Sam Patten, a DC lobbyist allied with Paul Manafort, appeared in federal court Friday to face charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia and Ukraine from 2014 to 2017.
Prosecutors also say Patten used a straw man to contribute $50,000 of foreign money to the Trump inaugural committee on behalf of a foreign client with whom he then attended the inauguration.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller had referred the case to the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department's National Security Division.
As part of his plea agreement, Patten agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the felony charge. A sentencing date has not been set.
Patten, 47, was paid more than $1 million for Ukrainian opposition bloc work including meeting with members of the executive branch, Senate Foreign Relations Committee members and members of Congress, according to a charging document filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday morning.
He also worked with an unnamed Russian to place op-ed articles in US media in 2017, the Justice Department says.
As part of his lobbying work, he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not disclosing the work to the U.S., prosecutors said.
Prosecutors revealed in a separate filing that Patten also allegedly helped his foreign client pay $50,000 to Trump's inaugural committee — which would be a violation of the prohibition on foreign contributions to the inauguration.
According to the filing, Patten solicited a "straw" purchaser who was an American to buy the tickets from the inaugural committee without revealing they were actually financed by a foreign individual. "Foreigner B had paid [Patten's company] for the tickets through a Cypriot account," prosecutors allege. And Patten attended the inauguration with his client.
Prosecutors added that Patten appeared to have misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about his effort to procure inauguration tickets funded by a foreign source. The committee, according to prosecutors, sought details about this purchase, as well as Patten's work for a foreign government, but prosecutors say he withheld documents that would have caused concern for the committee.
"After the interview, PATTEN deleted documents pertinent to his relationships with the above-described foreign principals," prosecutors said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that they made a criminal referral to the Justice Department over "concerns about certain statements made by Mr. Patten:
"While the charge, and resultant plea, do not appear to directly involve our referral, we appreciate their review of this matter," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Patten appeared in court Friday morning before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the same judge who is handling Manafort's trial which is scheduled to begin next month.
In court, Patten conveyed the air of a solemn man aware of what he had done.
As Berman Jackson asked him several questions about his willfulness to plead guilty and the rights he will waive, Patten answered her slowly and clearly each time: "Yes, your honor," "I understand, your honor," "I do, your honor."
In a blue shirt and navy suit and tie, the lifelong Washingtonian stood before the judge, nodding often as she spoke to him.
The 35-minute court proceeding was sparsely attended by members of the press and court employees, yet members of Mueller's special counsel's office filled a front row of seats. They were lead Manafort prosecutor Andrew Weissmann and FBI agents Omer Meisel and Brock Domin.
After the hearing ended, Weissmann spent several minutes greeting Patten's defense attorney, Stuart Sears, and two prosecutors from other Justice Department offices on the case. Patten stood waiting with his hands crossed in front of him without a smile, and he shook Meisel's hand.
Berman Jackson also spoke on the rarity of a foreign lobbying prosecution. There is no sentencing guideline for this type of case and no analogous guidelines the court can use to determine Patten's sentence.
"That's a little complicated," Berman Jackson said when discussing his potential sentence. "I don't usually have to go into all that."
The prosecutors and defense will give the court a status update in 60 days on Patten's case.
Patten’s long friendship with Kilimnik—which stems from their time working together at the International Republican Institute in Moscow between 2001 and 2003—would likely be enough to draw scrutiny from Mueller, who appears to have homed in on Kilimnik as a potentially significant link between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special counsel’s office alleged in a court filing late last month that Kilimnik still had ties to Russian intelligence services in 2016, and that his conversations with [Rick] Gates in September of that year are relevant to the investigation. Manafort and Gates’s arrival to the campaign team coincided with the most pivotal Russia-related episode of the election: the release of emails that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee by hackers working for the GRU, Russia’s premier military-intelligence unit.
“We’ve known each other for more than 15 years, and we periodically look for places we can work together,” Patten told me of Kilimnik. Their relationship is also proof that Kilimnik’s ability to ingratiate himself with American political consultants went beyond Manafort and Gates—a fact that could serve as a new data point in examining Russia’s ties to Republican operatives in the U.S. By the spring of 2015—when, as my colleague Frank Foer wrote, Manafort’s “life had tipped into a deep trough”—Kilimnik was already working on a new venture with Patten that appeared to be focused on targeted messaging in foreign elections.
It is not clear why Patten, who already had a consulting firm registered in D.C., decided to open a brand-new company with Kilimnik. Asked whether any of the firm’s clients were in Russia or Ukraine, Patten replied, “It would be poor business to talk about our clients, but I can tell you declaratively that none of the clients have involvement in the particular circus in the U.S. that seems to have become a news industry in and of itself,” an apparent reference to the Russia investigation. He confirmed that the company, which he described as providing “strategic communications advice for clients outside the U.S.,” is still active, but said it has no projects ongoing at this time.
Patten said that he remains in touch with Kilimnik, who he believes has been unfairly scrutinized. “As you might imagine, the barrage of shade and innuendo that has been cast on him since Manafort had his time in Trump Tower has not been something he’d welcomed, nor anything that could objectively be called fair,” Patten said, referring to Manafort’s role on the campaign, which was headquartered at Trump Tower.
Gates and Manafort—who were indicted by Mueller in late October on charges including money laundering and tax evasion—remained in touch with Kilimnik during the campaign, according to court documents and emails, even though both knew about Kilimnik’s background in Russian intelligence. Kilimnik later acknowledged in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he and Manafort emailed each other “about Trump and everything” during the campaign. “There were millions of emails,” Kilimnik told RFERL in a text message. “We worked for 11 years. And we discussed a lot of issues, from Putin to women.”
Patten also has ties to the shady Trump campaign data firm Cambridge Analytica:
Patten describes himself as an “international political consultant” on his website, but he worked at the Oregon office of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, helping to fine-tune the firm’s voter targeting operations in the runup to the 2014 midterm elections, according to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, now a columnist for Middle East Eye. Patten alluded to this work on his website, writing that he worked with “one of London’s most innovative strategic communications companies” on “a beta run of a cutting-edge electoral approach” that “included taking micro-targeting to the next level” during the 2014 congressional cycle. Those technologies, he wrote, were “adopted by at least one major U.S. presidential candidate.”
Both Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump employed Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 election. Mueller is now scrutinizing the Trump campaign’s ties to Cambridge Analytica, whose board included Trump’s campaign CEO and former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Manafort Ally Charged by U.S. Worked With Indicted Russian, Cambridge Analytica (Bloomberg Politics)
A Suspected Russian Spy, With Curious Ties to Washington (The Atlantic)