US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, US, May 9, 2018. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)
WASHINGTON – A Chabad house in Long Island has once again made headlines as a hinge point for contacts under scrutiny by Robert Mueller III, the US special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Individuals who attended the Chabad of Port Washington allegedly facilitated contact between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US President Donald Trump by connecting loyalists of Poroshenko with Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer currently under criminal investigation by Mueller and New York State, BBC News reported on Wednesday.
Poroshenko sought an audience with Trump and directed confidantes to orchestrate it, according to the report, using the Chabad house as a channel to reach Cohen and, through him, the president.
"The BBC’s claim that our organization played a role in any of this is false and unsubstantiated. Neither I nor any of our staff know, or have been in contact with, any current or former members of the Ukrainian parliament, nor Michael Cohen," Rabbi Shalom Paltiel of Chabad of Port Washington told The Jerusalem Post
But that same Port Washington channel may have been used before in an effort by affiliates of Russian President Vladimir Putin to end sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, according to reports in The New York Times
. One such report found that Felix Sater, a member of the Port Washington Chabad and its 2010 and 2014 “man of the year,” had met with Cohen in January 2017 to orchestrate an end to the sanctions.
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Cohen at the time proved himself a successful emissary for Russian interests, delivering the proposal to Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security adviser and now a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation.
Sater is a convicted criminal associate of the Russian mob in New York and co-led Bayrock-Sapir, a real estate firm closely associated with Trump, to which Trump turned in his exploration of potential construction contracts in Moscow.
The firm was founded by Tamir Sapir, whose son joined Trump’s 2013 meetings in Moscow under investigation by Mueller, and who maintained a close relationship with Lev Leviev, Chabad’s top donor and a Putin confidante.
Trump and Leviev met to discuss Moscow real estate opportunities in 2008, according to Russian media reports and photographs.
In 2015, Sater emailed Cohen and an unidentified Russian contact about his desire to aid Putin’s effort to elevate Trump to the presidency in 2016. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen, according to an email obtained by the Times
. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” he wrote in another email to the Russian contact. “If he says it we own this election.”
Cohen is Jewish himself and a frequent attendee of a Chabad in midtown Manhattan.
Wednesday’s BBC report claimed that Cohen was paid $400,000 to connect Poroshenko’s aides with the White House, where the Ukrainian leader succeeded in meeting with Trump in June. Cohen did not register as a foreign agent representing Ukrainian or Russian interests, as is mandated by US law.
Shortly after the June meeting with Trump, Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency dropped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is currently another top target in the Mueller probe.
Port Washington came under scrutiny last April, when Politico Magazine
ran an article examining its role in connecting Trump and Putin’s oligarchs. The article noted that Putin has employed two of his closest contacts, Leviev and Roman Abramovich, to serve as envoys to the global Jewish community, using the Chabad network as their base.
Paltiel dismissed that article as antisemitic and on Wednesday, the rabbi expressed dismay that the BBC failed to approach him– or anyone at the Chabad house– for comment before running the claim.
"Nobody at the BBC bothered to verify the claim with us, or even request comment, as is basic journalistic practice," he said. "Despite the fast-paced news culture we live in and the understandable desire to get a story out first, someone from the BBC could have easily picked up the phone or sent us an email."