The hard-charging New York PR man caught Washington’s notice first when he announced in an op-ed that he had testified about his abortive dealings with Paul Manafort to a Washington grand jury convened by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and then again when he emerged as the face of Sinclair Broadcasting’s caustic PR counteroffensive to charges that it forces affiliates to air pro-Trump propaganda.
Over the last decade and a half, the 43-year-old Torossian has made himself perhaps the most prominent practitioner of a brass-knuckled form of public relations, sought out for his relentless work ethic and his ruthlessness—especially when anyone gets in his way.
Torossian has clawed his way to success. His firm has grown considerably, boasting a stable of corporate clients that includes Unilever and Walgreens and claiming $28 million in revenue last year. He has also branched out into other successful business ventures.
Torossian is the publicist the New York Times once dubbed “one of the New Yorkiest practitioners of this quintessentially New York profession.”
Born in 1974 and raised Jewish by a single mother in the Bronx, as a boy Torossian came under the tutelage of Avi Weiss, a prominent “open Orthodox” rabbi and prolific organizer of protests related to Jewish causes. As an adolescent, he became involved with Betar, a Zionist youth movement with ties to Israel’s Likud party, and traveled the world to protest with Weiss. In 1994, the rabbi and Torossian descended on Norway to protest the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Yasir Arafat. The pair was arrested and briefly detained in Oslo.
As a student at the State University of New York at Albany, Torossian gained his own notoriety as an energetic activist. In 1995, when Pat Buchanan — long accused of anti-Semitism — announced his second presidential bid at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Torossian rushed the stage. Later that year he showed up at the Million Man March to protest Louis Farrakhan, and was removed from federal land by the National Park Police.
Torossian became close to Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein, an ally of Trump’s hawkish new national security adviser, John Bolton. In 2000, Torossian joined PR Firm MWW and in 2003 he struck out on his own, founding 5W Public relations. His early roster of clients was heavy on right-wing Israeli politicians and evangelical preachers.
He got to know Sean “Diddy” Combs, who became an early client along with Lil’ Kim, who relied on Torossian’s services when she was tried and convicted of perjury related to a 2001 shooting.
Other clients over the years have included Maira Nazarbayeva, ex-sister-in-law to Kazakhstan’s autocratic leader (Sample headline: “I’m not wanted by Interpol”), Payday lender Cane Bay Partners, the “Shake Weight” exercise contraption, Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the rapper Pitbull and the heavyweight boxer turned mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko.
Blogger Shmarya Rosenberg caught Torossian’s firm engaging in sock puppetry -- posting online comments under assumed identities -- in defense of Iowa-based Kosher meat magnate Sholom Rubashkin, who would soon be convicted in federal court on dozens of fraud and money laundering charges. Torossian was reportedly also in the habit of buying the domain names for rival publicists and redirecting visitors to them to his firm’s own website.
Before he was elected to Congress from Long Island, Michael Grimm and his close associate Ofer Biton, an Israeli entrepreneur, were also fixtures at the 5W offices.
Torossian’s true allegiance remains Israel—before going on the Turkish government’s payroll, he had helped organize a 2010 protest outside the Turkish consulate in New York following a lethal confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Turkish activists on a ship sailing for Gaza.
He tends to get along with Russians, a group that includes his ex-wife, Zhanna.
Years ago, Jody Kriss, a former executive at Bayrock Group, the co-developer of Trump SoHo, found himself locked in a vicious legal and public relations battle with Bayrock managing director Felix Sater — Trump’s Russian-born former business adviser with a background in organized crime and an undercover career helping the U.S. government hunt terrorists — over allegations that Sater had fraudulently hidden his criminal past from his business partners.
Over the years the two men have also become close friends, and Sater -- a man sitting on an inordinate number of secrets -- describes Torossian as a “confidant.” Sater has emerged as a key figure in the Trump-Russia affair, even before a late 2015 email surfaced last year from Sater to Trump’s attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen in which Sater promised that Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin could help get Trump elected president and build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Torossian is also friendly with Cohen.
Unrelated to all this or to his work for the Tukrish government, Manafort and his lieutenant Rick Gates allegedly approached Torossian in 2012 and asked him to take money from offshore accounts to perform undisclosed lobbying work for the government of Ukraine, an offer Torossian has said he rejected.
When POLITICO revealed numerous allegations of financial misconduct against Moshe Lax, a former close business partner of Ivanka Trump’s who first introduced her to Kushner, Lax turned to Torossian to make a video statement in response.
Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, the dirty trickster Roger Stone, has done work with Torossian, too, and once delivered a speech at 5W’s offices. And before he was Stone’s protege, future Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, while on the payroll of Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law & Justice, regularly worked out of 5W’s offices in 2009 and 2010.
Another recent client is Olivet University, a California Bible college with close ties to the owners of Newsweek that is under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney.
Most notably, along with the rapper Jay-Z, he is a backer of JetSmarter, a fast-growing startup that bills itself as the Uber of private jets. He’s also its chief business officer. Last Februrary, Jetsmarter’s president, Gennady Barsky, was arrested and is facing grand theft charges in California for allegedly embezzling $12 million.more » « less