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Monday, March 27, 2017

MFIA Clinic Seeks to Unseal Records Relating to Former Trump Associate Felix H. Sater

On March 22, 2017, the Yale Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) on behalf of Forbes Media LLC (Forbes) and Forbes magazine’s Contributing Editor of Investigations Richard Behar, filed a motion in the Second Circuit to unseal records in a matter related to the criminal prosecution of Felix H. Sater. Sater is reported to be a former business associate of President Trump with connections to Russian oligarchs and organized crime, according to the motion. The documents Forbes and Behar seek should shed light on the nature of Sater’s reported connection to Russia and President Trump, according to the clinic.

In 1998, Sater pled guilty to Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violations, and entered a cooperation agreement with the government to reduce his sentence. Under the agreement, he reportedly worked with the FBI and CIA to track down Al Qaeda operatives and bring high-ranking members of La Cosa Nostra to justice, according to the motion. While working with the government, Sater joined a real-estate development firm which reportedly had more than $2 billion dollars of Trump-branded real-estate development deals in the works by 2007, according to the clinic. His real-estate firm allegedly helped the Trump Organization gain access to funds connected to Russian investors, and worked on a deal to establish a Trump tower in Moscow.

During that time, the motion alleges that Sater reportedly worked directly with Trump and his children. In a 2013 deposition, Trump reportedly testified that he wouldn’t recognize Sater if they both were in the same room. However, a recent report indicates that Sater remains close to President Trump’s inner circle, according to the motion. On February 19, 2017, The New York Times and Washington Post reported that Sater played a key role in funneling a Kremlin-approved, back-channel Ukraine-Russia peace deal through President Trump’s personal lawyer to then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn before Flynn resigned.

Meanwhile, Sater’s criminal docket remained sealed until May 2010, when some of the documents from Sater’s criminal prosecution were made public, eventually triggering the unsealing of approximately 75% of Sater’s criminal docket, according to the clinic. The unsealing litigation reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on several occasions, and the Second Circuit sealed its record of the appeals. Even though the district courts involved unsealed the majority of the E.D.N.Y. dockets and filings between 2012 and 2016, the Second Circuit’s docket remains almost entirely sealed to this day.

The motion filed by MFIA seeks to vindicate the public’s First Amendment and common-law rights of access to the Second Circuit’s record. The clinic team consists of Brandon Sadowsky ’18 and Eric Brooks ’19, as supervised by Jay Ward Brown of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, and John Langford, the Abrams Clinical Fellow and a Clinical Lecturer in Law at MFIA.

The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) is a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation and developing policy initiatives. The clinic is a part of The Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School, which promotes freedom of speech, freedom of the press, access to information, and government transparency.