with Cohen angrily berating him for failing to find a viable Russian bank to finance the project.

“After almost two months of waiting you send me some bullshit letter from a third-tier bank and you think I’m going to walk into the boss’s office and tell him I’m going there for this?” Cohen wrote in a series of late-2015 text messages. “Tell them no thank you and I will take it from here.”

Cohen later claimed he’d told Trump in January 2016 that the deal was dead, according to BuzzFeed News’ “definitive” reporting on the subject. However, Sater and Cohen continued to message each other about new developments as late as June 2016.

As Sater told BuzzFeed News, he knew the deal was fried on July 26, 2016, when Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

“Fuck me, I thought to myself. All that work for nothing,” Sater told BuzzFeed News.

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