WASHINGTON -- A Washington political consultant initially entangled in the Russia investigation was sentenced Friday to three years of probation for illegal lobbying and skirting the ban on foreign donations to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee.
W. Samuel Patten, 47, and prosecutors had asked for leniency, citing his cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and other ongoing inquiries. The sentencing comes as federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate foreign donations to the Presidential Inaugural Committee and as the Justice Department has been cracking down on foreign lobbying violations.
Separately, prosecutors filed charges Thursday against a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama, Greg Craig, accusing him of lying to the government to conceal his own work on behalf of the government of Ukraine. Craig denies wrongdoing and pleaded innocent Friday.
In Patten's case, he pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act for lobbying on behalf of the Opposition Bloc, a Ukrainian political party. He also admitted to orchestrating a $50,000 straw-donor scheme to purchase tickets from the inaugural committee on behalf of a wealthy Ukrainian client. Federal law bars such committees from accepting foreign donations, a fact Patten has admitted he knew when he violated the law.
Later, Patten also misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about his conduct when asked to provide documents and testimony as part of the panel's investigation of Russian election interference.
Patten acknowledged to the committee that he falsely minimized his contact with U.S. officials on behalf of foreign clients and manually deleted 200,000 emails from his Gmail archive folder, his attorney said in court filings. But he voluntarily provided materials that incriminated him, including over 1,300 pages of documents, Patten's attorney, Stuart Sears, wrote.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she was most troubled by Patten's lies to the committee and likely would have given him a short prison sentence under other circumstances.
Patten's offenses were "not a technicality, and not an oversight," Jackson said in court, but serious offenses calculated to influence public policy and opinion in the United States for a foreign government "without telling the American people that it was those very Ukrainians paying you to do the talking."
"The whole point, and only point, of the [Foreign Agent Registration Act] statute is to ensure transparency in the public policy and the political process," Jackson said. "If people don't have the facts, then democracy doesn't work."
But she credited him for cooperating with the government and for taking responsibility for his actions, something the judge said "doesn't happen every day in this courtroom."
Jackson said Patten's conduct was also "markedly different" from that of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who carried out a yearslong conspiracy to launder money, evade U.S. tax authorities and covertly influence American policymakers on behalf of Ukrainian interests. Jackson imposed a sentence earlier this year that led to Manafort facing a total of about 7½ years in prison in two separate cases.
"There are reasons why your sentence is not going to be like his sentence," she told Patten, as she also imposed a $5,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.
Prosecutors didn't fully detail Patten's cooperation or say whether he has helped as part of the inaugural committee investigation. In court papers, Sears said his client wasn't part of a larger scheme to funnel foreign money to the inaugural committee and isn't a Trump supporter.
Patten helped with the Manafort investigation and was set to testify in his case before Manafort pleaded guilty last year.
Both Manafort's and Patten's offenses were rooted in their work for pro-Russia billionaires in Ukraine, who paid tens of millions of dollars to Western lobbyists and law firms to help shape their political party's message to the West. Patten essentially picked up where Manafort left off in 2014, when Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician whom Manafort helped elevate to Ukraine's presidency, was forced from power and fled to Moscow.
Like Manafort, Patten formed a partnership with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian operative in Ukraine who prosecutors have linked to Russian intelligence. From 2015-17, Opposition Bloc paid Patten's company more than $1 million, depositing the funds in a bank account in Cyprus.
Kilimnik, who lives in Russia, was indicted alongside Manafort on charges of witness tampering but has not appeared in a U.S. court.
As part of his work, Patten arranged meetings in Washington between Ukrainian oligarchs and members of Congress and the executive branch, without disclosing his activities to the Justice Department, as required. He also drafted opinion articles for the oligarchs that were published by U.S. media outlets. The description of one op-ed appeared to match one that bore the name of one oligarch and was published in U.S. News & World Report in February 2017. It argued that Trump would be good for Ukraine and criticized Ukraine's current leadership.
Patten also arranged for a straw donor to purchase four tickets for $50,000 so that a Ukrainian billionaire could attend a Trump inaugural event.
In a sentencing memorandum, Patten's lawyer said his client thought he was merely giving the Ukrainian access to a postelection party, not creating an avenue for influence-peddling. Patten wrote to the judge: "I could have told my client 'no,' when he asked me to buy him tickets to the Inauguration party, but I was too eager to please and I broke a rule in doing so."
Craig's case also relates to the Manafort investigation.
Manafort was involved in the financing of a report Craig and his law firm authored for the Ukrainian government. The document sought to legitimize the prosecution of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Craig, 74, is accused of misleading the Justice Department about his interactions with reporters and his involvement with a public relations firm in securing news media coverage about the report.
Craig, who served as Obama's first White House counsel and previously defended President Bill Clinton during his Senate trial, denies those allegations. Craig has called the prosecution against him "unprecedented and unjustified."
Information for this article was contributed by Chad Day of The Associated Press; by Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post; and by Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times.
Greg Craig (left), White House counsel to former President Barack Obama, leaves federal court Friday in Washington, after pleading innocent to charges of making false and misleading statements to federal prosecutors related to his work on behalf of Russian-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
A Section on 04/13/2019
Print Headline: Lobbyist for Ukrainian interests gets probation