The Salame Witch Trial

For Ryan Salame to flip on Sam Bankman-Fried would suggest, symbolically at least, that his goose is cooked.
For Ryan Salame to flip on Sam Bankman-Fried would suggest, symbolically at least, that his goose is cooked. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
August 15, 2023

Last September, when FTX was still a multi-billion dollar company, and Ryan Salame was still one of its flashy young executives, the emerging G.O.P. mega-donor decided to arrange a dinner in Washington, D.C. with another Republican on a similarly limitless upward trajectory: the powerful political consultant Jeff Roe. Both Salame and Roe brought their own entourages to the Capital Grille: Among them, Gabe Bankman-Fried, the brother of Salame’s soon-to-be-indicted boss; David Polyansky, one of Roe’s top operatives, who is now steering Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign; and Tyler Deaton, then Salame’s empowered donor-advisor.

The dinner was proposed by Salame’s team, but the love flowed both ways. The explicit purpose of the meeting, according to a memo Axiom prepared beforehand, was “to build a relationship with these TOP donors,” noting that Sam Bankman-Fried was the “5th biggest Republican donor this cycle,” among other potentially useful biographical details (Salame was “very proud of a group of restaurants he owns in the Berkshires,” Deaton was “married to a man” and “considers himself a left of center Republican,” etcetera). Salame was, by that point, a serious G.O.P. powerbroker himself. Earlier that year, he had quietly supplied now-Senator Eric Schmitt, an Axiom client, with several hundred thousand dollars to win the Missouri Republican primary. Salame had occasionally consulted Roe for informal advice on the finer points of congressional politics. Roe, who viewed Salame as an ascendant purse in the party, was happy to oblige.

Of course, much has changed since that dinner. FTX declared bankruptcy two months after the Capital Grille meeting, and S.B.F. was arrested a few weeks later. Salame himself was identified as one of the unindicted co-conspirators mentioned in S.B.F.’s indictment, and he remains a target of at least two investigations regarding potential campaign finance violations, including one involving his girlfriend, former congressional candidate Michelle Bond