Felix Sater, Trump Associate, Skips House Hearing and Now Faces a Subpoena

WASHINGTON — Felix H. Sater, a former business associate of President Trump’s, failed to show up on Friday to an interview with House investigators meant to explore his work on a proposed Trump real estate project in Moscow. He will now face a congressional subpoena.

Mr. Sater had voluntarily agreed to appear privately before the House Intelligence Committee and touted his cooperation to news outlets in recent days, pledging to “answer every question without exception.” His testimony was expected to inform the Democrat-led panel’s continuing investigation into whether Russia or other foreign powers have publicly unknown leverage — financial or otherwise — over Mr. Trump or his associates.

But on Friday morning, after committee staff had already gathered in the Capitol, Mr. Sater’s lawyer, Robert S. Wolf, said that he was unable to attend “due to health reasons,” but was willing to reschedule.

The abrupt change displeased Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the committee’s chairman. He said a subpoena compelling Mr. Sater’s appearance was “fairly imminent.”

“He agreed to appear this morning,” Mr. Schiff said in a brief interview. “He did not show up. We will have to subpoena him.”

House Democrats have struggled for months to secure witnesses and documentary evidence for their investigations into Mr. Trump, his foreign business dealings, administrative policies and possible obstruction of justice related to the investigation by special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. But unlike other current and former government officials who have outright defied requests to appear or subpoenas, Mr. Sater appears to be willing to testify.

How much new information Mr. Sater might still have to share with investigators is unclear.

An American citizen who immigrated as a child from Russia, Mr. Sater is already well known to investigators. He has done extensive work for American intelligence agencies, he spoke to the Intelligence Committee and other congressional panels in 2017 and he is referred to dozens of times in Mr. Mueller’s report regarding the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Most prominently, Mr. Sater used his deep connections in Russia to help the Trump Organization pursue a real estate project in Moscow during Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign for president. Working closely with Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Mr. Sater promised to connect the business with Russian government officials and arrange travel to the country to bring the project to fruition.

In private communications with Mr. Cohen at the time, Mr. Sater wagered that the Moscow project would help Mr. Trump secure the presidency.

“Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process,” Mr. Sater wrote to Mr. Cohen in November 2015, a day after the organization had signed a letter of intent on the project. “Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in.”

The project never came to fruition, and Mr. Mueller ultimately concluded that he did not have enough evidence about the Moscow project or other connections between Trump associates and Russia to charge anyone with conspiring with the Russian election interference campaign.

Still, House Democrats remain acutely interested in Mr. Trump’s pursuit of the potentially lucrative deal during the time he was campaigning for president and even as he denied doing any business in Russia. Their interest was further piqued when Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court last year to misleading congressional investigators about the extent of the negotiations and their overlap with the campaign.

The Intelligence Committee canceled a public hearing with Mr. Sater in March. It could still seek to put him before live cameras as part of Democrats’ efforts to draw the public’s attention to various aspects of Mr. Mueller’s findings.