One of the more well-known open secrets about Donald Trump is his rather lengthy history of involving himself with "business partners" who had ties to the mafia. The media has of course known about all these stories for years, but they have been slow-walking their release during the Republican primary season (FOR SOME REASON, BUT DEFINITELY NOT BECAUSE THEY WANT TRUMP TO WIN HA HA).
It looks like all of this is about to come to a head, though, as the AP has forced an obstinate federal judge to finally concede that he's about to have to unseal some key records.
A U.S. judge is urging the Obama administration to protect from public disclosure federal court records related to the once-secret criminal history of a former Donald Trump business partner.
In a highly unusual order prompted by The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan said that unless the Justice Department acts before April 18, he will decide whether to make the court files public under the assumption that federal prosecutors don't care.
The case involves Felix Sater, a Trump business associate who had pleaded guilty in a major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme and cooperated with the government. The AP reported in December that, even after learning about Sater's background, Trump tapped Sater for a business development role in 2010 that included the title of senior adviser to Trump. Sater received Trump Organization business cards and was given an office within the Trump Organization's headquarters, on the same floor as Trump's own.
"It seems to me that the government has a unique interest in keeping documents that relate to cooperation agreements under seal," the judge wrote in his order. "The government should speak and assert its position as to whether the public's right to access each document in the record is outweighed by a compelling need for secrecy."
Lawyers for the AP had asked the judge to justify sealing a five-year criminal contempt proceeding in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Not only did Cogan seal all documents in the contempt case, he also initially sealed the AP's request that he unseal his justification for their sealing. When The New York Times asked the judge to unseal the AP's request to unseal the sealing order, that request was sealed, too. Late last week, he made the requests by the AP and the newspaper publicly accessible — but ordered that the parties to the case file any response to them under seal.
One of the specific issues that the press is trying to uncover is the extent to which the Obama Department of Justice worked out a cooperation agreement with Sater that allowed him to continue his criminal enterprises AND refuse to pay restitution to his victims:
Also at issue in the case are statements that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch — formerly the top prosecutor in Cogan's district — made about Sater's case before the Senate confirmed her last year. Oberlander and Lerner said the government improperly permitted Sater to use his status as a secret cooperator to commit new crimes and avoid paying restitution to past victims, who are owed millions of dollars.
In February 2015, Lynch told Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, of the Senate Judiciary Committee that information about Sater's restitution "remains under seal," and that the Justice Department would never waive victims' right to restitution as part of a cooperation agreement. Court records already publicly available at the time showed that Sater was not ordered to pay restitution and the government never requested it. One of Sater's attorneys said in a statement at the time that the government had waived restitution payments partly out of gratitude to Sater.
The lid is about to get blown off this story, and the only question is whether it happens before the Republican primary or not.