Mystery Man

Who Paid for the HuffPost Puff Piece on Trump’s Felonious Friend?

Someone paid for positive story about Felix Sater—but the author is keeping the mysterious benefactor’s identity secret.

Getty/The Daily Beast

An unknown client paid a Pakistani national to place an article at the HuffPost defending a controversial associate of President Donald Trump.

HuffPost scrubbed the article, written in December, from its website after a blogger in Northern Ireland, Dean Sterling Jones, inquired about the piece, which hailed the dismissal last year of a $250 million tax fraud case against Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive.

The article’s author, listed on HuffPost’s website under the name Waqas KH, runs a Pakistani company called Steve SEO Services. That company offers to ghostwrite articles and organize internet commenting campaigns for paying clients. On the freelancer website Fiverr, Waqas goes by the username “nico_seo” and offers to place articles on HuffPost for an $80 fee. For an extra $50, he will write the article himself.

Waqas confirmed to The Daily Beast that he placed the article hailing the dismissal of tax charges against Sater, and said that his client had written the actual text. He said Sater himself did not pay to place the article, but would not say who had compensated him for it.

Waqas has written nine other articles for HuffPost on topics ranging from cryptocurrencies to Christmas lights. Reviews of his services on Fiverr indicate that previous clients were satisfied.

“He published my story on HuffPost as promised. Higly [sic] recommend!” reads one. All of Waqas’s HuffPost articles have been removed from the site.

“Anyone found to be self-publishing paid content on the HuffPost Contributors Network is in violation of our terms of use,” a HuffPost spokesperson said in an emailed statement, which matched the statement sent to Jones. “Anyone we discover to be engaging in such abuse has their post removed from the site and is banned from future publication.”

Sater is a controversial figure in Trump world. Before his business association with Trump, he served prison time after stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass during a bar fight. It wouldn’t be his last run-in with the law.

The president has downplayed their business dealings—Sater helped Trump scout real estate deals in Russia and Eastern Europe—and claimed he never met the man. But Sater, who previously pleaded guilty to his role in a 1990s Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme, held a senior position at the Trump Organization and worked out of an office in Trump Tower.

Sater later supported Trump’s presidential candidacy, and excitedly wrote in 2015 emails released last year that “our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it” by solidifying a major Russian real estate deal. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater wrote.

Sater and Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, later crafted a plan to lift U.S. sanctions against Russia, and delivered it to Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to making false statements to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian election-meddling. Sater was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee in December as part of its parallel investigation.

Neither Sater nor his spokesman responded to requests for comment.

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Sater has previously looked to pay for press coverage promoting his own personal interests. Randi Newton, a columnist for the New York Observer, then owned by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, said Sater offered to pay her $1,000 a month for “take down pieces” on unspecified targets. Sater later said he had no recollection of that meeting.

He appears to have engaged in other underhanded digital smear tactics to go after a longtime legal adversary. Using personally identifying information, he registered a number of bizarre website domain names, some of which later hosted attacks on Jody Kriss, a former Sater business associate with whom he engaged in a years-long legal battle that continues to this day. (Sater and other defendants in the case have denied wrongdoing.)

The domains included IAmAFaggot.com, IAmADirtbag.com, FecalBoy.com, CuntMan.net, and VaginaBoy.com.