This weekend I discussed a surprising, and unreported, allegation made on CNN by former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili against the latest cooperating witness of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, former Republican lobbyist and Paul Manafort associate, Sam Patten. Saakashvili preceded me on CNN and accused Patten of threatening to ruin him if he went public with allegations about Patten’s work with Russian interests in Georgia. Since Saakashvili could easily be called as a rebuttal witness to Patten, the threats could be viewed as witness tampering. Saakashvili viewed them as outright Russian-style blackmail. Since I ran that column, I have heard from a great number of people on both sides, but I received an email this morning from Christina Pushaw, who identifies herself as Saakashvili’s representative. Pushaw sent the underlying material supporting Saakashvili’s charges and confirmed that they have given the allegation and evidence to the FBI today. The complaint to the FBI only magnifies the problems for both Patten and Mueller that I discussed earlier. A submission to the FBI, including a criminal allegation, comes with added penalties for false statements or submissions. Both sides in this dispute have been the subject of serious criminal allegations in Europe. Yet, such communications (if true) from a cooperating witness would unlikely be approved by prosecutors. Mueller’s team is about to present its prosecution of Paul Manafort for witnessing tampering for contacting potential witnesses to shape their accounts. That creates a rather awkward situation when its most recent cooperative witness is allegedly the subject of a complaint to the FBI.
Saakashvili appeared on CNN to discuss his relationship with McCain, but before discussing McCain, Saakashvili started talking about Patten and his work in Georgia and The Ukraine. Suddenly, Saakashvili pulled out his cellphone in the interview and purportedly read from a text from Patten that he described as unmistakable Russian-style blackmail. The text was allegedly sent very day and after Patten became a Mueller witness. Mueller just charged Manafort for reaching out to witnesses before his trial. Now, one of his cooperating witnesses is allegedly threatening a former world leader to delete prior comments or he will destroy him in what Saakashvili says is a signature move of Russian intelligence.
Here is the relevant exchange:
CABRERA: Samuel Patten is writing to your former chief of staff.
SAAKASHVILI: Samuel Patten. Yes, and he just, you know, readdressed his text to me. And it says call off the trolls now, or I will start releasing things about Misha — that’s me. He’d prefer I didn’t like now and have them go back and erase their comments so that we don’t say a word that they were working against us. Misha knows what I am talking about, but frankly, I have bigger problems these days. Maybe you two are no longer as tight as you used to be. Actually, it’s a direct blackmail. You see with what —
CABRERA: You feel like he’s blackmailing you right now just because you’re talking about it?
SAAKASHVILI: This is a typical Russian type of blackmail. These people are closely tied to the Russians. By the way, I mean, this was prior to — I don’t want to get it politicized because it was prior to Donald Trump election campaign. These people are on their own. By the way, (inaudible) himself is anti-Trump. He is Republican, but anti- Trump, so I don’t want to speculate on — this is something else.
These guys are for hire. They are ready to do just any dirty tricks. They are ready to cheat, to go against American interests, to do all kinds of things, including the blackmail. Blackmailing, you know, former president or his chief of staff, blackmailing important regional leader like this really shows what they are up to.
If Patten does testify as a cooperating witness, Saakashvili could be called by the defense on rebuttal over his work with pro-Russian interests and his alleged close association with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who Mueller indicted and tied to Manafort. Patten also admitted to funneling foreign money into the Trump inauguration committee from Kilimnik. That is the first direct criminal act linking a Trump election component with an illegal Russian contribution. That work could implicate others. What is most interesting is that, if the allegation is true, Patten may have pushed a relatively minor criminal violation into an alleged crime with a potential 20 year sentence.
As discussed earlier, 18 U.S. Code § 1512, it is a federal crime to knowingly use intimidation or threats to influence a possible witness or get a person to withhold or destroy or alter or conceal information from an official proceeding. Mueller has shown that he reads that provision quite broadly.
The analogy to the Manafort charges can only be disquieting for Mueller’s team. Manafort was charged for having “repeatedly contacted” two anonymous people who might have been called as witnesses against him. Those people assisted lobbying and public relations efforts by Manafort masterminded in the US and Europe. Manafort allegedly told them to claim that the Ukrainian lobbying work was confined to Europe – undermining claims of unlawful lobbying in the United States.
Patten showed the same reckless stupidity if he did indeed send these messages. Pushaw has now supplied what she says are the underlying documents and has confirmed that she had given this material to the FBI.
Pushaw’s bio states that she works on “investor relations” and lists her education from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University – Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and lists her focus as “research, communications, public affairs, Southern and Eastern Europe, strategic advising (especially on Georgia, Ukraine, Russia & Eurasian region), national security, defense, and foreign policy.”
Here is some of the material reportedly given to the FBI this morning, according to Pushaw (the FBI does not confirm such complaints). She conveyed the following to me today in an email exchange:
I’m Mr. Saakashvili’s representative in the US and Sam Patten has followed me on Facebook for over a year. Right before the interview yesterday, after I posted that Misha would be on CNN at 5:10, Sam sent a blackmail threat from his personal Facebook to Misha’s former Chief of Staff, George Arveladze, directed at Misha. Immediately, George sent the screenshot to me, knowing I’m with Misha in the USA — and a few minutes later, Misha read the messages live on air. Right after the CNN interview, Sam deleted his Facebook account.Today, I contacted the DOJ to report Sam’s threat and send over the screenshots. I believe Sam knew Misha would talk about the case on CNN yesterday, since I announced it on Facebook a few hours beforehand. I think Sam sent the threat right before the interview to coerce him into silence.I have no idea what kind of compromising material Sam is threatening to “release” in his messages, but this is definitely a KGB-style tactic. Misha did not seem too concerned about it; he thinks Sam is panicking and grasping at straws. I am a bit more concerned for Misha’s safety – and my own, given that I live in Washington and Sam knows who I am. That is why I decided to report the messages.
“By “trolls,” Sam is referring to supporters of Misha Saakashvili, who have been criticizing Sam on social media for the past few days. Sam’s guilty plea has become a huge news story in Georgia – back in 2011-12, Sam was paid $30k per month to work for Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarch who unseated Saakashvili in Georgia.Ivanishvili is quite unpopular in Georgia these days – although, being a billionaire, he has an impressive roster of lobbyists in DC, who have done everything possible to destroy Misha’s reputation for the past 7 years (hence some of the critical comments on your blog post).”