WASHINGTON, D.C. – Before Special Counselor Mueller hinges his investigation on emails Paul Manafort sent to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnet, he should investigate former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole’s ties to Deripaska in 2005, after Dole lost his presidential bid to Bill Clinton in 1996, and Sen. John McCain’s ties to Deripaska in 2006, when McCain was preparing to run for president.
Deripaska, often cited as one of Russia’s most wealthy billionaires, established his political credentials by marrying the granddaughter of Russia’s late President Boris Yeltsin in 2001, about a year after Russian President Putin signed a decree granting legal immunity to Yeltsin’s family.
A staunch supporter of Putin, Deripaska built his fortune as an aluminum magnet, using the immunity and power he derived from marrying Yeltsin’s granddaughter to leverage Moscow’s organized crime mafia into supporting business deals favorable to Moscow both in Russia and in Eastern European countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.
The complexity of understanding Russian and Ukrainian politics will make Mueller’s case against Manafort beyond the capability of any judge or jury to sort out fully, especially if Mueller intends to hang Manafort over his relationship with Deripaska.
Dole’s ties to Deripaska
On April 17, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported Russian businessmen who made fortunes in the wide-open 1990s amid the Soviet Union’s disintegration were hiring Washington insiders “to persuade investors and regulators they are committed to good corporate governance.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that in 2005, Deripaska hired Bob Dole’s consulting firm for a $560,000 fee to help Deripaska to obtain a visa to visit the United States, ignoring charges from Deripaska’s rivals that Deripaska had been trying to bribe U.S. officials to obtain the coveted visa.
Dole had nearly chosen McCain as his running mate in 1996, and Dole’s lobbying partner at the time was McCain aide Bruce Jackson.
On May 11, 2007, Reuters reported the backstory to the Deripaska visa controversy, noting the U.S. government in July that year had revoked Deripaska’s 2005 multi-entry visa, possibly because of concerns that Deripaska had ties to organized crime in Russia.
Deripaska being barred from the United States cost him billions of dollars as the U.S. cancellation of his entry visa occurred just as Deripaska and his fellow shareholders in aluminum company RusAl were seeking to go public, launching an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in London that would have generated up to $10 billion for Deripaska and his fellow shareholders.
As long as Deripaska was barred from entering the United States, the London IPO was on hold, as U.S.-based institutional investors could never take a position in a company believed tied to Russian organized crime figures in the background.
Deripaska’s chief business partner in London was Nathaniel
McCain’s ties to Deripaska
On January 25, 2008, Jeffrey Birnbaum and John Solomon reported in the Washington Post that Rick Davis, then Sen. John McCain’s campaign manager, helped arrange two meetings between McCain and Deripaska in 2006 when McCain was overseas on official congressional trips.
When the first meeting was arranged, in January 2006, Davis was a partner with Manafort in Davis Manafort, then a Washington-based lobbying firm that was being paid to provide political advice to pro-Russian and oligarch-funded candidates in Ukraine, according to the Washington Post report. Davis was McCain’s campaign manager for both his serious presidential runs, in 2000 and again in 2008.
Birnbaum and Solomon also noted that at the time of the meeting with Deripaska, McCain was publicly supporting Viktor Yuschenko in Ukraine, a pro-Western reformer who led the 2004 Orange Revolution and was poisoned by dioxin during the campaign. In 2004, Manafort and Davis worked for Yuschencko’s opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Putin, and his Party of Regions.
The Washington Post described the January 2006 meeting between McCain and Deripaska as follows:
The first gathering that brought McCain and Deripaska together occurred in January 2006, when McCain was part of a congressional delegation trip. He and a small group of senators, including Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), met for a drink near Davos, Switzerland, at an apartment where they were greeted by Davis and Deripaska. The group then went to a dinner at the ski chalet of Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining company, based in Toronto. Participants at the buffet dinner said Munk complimented his sometime business partner Deripaska during his brief remarks to the 40 or so guests.
The Washington Post noted the second meeting took place even months later, in August 2006, Davis attended a social gathering attended by McCain and Deripaska in Montenegro, another Eastern European country Davis and Manafort were representing at that time.
Birnbaum and Solomon noted Davis was a paid consultant to the governing party in Montenegro. Following the dinner, a group from the dinner took boats out to a nearby yacht in the Adriatic Sea, where champagne and pastry were served, celebrating McCain’s 70th birthday, though neither McCain nor Davis subsequently recalled Deripaska being on the yacht for the birthday celebration.
The yacht party was hosted by Italian con-man Rafaello Follieri and his movie-star girlfriend Anne Hathaway, at the time when Follieri, represented by Doug Band’s Teneo consulting firm had committed a $1 million-dollar contribution to the Clinton Foundation.
In 2008, Follieri was convicted of defrauding investors of up to $6 million dollars by posing as an agent of the Vatican.
Follieri pled guilty to fourteen counts of conspiracy, money laundering, and fraud, and served almost five years in a Pennsylvania prison before he was deported back to Italy.
“Moscow on the Mediterranean”
Reporting on the McCain meeting with Deripaska in Montenegro in August 2006, the Nation noted that Davis and Manafort had obtained a several-million-dollar contract to help run Montenegro’s independence referendum campaign in 2006.
McCain also supported Montenegro independence, endorsing what the Nation described as a “simplistic notion of ‘independence’ from a country America had been at war with, in the late 1990s was all that mattered.”
The Nation noted that Putin and the Kremlin were agreeable, noting that Russia had generally sided with Serbia against the West during the Balkans wars of the 1990s, but “for the Kremlin, cutting Montenegro free from Serbia meant dealing with a Montenegro that could be more easily controlled.”
The Nation observed that the Kremlin had nicknamed Montenegro as “Moscow by the Mediterranean,” largely because “Russian oligarchs (including Deripaska) control huge chunks of the country’s industry and prized coastline – and Russian exert a powerful influence over the country’s political culture.”
The Nation commented that “Russia’s virtual takeover of Montenegro was well underway in January 2006, when Rick Davis introduced Deripaska to McCain at a villa in Davos, Switzerland.”
The Nation also reported that when Rick Davis arranged the meeting in Montenegro between McCain and Deripaska, Davis was lobbying hard for Davis Manafort to run the Montenegro referendum campaign, and Bob Dole’s lobbying firm had been paid $1.38 million by the Montenegro government since 2001 to lobby for it in Washington.
“Whether it was because of Dole or, as some speculate, the Russians, Davis got his deal,” the Nation concluded.
U.S. intelligence gets into the act
Reporting in 2017 on the McCain meeting with Deripaska that happened in 2006, investigative reporter Sara Carter noted the McCain story is “a poignant reminder the Putin’s allies have long sought U.S. political influence, and that U.S. counterintelligence often focuses on keeping Americans from being compromised by foreigners.”
Carter noted that in 2006, U.S. intelligence officials were concerned about McCain’s contacts with the meetings Rick Davis arranged with Deripaska, noting that in 2006 the administration of President George W. Bush opposed Yanukovych, “fearing he was anti-democratic and aligned with Putin after Yanukovych’s party ousted the pro-democratic and Western-friendly prime minister Yuschenko.’
Carter stressed that McCain backed Yuschenko, even though his campaign manager’s firm, Davis Manafort, supported the pro-Russian opposition leader Yanukovych.
Manafort’s 2016 email to Deripaska
On Sept. 20, the Washington Post reported that Manafort emailed Deripaska two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination, offering to provide Deripaska with “private briefings.”
The Washington Post story was yet another attributed to an unnamed source that appears to involve a leak from within Mueller’s office.
The Washington Post noted that there was no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s email offer or than any briefings took place.
“Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe,” the Washington Post article speculated.
The Washington Post noted that their unnamed sources familiar with Mueller’s probe “like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters under investigation.”