July 22, 2024

Sometime after the 2016 presidential election, self-described mercenary consultant Sam Patten got a call from his former deputy, Konstantin Kilimnik, asking Patten to secure tickets to President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration ball for another associate, Serhiy Lyovochkin

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Patten met Kilimnik, half-Russian-half-Ukrainian, as he first arrived in Moscow shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Patten was taking over the International Republican Institute office there, and Kilimnik was the local, national running things since the last time an American showed up to run things.

Fifteen years after they met, they were no longer boss and deputy; instead, Kilimnik became Patten’s partner, hiring him for political consulting gigs in Ukraine while prospecting for other work in the region.

Despite being between flights from the African country where he had been working, Patten bought four tickets for Lyvochkin himself at $12,000 a pop.

Inauguration Day, Patten and Kilimnik watched the president’s speech from Washington’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, and when it came time to get ready for the ball, Kilimnik begged off. He told Patten he wanted to avoid bumping into Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who hired Kilimnik and Patten for the Ukrainian work that led to Manafort leaving the Trump campaign after the convention.

That night, Lyovochkin and Patten went to the ball and watched the new president and first lady dance to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

In his book “Dangerous Company: The Misadventures of a ‘Foreign Agent,” Patten lays out when the moment came to its crisis.

The fact that something feels off in an uneasy way—the same kind of feeling I often had in Iraq on my first assignment there –there is no surprise. I didn’t vote for Trump and am, in essence, behind enemy lines, but I am doing it for my client. When the song is over, Sergie smiles and says, “That’s it. We can go now.”

I don’t know it at the time, but this will end up being an even more expensive party than I thought. For now, I’m just relieved to go home.

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That spidey sense was real.

What Patten needed to know was that Kilimnik was an intelligence asset for both the State Department and the FBI. Patten is too classy a guy to spell it out directly. Still, later, when Kilimnik initiated a conversation that led to his reimbursing Patten for the cost of the tickets, he, in effect, teed up his friend for money laundering and facilitating illegal foreign funds to a U.S. political entity.

Was he set up? 

When I interviewed him about entanglements in June 2019, he would have none of it. Then, his focus was on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, whose security director, James Wolfe, and attorney Vanessa Le promised him that his testimony would remain sealed.

The SSCI staff also said they were speaking to him as a subject matter expert on counterinsurgency and would not ask him questions about activities governed by the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

An aide from Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s office escorted Patten into the committee’s conference room for his interview, where he was immediately asked about communications to U.S. officials and op-eds he drafted for Ukrainian politician Sergei  Lyovochkin.

James Wolfe, the SSCI chief of security to whom Patten handed his voluntary production of more than 1,000 pages of emails, pleaded guilty some months later to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the media.

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Patten filed a complaint against the SSCI with the Senate Ethics Committee, where three SCCI members sit, but it went nowhere.

Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, with whom Patten and his wife worship at Lafayette  Square’s St. John Church, found no Russian collusion, but somehow Patten’s interactives with the SSCI made it to Mueller and the media. Patten’s scalp helped keep the Mueller probe, itself a hoax, alive.

Patten made a plea deal and took his 500 hours of community service as an opportunity to become a better man.

Now divorced from his second wife, Patten returned to his Maine homeland and the embrace of his family. He writes a column for The Maine Wire, and, of course, he just finished his chance to explain what really happened.

The book is a luxurious read. Part travelogue, Patten takes us to Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Mexico, and Africa, and part Zelig homage.

Patten finds himself in Baghdad telling Ambassador John Negroponte the Iraqis are losing patience with the American project–with the polls to prove it. 

In Kyiv, Patten is at a briefing for senior Ukrainian leaders presented by James Carville. Carville is making the point that it pays to stay on message when the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff walks to the front of the room, grabs the marker from Carville’s hand, and draws an “X” through the graphic on the slide that showed an uptick in the polls, saying: “It is summer, and in summer polls in Ukraine go down. Not up.”

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Carville, who was there with his wife Mary Matalin, responded: “I’ve heard some stupid sh@t in my time, but that is the dumbest motherfucking sh@t I have ever heard.”

Patten, who was there to care for Mr. & Mrs. James Carville, packs them up and takes them out of the building. 

In Moscow, Russia’s new president Vladimir Putin blocks Patten’s guest, a Kazakh opposition leader, from attending a conference on election integrity he co-sponsored through the IRI. After a woman confirms his guest has to wait outside until the president has left, Putin throws him a wink and a smile.

Sitting in Stephen K. Bannon’s “Breitbart Embassy” townhouse behind the Supreme Court building, Patten has to decline Bannon’s job offer for a gig supporting conservative parties in Europe.

He listens as I outline how my situation has just gotten a lot worse, and then I say thanks for that Europe offer, but it’s not going to work.

He gives me a surprised look. “You think you’re too radioactive for me?” he asks. When I respond yes, he just smiles broadly and simply says, “Wow!”

For me, the most interesting vignette was Patten’s romance with the daughter of an Iraqi politician whom the CIA tapped as the man to replace Saddam Hussein had President George H.W. Bush gone to Baghdad.

One night, she tapped him on the shoulder while he was having dinner at The Monocle, the legendary Washington steakhouse, watering hole, hangout, or what have you.

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Out of the blue, she is there in front of him, “wrapped in white like a moonbeam.” He followed her upstairs to the ladies’ powder room. There, they are alone in each other’s arms until Labor Secretary Elaine Chao opens the door before retreating to her table to tattle to her husband, Sen.A. Mitch. McConnell (R.-Ky.).

Moments like that remind me that the best stories are the ones you can never tell, but God bless him, he told them.

Throughout the book, Patten is there at the dawn of wars in Iraq, Georgia, and Ukraine. These stories are essential for the public record.

Yet, Patten bares his innermost wants and desires that he shares with the honesty of a man who has lost everything but gained himself.

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