Michael Flynn was compromised by a long history with Russian oligarchs and corruption, Paul Manafort was compromised by a long history with the same from the Ukraine, and it seems newly minted Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is compromised by a long history with crooks and strongmen from Moldova.
President Donald Trump’s new acting intelligence director, Richard Grenell, used to do consulting work on behalf of an Eastern European oligarch who is now a fugitive and was recently barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions imposed last month by the State Department.
In 2016, Grenell wrote several articles defending the oligarch, a Moldovan politician named Vladimir Plahotniuc, but did not disclose that he was being paid, according to records and interviews. Grenell also did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which generally requires people to disclose work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign politicians.
FARA is the same law that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates were convicted of violating. (Manafort went to trial. Gates pleaded guilty.)
It’s not clear whether the articles were directly part of Grenell’s paid consulting work for Plahotniuc. Unpaid work could still require disclosures under FARA if it was directed by or primarily benefited a foreign politician, according to Matthew Sanderson, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale who advises people on complying with FARA. FARA contains several exemptions, such as for lawyers and businesses, Sanderson said, but none appear to apply to Grenell’s op-eds about Plahotniuc.
“There is real reason to believe that Mr. Grenell should have registered here,” Sanderson said after ProPublica described the circumstances to him. “This is exactly the type of circumstances I’d expect the Department of Justice to investigate further.”
Craig Engle, an attorney with the law firm Arent Fox, said he was responding to ProPublica’s questions on Grenell’s behalf. Engle declined to say what Grenell’s paid consulting work involved but said he did not have to register under FARA “because he was not working at the direction of a foreign power.”
“Ric was not paid to write these stories, in fact he has written hundreds of stories on his own time to express his own views,” Engle said. “But to be clear: he was not working for any individual, he was working for himself and was advocating the ideal of a pro-western political party that was emerging.”
Undisclosed work for a foreign politician would ordinarily pose a problem for anyone applying for a security clearance or a job in a U.S. intelligence agency because it could make the person susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail, according to the official policy from the office that Trump tapped Grenell to lead.
The policy specifies that among the “conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying” are:
“That’s really easy, he should not have a clearance,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington-area lawyer specializing in security clearances. “If he were one of my clients and just a normal [federal employee], he would almost assuredly not have a clearance.”
- “Failure to report or fully disclose, when required, association with a foreign person, group, government or country.”
- “Substantial business, financial, or property interests in a foreign country … that could subject the individual to a heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation or personal conflict of interest.”
- “Acting to serve the interest of a foreign person, group, organization or government in any way that conflicts with U.S. national security interests.”
McClanahan said it’s unclear how Grenell could have already gotten a clearance as an ambassador. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Trump administration has overruled career officials in granting security clearances to political appointees.
It's not an accident that Trump keeps appointing people who are compromised by eastern European strongmen in Putin's orbit to lead his government. Just saying.
At the very least, Grenell should be canned, in a just world, he'd be in jail along with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort for being an unregistered foreign agent who has been compromised.
That'll never happen though. Our government is about past the point of no return, where we become an autocracy under Trump, no different from North Korea.