An American political consultant who is cooperating with federal prosecutors admitted in court Friday that he steered $50,000 from a Ukrainian politician to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee — the first public confirmation that illegal foreign money was used to help fund the January 2017 event.
W. Samuel Patten, 47, pleaded guilty Friday to failing to register as a foreign lobbyist while working on behalf of a Ukrainian political party. He says he was helped by a Russian national who has been linked to Russian intelligence by U.S. prosecutors and who was also an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
As part of his plea deal, Patten agreed to assist prosecutors, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Mueller has been probing whether foreign money flowed into the coffers of Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised more than $100 million, and Patten’s plea offers the first clear evidence that it occurred.
Patten said in court documents that he arranged for an American citizen to act as a “straw donor” to give $50,000 in exchange for four tickets to Trump’s inauguration in place of a Ukrainian businessman, who as a foreigner was barred from contributing to the event.
Patten’s cooperation could give Mueller a window into how foreigners sought access to the inauguration. Patten also knows a number of key players in the investigation, particularly among political consultants who were active in Ukraine with Manafort.
Trump’s inauguration was attended by an unusually large number of prominent foreign business leaders, particularly Russian moguls whose attendance drew the attention of the FBI at the time.
Patten’s case was handled by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the Justice Department’s national security division after a referral from Mueller’s office. The case was listed in court documents as related to Mueller’s probe of Manafort.
Prosecutors contended that Patten formed a company with a Russian national, identified only as “Foreigner A,” to engage in lobbying and political consulting services.
The company has received about $1 million since 2015 for its Ukraine consulting work, which included advising a Ukrainian party known as the Opposition Bloc, as well as some of its members, one of whom is a prominent Ukraine businessman identified only as “Foreigner B.”
Prosecutors said Patten helped the businessman get meetings to lobby members of Congress in 2015 and helped him author an op-ed in February 2017 that appears to match a U.S. News & World Report article arguing that Ukraine would do fine under President Trump.
The description of “Foreigner A” matches Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate who has been charged in Washington along with Manafort with obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Prosecutors have said they believe that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik has denied any such ties
The description of “Foreigner B” matches Serhiy Lovochkin, a Ukrainian businessman and politician who served as a top aide to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician who was Manafort’s chief client.
Patten told prosecutors that he worked with Kilimnik to help Lovochkin route the illegal donation to Trump’s inauguration. As a result of the donation, four tickets to Trump’s festivities were allocated to the three men and another Ukrainian; prosecutors said Lovochkin attended the event with Patten. Prosecutors do not say whether Kilimnik attended.
Patten also agreed that he misled the Senate Intelligence Committee when he testified before the panel in January.
Kilimnik did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. Lovochkin’s office said he attended the inauguration but didn’t make the $50,000 payment.
Patten appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Friday with his attorney, Stuart A. Sears. After surrendering his passport, he was released on his own recognizance pending sentencing.
In a plea agreement read aloud by the judge, Patten agreed to cooperate in exchange for a government recommendation of leniency at sentencing. The plea deal filed in court shows that he has agreed to assist Mueller as well as the D.C. prosecutors who filed the case against him. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but both sides agreed there is no recommended sentence under federal guidelines.
Andrew Weissmann, a lawyer on Mueller’s team who has been leading the Manafort prosecution, was present in court when Patten pleaded guilty. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor now serving as Trump’s personal attorney, played down the importance of the Patten case in a statement Friday.
“This convinces me more than anything that Mueller needs to close up shop,” Giuliani said. “Next thing he’ll do is parking tickets in Russia. Trump has no idea who these contributors are. If these are illegal contributors, I had a hundred of them. Obama had a thousand. We have no idea who these contributors are.”
Mueller has been referring to other prosecutors cases that do not appear to directly relate to his core mission of exploring Trump campaign contacts with Russia. His team referred an investigation of Ukraine political work by two other Manafort associates, lobbyists Tony Podesta and Vin Weber, to prosecutors in New York.
Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Washington case, which relates to his political work and alleged attempts to hide income from 2006 to 2017. Prosecutors allege that during that time, he laundered $30 million as a consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. The trial in that case is set to start Sept. 24
Patten has a varied résumé. He worked in the oil sector in Kazakhstan in the mid-to-late 1990s and served as Maine campaign director for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. He also briefly worked at the State Department under Bush and worked as a political consultant in Iraq assisting officials there in the post-Saddam Hussein period.
On Facebook, Patten said he deeply regretted “any damage my failure to register has done to the transparency the [Foreign Agents Registration Act] statute seeks to guarantee.”
“I apologize for the embarrassment this lapse in my own high professional standards has caused my family, my friends and my past and present work associates,” he wrote.
He also worked at the Oregon office of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, on voter targeting in the 2014 midterm election cycle, according to the Daily Beast, which said he described his work as developing “microtargeting” technologies “adopted by at least one major U.S. presidential candidate.”
The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in August 2016 to assist with its online targeting. The company was affiliated at the time with Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
In a 2017 interview with The Post, Patten said he met Kilimnik in Moscow more than 15 years ago, when Kilimnik was an employee of the International Republican Institute, a pro-democracy group affiliated with the U.S. Republican Party. Patten ran the office from 2001 to 2004. “I relied on him,” Patten told The Post.
Kilimnik left IRI around 2005 to work for Manafort in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, starting as the American consultant’s translator and eventually being named manager of Manafort’s Ukrainian office. Patten praised Kilimnik at the time as a person who helped Manafort navigate the complicated Ukrainian political scene.
Beyond his work as a translator, Patten told The Post, Kilimnik would “help Manafort understand the political context and why people were doing what they were doing.”
“I would think that Manafort would have been useless there without Kostya,” he said, using a nickname for Kilimnik.
In 2015, Patten and Kilimnik jointly formed a company incorporated in Washington called Begemot Ventures International. Begemot, which means “hippo” in Russian, is the name of the mischievous cat who pals around with the devil in the celebrated Russian novel “The Master and Margarita.”
Patten was born into a milieu of social climbing and Washington power politics. He is the grandson of the late Georgetown doyenne Susan Mary Alsop.
Patten told The Post in 2014 that a visit by the newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy to the Alsop home on Dumbarton Street NW, hours after many of the festivities, confirmed the social prominence of his grandmother and his step-grandfather, the political columnist Joseph Alsop.
Patten’s father moved to Maine, ran a small-town weekly newspaper and later became a prison minister. Patten was schooled in Maine and attended Georgetown University, graduating in 1993.
Anton Troianovski and Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow and Paul Sonne, Carol D. Leonnig, Richard Leiby, Tom Hamburger and Craig Timberg in Washington contributed to this report.