Mueller Just Gained a Witness With a View From Russia to Trump’s World
(Bloomberg) -- Until now, his name was at the far outskirts of those who could be swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election meddling. But on Friday, Sam Patten emerged in a slim set of federal court filings as a potential guide to worlds that are of keen interest to Mueller.
Patten has spent the better part of two decades working with Russians and advocating their interests -- at points intersecting with Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has characterized as a Russian agent.
He has also reportedly worked on voter microtargeting operations with Cambridge Analytica, the Steve Bannon-linked company that folded after it was implicated in the improper acquisition of data about tens of millions of Facebook users.
Now, Patten has agreed to talk about what he knows, which may open up an inquiry into how much foreign money flowed into President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
On Friday, Patten said he would cooperate with Mueller and other prosecutors as part of his plea deal to a federal crime -- failing to disclose that he was lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. He also admitted to other crimes, for which the U.S. agreed not to prosecute him because of his cooperation.
Those acts included Patten’s admission that he helped a wealthy pro-Russia politician in Ukraine secure a place at Trump’s inauguration, by routing $50,000 in offshore payments to the organizing committee through an American. It’s against the law for foreigners to donate to the inauguration.
It’s unclear whether anyone on the Trump inaugural committee knew that a foreign donation was being disguised as an American one. But in including that allegation in court filings on Friday, prosecutors signaled that it’s an area of possible interest.
"The big question seems to be whether he has testimony to offer about the purpose behind the payments to the inauguration committee," said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer.
The inauguration committee can verify whether a person buying a ticket is an American, but generally can’t vet the source of the money used to purchase admission.
Among those in attendance at Patten’s court appearance Friday were two members of Mueller’s team -- FBI special agent Omer Meisel and prosecutor Andrew Weissman. National Security Division lawyer Scott Claffee was also present in court.
Stuart Sears, Patten’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Patten joins others who can give Mueller and other prosecutors an inside view on Trump’s business, campaign and early presidency. Michael Cohen, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors in New York on tax evasion and campaign finance violations, was a Republican party fundraiser and the president’s lawyer and fixer. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted last week of tax crimes and bank fraud. Rick Gates, who testified against Manafort, worked on the campaign and inauguration. Another cooperating witness, Michael Flynn, spanned the campaign and early days of the administration and admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
A onetime State Department official under President George W. Bush, Patten headed the Moscow office of a pro-democracy think tank, the International Republican Institute, in the early 2000s. A Russian employee of IRI at the time was Kilimnik, who went on to work as a fixer for Manafort in Ukraine and is Patten’s business partner.
He worked on Susan Collins’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign in Maine and her 1996 Senate campaign. Patten was a member of Collins’s staff from 1999 to 2001 and then worked for Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.
In 2008, Patten was appointed as a senior adviser to the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, according to his online biography. From 2009 to 2011, Patten served as Eurasian program director at Freedom House, a human rights advocacy group, where he continued to focus on Russian affairs, as well as those in the broader region.
In addition to lobbying for pro-Russian Ukrainians, Patten’s advocated against enemies of the Kremlin.
While working for Freedom House in 2011, Patten urged the State Department to reject the asylum application of Russian lawmaker Ashot Egiazaryan, who had taken refuge in Beverly Hills. Egiazaryan claimed powerful Russians, including one close to President Vladimir Putin, had stripped him of his interest in a landmark Moscow hotel and that he feared for his life if he returned home.
In a letter he co-signed with two other groups advocating for Soviet Jews, Patten called Egiazaryan a leader of an anti-American and anti-Semitic political party undeserving of U.S. asylum. Egiazaryan later claimed in a lawsuit that he was a victim of a smear campaign, and that Patten was duped into sending the letter.
Mark Zauderer, Egiazaryan’s lawyer in the case, declined to comment.
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