Kostya in jaz: Kako se je Sam Patten spoznal v Muellerjevi sondi


Ko sodnica Amy Berman Jackson je prišel v sodno dvorano skozi vrata, ki so bila brezhibno vrezana v leseni furnir stene, in mi je zapovedala vso pozornost.

Služil sem močne ženske velikokrat prej v mojem življenju – senatorji, državni sekretarji, opozicijski voditelji – in so se znale prikloniti pred njimi. Danes je bila tema na temo: Bil sem tukaj, da sem pred Jacksonom priznal krivdo pred zveznim prestopnikom.

Bila sem tako premeščena nad njo, da nisem nikoli nehala misliti, kdo je bil tisti zadnji avgustovski dan opazno odsoten iz sodne dvorane: moj poslovni partner Konstantin V. Kilimnik ali, kot sem ga poznal, Kostya. Čez dva tedna bi se njegov dolgoletni šef Paul Manafort postavil na mesto, ki sem ga naredil, in storil enako, kot sem ga.

Kostja je bil v ameriškem tisku sprva imenovan kot "oseba A" v primeru vlade proti Manafortu, nekdanjemu predsedniku Trumpove kampanje 2016. Ko so se tožilci februarja letos preselili, da bi razveljavili sporazum o sodelovanju Manaforta z njimi – ker je prekršil posel s tem, ko je lagal o svojih stikih s Kostjo – je glavni tožilec sodniku Jacksonu povedal, da so Manafortove laži šle "zelo v osrčje tistega, kar ima posebni odvetnik" vlada preiskuje. "Zlasti vlada je trdila, da je Manafort delil Trumpove anketne podatke s Kostjo in pustil, da se mnogi sprašujejo in ugibajo, zakaj je morda storil kaj takega.

Ampak danes je manjkal Kostya, ki je tri mesece prej skupaj z Manafortom obtožil posebnega svetovalca Roberta Muellerja, ki je bil prikrojen za priče. Izginil je kot senca ob mraku, morda v Rusijo ali Ukrajino.

Da bi dosegel svoj cilj – ponuditi krivdo z obličjem dostojanstva – sem moral ostati hladen. To ni bilo enostavno. Če pogledam na desno, sem videl mojo ženo v prvi vrsti, ki se je trudila zadrževati solze, medtem ko je Peter Carr, predstavnik podjetja Mueller, dražil čez isto klop, na kateri je sedla, in v vrstah za njimi klepetala množica tisočletnih novinarjev.

Andrew Weissmann, posebni odvetnik, je sedel v prvi vrsti čez hodnik s peščico tožilcev in agentov FBI-ja. Trenutek pred tem je prestopil pot in mi rekel: "To je najtežji del, to bo kmalu konec."

Moj zločin je bila moja neprijavitev kot tuji agent. Ko je sodnik sprejel moj tožbeni razlog, sem postal deveti Američan v povojni zgodovini, ki sem bil obsojen po Zakonu o registraciji tujih agentov. Poleg tega sem prevzel odgovornost (čeprav ni bila zaračunana) za prepovedano ravnanje, vključno z nakupom vozovnic za 50.000 dolarjev za predsedniško inavguracijo leta 2017 v imenu moje ukrajinske stranke in za pošiljanje e-poštnih sporočil Senatu za obveščevalne podatke, v katerih je bilo podrobno opisano, kako sem kupil te vozovnice.

Ena od vstopnic je bila za Kostjo, druga pa za Serhija Lyovochkina, ukrajinskega oligarha in opozicijskega vodjo. Moja neregistrirana dejavnost je bila sestavljena iz priprave odločb in sporočanja ameriškim vladnim uradnikom za Lyovochkina. Kaznivo dejanje opustitve ni bilo, medtem ko je bilo pisanje kaznivega dejanja. Lyovochkin je bil nit, ki je povezovala mene, Manaforta in njegovega namestnika Kostjo. Po skoraj dveh desetletjih svetovanja tujim politikom o tem, kako v svojih državah voditi volilne kampanje, so se kokoši – po mojem – vrnile domov, da so se razvnele.

"Kako se strinjate?" Me je vprašal sodnik Jackson.

"Kriv, časti," sem odgovoril.

Patten in njegova žena Laura pred ameriškim okrožnim sodiščem v Washingtonu 31. avgusta 2018, na dan, ko je priznal krivdo.

Osvojite McNamee / Getty Images

Ko sem prvič srečal Kostja v Moskvi v začetku poletja 2001, nikoli si ne bi predstavljal, da bo postal senčna figura v središču tistega, kar je postalo znano kot Russiagate.

Bil je morda najbolj nezahteven od osmih lokalnih uslužbencev v ruski pisarni Mednarodnega republikanskega inštituta, neprofitnih organizacij, pro-demokracije in skupine za dobro upravljanje, v moški pisarni katere sem vodil od leta 2001 do 2004. Ostali lokalni uslužbenci so hitro se predstavijo novim Američanom in napovedujejo uspehe ali pomembnost svojih programov – izgradnja strank, parlamentarno usposabljanje, konfekcije žensk in mladinskih voditeljev ter lokalna samouprava.

Kostja je sprva obesil nazaj. Njegova pisalna miza v desnem, zadnjem kotu moskovske pisarne je bila lepo urejena, nad njo pa je visila satirična risba novo kovanega predsednika Vladimirja Vladimiroviča Putina, ki je izgledal kot jezen, krvoločni boljševik.

Kostjin portfelj je vključeval razdelitev subvencij za pol ducata ali približno toliko ruskih nevladnih organizacij, ki naj bi opravljale naše delo, ko nas ni več. Poleg tega je vodil upravne funkcije urada, vključno z njegovim proračunom in računovodstvom, nabavo potovalnih vozovnic za tiste, ki se vozijo v pokrajine, in zagotavljanjem plač in stroškov.

Kostja je služil v vojski v sovjetskih časih občudovanja vredne praktičnosti in učinkovitosti. To ga je ločilo in se mi je zdel bolj odrasel. Vojaško služenje v tistih dneh je bilo obvezno, čeprav je dobro povezanim večinoma uspelo izstopiti iz njega. Kostya ni prišel iz industrijske zaledja v vzhodni Ukrajini. Ali pa ni začel tako.

Medijski opisi njega ponavadi omenjajo njegovo zmanjšano držo, toda ko se spomnim, da sem ga prvič srečal, vidim mops razrezanih, rjavih las, odrezanih v modi ameriškega predpremiera iz osemdesetih let, ki obraz tesno pokriva , lastnosti lisic. Na prvi pogled njegova višina kaže na puerile persono. Toda če si vzamete trenutek za velikost moškega, zagledate odraslega otroka in, ko odpre usta, pride navzven svetovno utrujenost, ki je prepletena s privlačnim, čeprav ciničnim in pogosto temnim humorjem.

V svetu neprofitnih organizacij se pogosto govori o načelih in vrednotah, ki so tisto, kar nas privleče k delu. In zagotovo sem imel svoj delež idealizma glede širjenja demokracije in dobre vlade. Toda Kostya je v meni videl nekoga, ki je prišel ne samo iz političnega dela, ampak tudi iz zasebnega sektorja. Videl je nekoga, ki ni povsem nov v nekdanji Sovjetski zvezi – živel sem več let v Kazahstanu, bil takrat poročen s Kazahstanom in govoril pasavno, če ne tekoče rusko. Verjamel je, da je nekdo dobil šalo.

Toda kakšna je bila šala?

Ko sem vzel nad moskovsko pisarno Mednarodnega republikanskega inštituta sem bil v zgodnjih tridesetih letih, Kostya je bil leto starejši, preostali lokalni uslužbenci pa so bili videti nekoliko mlajši. Imeli smo naravno naklonjenost. Oba sva bila poročena z otroki. Kostya je živel z ženo in dvema hčerkama v majhni dači v obliki skednja v bližini letališča Šeremetjevo – vsaj 45 minut od središča Moskve.

Njegova žena Katya je bila dermatologinja in ga je ujemala po višini. Kot družina sta bila čudovita. Včasih je bil videti kot starejši brat. Rekel mi je, naj ne hodim v telovadnico, ko sem se prehladila, ker se je bal, da si ne bom poškodoval srca zaradi prekomerne prekomerne napetosti. Ko pa bi se mi na mojem obrazu pojavile mamice, me pozval, naj pojem kaso (ruska oblika ovsene kaše, narejene iz ajde), da popravim škodo, ki bi jo verjetno naredila želodčni oblogi.

Kostja je zaradi zavezanosti svoji ženi in hčerkama potoval nekoliko manj kot jaz in drugi v osebju. Rusija je ogromna in se razteza na 11 časovnih pasovih. V našem relativno majhnem proračunu, ki znaša približno milijon dolarjev na leto, ne bi bilo mogoče enakomerno vplivati ​​na tako veliko državo, zato smo morali izbrati, kje smo mislili, da bomo naredili nekaj.

Ko bi pomagal pri urejanju mojih bolj kihotičnih misij, bodisi v Dagestanu, Tatarstanu ali Baškortostanu (po 11. septembru se mi je zdelo, da je dosegljivost do pretežno muslimanskih območij Rusije še posebej pomembna), bi Kostya zmajal z glavo, vendar redko, če sploh kdaj ugovarja. Dojel bi občutek, da je moj idealizem dotikal, če bi bil tudi naiven.

V njem sem videl nekoga, ki je bil spregledan in podcenjen. V vzgoji Krivy Rih (v ukrajinščini pomeni "krivi rog") se mu življenje ni rodilo kot privilegij. Šalil se bo o visokem našem štipendistu kot o vrstniku, ki bo zaradi svoje višine dobil dodatno maslo v vojski.

V takem humorju ni bilo grenke zamere, le nežna ironija. Začeli smo igro navajanja ljudi po imenih živali na podlagi njihovih prevladujočih lastnosti. Moje ime za Kostjo je bilo Eeyore, potem ko je bil pripuščen osel Medvedek Pu. To se je zdelo pristno in primerno za Rusijo. Imati tukaj rožnato razpoloženje bi bil znak, da ste pijani, duševno prizadeti ali Američani.

Na nek način smo se uravnotežili. Kostji sem prišel zaupat kot kolega in prijatelja, in niti enkrat nisem posumil, da mi bo nekoč škodoval.

Patten in Kilimnik – oziroma Kostya, kot ga je poimenoval Patten – v začetku leta 2015 v Kijevu v Ukrajini.

Sam Patten

Vsak idealizem sem bi morda lahko spremenili dobrobit v Rusiji, ki so jo poslabšale parlamentarne volitve decembra 2003. V 18 mesecih, ki so pred njimi, sem podprl določeno čaščenje heroja enega opozicijskega politika Borisa Nemcova.

Navezali smo prijateljstvo in z njim sem prepotoval državo in prevzel vlogo njegovega neuradnega političnega svetovalca. Nemcov je verjel, da je Putinova popolna folija: pred njo so bili lepi, naravni humor, pošten intelekt in vodja, ki je verjel, da so boljši dnevi Rusije.

Kostja je bil v politiki agnostik. Ni me spodbudil niti odvračal od mojega navdušenja nad Nemcovim in njegovo desnosredinsko politično stranko, Zvezo desnih sil. Dvom pod petodstotni prag je ostala v ruskem parlamentu, Dumi. Ta izid je bil videti sumljivo vnaprej. Dejansko pozno popoldne po volitvah mi je eden izmed Putinovih političnih svetovalcev rekel, "da vaši prijatelji tega ne bodo storili."

V mesecih, ki so sledili, se je moj duh pogreznil na novo. V Rusiji sem zgodaj spomladi leta 2004 ugotovil, da mi ni uspelo, da sem se pridružil iraški ekipi IRI.

Zjutraj na predsedniških volitvah, na katerih je Putin, za nikogar presenečenje, ni znal osvojiti drugega mandata, sem se sprehodil do urada, da sem začel razčistiti svoje stvari. Po poti sem mimo parkiranega trupla v parku, kjer je nezainteresiran policist pisal svoje poročilo. Kot se je človek zagotovo počutil, ko je noč pred tem izstopil pod klopjo, me je prežvečil in izpljunil ta ogromen prostor sive zemlje.

Skoraj 12 let pozneje, februarja 2015, so Nemcova štirikrat ustrelili v hrbet v senci Kremlja. Tudi s časom toliko časa me je novica bolj opustošila, kot sem bila po volitvah leta 2003.

Pravkar sem se vrnil v Washington iz Ukrajine, ko sem izvedel za njegov umor, kostina pot in mine sta se znova povezala, toda po atentatu ga nisem iskal utehe, tako kot ga nisem iskal odobritve moja politika takrat. Ko sem žaloval, je Kostja držal spoštljivo distanco.

Kljub temu, da je mojst demokratične dogodivščine v Rusiji so bile morda, Irak je bil nekaj drugega. Skoraj eno leto sem bil politični direktor IRI-ja v Bagdadu in se v službo vrgel z vso strastjo in gorečnostjo, ki bi jo lahko pričakovali od mladega moškega v vojni.

Kostjo sem prepisoval na svoje tedenske odposlave iz Mezopotamije, misije za prijatelje in družino, in skoraj vedno bi se odzval z zanimanjem. Medtem ko sem v Iraku zasledoval svoj idealizem, je Kostjina kariera v tem obdobju v celoti naletela na novo.

Iz Iraka sem spremljal novice o priljubljenem uporu, ki poteka v Ukrajini. Viktor Janukovič, vodja Partije regij, ki je črpala podporo iz vzhodne Ukrajine, je poskušal ukrasti predsedniške volitve konec leta 2004 Viktorju Juščenku, dragi Zahodu, ki je preživel domnevno zastrupitev v zadnjih mesecih kampanje . Protestniki so se na osrednjem trgu Kijeva znašli kot oranžna revolucija in Juščenko pometali v predsedstvo.

Usmrčeni, so zagovorniki Janukoviča sprejeli radikalno drugačen pristop. Odpustili so ruske hekerje, ki so se lotili prve volitve in najeli Američana Paula J. Manaforta, da se pripravi na naslednjo. Manafort je najel Kostjo, sprva kot svojega prevajalca.

Paul Manafort, predsedujoči Trumpovi kampanji, ki zdaj preživlja čas v zveznem zaporu. On in Patten sta v Ukrajini prestopala kot politična svetovalca.

Tribune Content Agency LLC / Alamy

Od mojega odhoda iz Moskve se je dejavnost v moji stari terenski pisarni nekoliko spremenila, kar je Kostji omogočilo svobodno zaposlitev z Manafortom, medtem ko je v Rusiji prižgal lučke IRI. Toda ko so ljudje v sedežu IRI-ja izvedeli za to, so odpustili Kostjo in on je začel delovati polno za Manafort in ukrajinsko Stranko regij. Šlo je za začetek razmerja z Manafortom, ki bi se končalo v obtožnicah vsepovsod.

Medtem sem odstopil od IRI po prvih demokratičnih volitvah v Iraku v več kot pol stoletja in začel z lastno vrsto peripatetičnih preobratov. Nekatere od teh kariernih potez bi lahko označili za altruistične – šel sem v službo za Maineovo senatorko Olympio Snowe kot njen govornik; za podsekretarja države za globalne zadeve kot njenega višjega svetovalca za promocijo demokracije; in za Freedom House, organizacijo za nadzor nad demokracijo in človekovimi pravicami, ki jo je Eleanor Roosevelt ustanovila v 40. letih prejšnjega stoletja kot njena direktorica evroazijskih programov.

Druge bi lahko šteli za plačljivca – pridružil sem se republikanskemu političnemu svetovanju, da bi razširil svoje mednarodno poslovanje in kasneje obesil svojo skodlo kot neodvisni svetovalec ali pištolo za najem. To delo me je vrnilo v Irak kot svetovalca, najprej za Kurde in pozneje arabske sunite, na Tajsko zaradi prevzetega premiera (odstranil me je državni udar na moji uri) in po vsej vzhodni Evropi, na Balkanu, Kavkusi in Afrika.

Na enem od teh nalog so poleti 2007 v Kijevu prečkali pot in rudnik Kostya. Pred jesenskimi (parlamentarnimi) volitvami sem delal za stranko predsednika Juščenka. To me je postavilo na nasprotne strani Kostje in Manaforta, ki sta svetovala Janukovičevi Stranki regij.

Kljub temu, da sva na tekmskih straneh, sva se s Kostjo dogovorila, da bova nekega jutra na kavi v centru Kijeva. Prišel je iskat novega moškega v krojeni obleki z monogramirano majico po meri. Njegova družina je ostala v Moskvi, je razložil in postala je rutina letenja v slogu naprej in nazaj. Bil sem zadovoljen in celo malce presenečen, ko sem videl, da tako dobro dela zase.

Ko sem se vrnil v svojo pisarno, me je predsednik namestnikovega predsednika zahteval, da me vidi. Ukrajinske državne obveščevalne službe so spremljale moje srečanje s Kostjo in stranka je bila živahna. Po tekmovanjih je popolnoma civilizirano, da imajo prisrčne odnose, sem poskušal razložiti, vendar zaman.

Nekaj ​​tednov po tem so me poslali v pasjo hišo. Tudi potem, ko je oblak minil, sem občasno še vedno čutil zlo oko. Toda televizijski oglasi, ki smo jih snemali, so bili boljši od tistih, ki jih je ustvarila Kostina ekipa, tako da je moja "nevidnost" na koncu zbledela v ozadje. Preprosto ni bilo več bratimljenja z mojim starim prijateljem na tej nalogi. (Kot se je zgodilo, je na parlamentarnih volitvah prevladala moja stran.)

Leta so minila in govor o tem, koliko denarja je Manafort zaslužil v Ukrajini, je v teh dneh postalo ponavljajoča se tema v Washingtonu. Moj prijatelj Rinat Akhetshin, lobist ruskega porekla, se je zelo rad udeležil akcije. Povedal mi je, kako je enemu od njegovih sodelavcev uspelo zagotoviti sestanek z šefom generalštaba Janukoviča, mladim Serhiem Lyovochkinom, medtem ko se je ukrajinski predsednik udeležil Generalne skupščine OZN v New Yorku. Na polovici srečanja se je spomnil, Manafort je vdrl v sobo, "z jezno mulco ob strani." Nasmehnil sem se. Kostja. Akhmetšinovi napori niso šli nikamor.

(Akhmetshin, mimogrede, je bil tako imenovani "agent GRU", ki je junija 2016 sodeloval na zdaj zloglasnem srečanju Trumpovega stolpa Donalda Trumpa mlajšega. Po mojem vedenju ni predstavnik GRU niti predstavnik zastopnika ruska vlada na kakršen koli način, čeprav je v mladosti služboval v sovjetski vojski v Afganistanu. Prvič smo se srečali, ko je v devetdesetih letih v Washingtonu zastopal kazahstanskega vodjo opozicije.)

Jeseni leta 2013 – ko sem se ponovno poročila, vendar brez plačila dela – je k meni priskrbela ponudba iz taborišča Manafort, ne iz Kostje, ampak od posrednika. Napetost nad tem, ali bi se Ukrajina pridružila Evropski ali Ruski Evroazijski uniji, je privedla do močnejših protestov na ulicah Kijeva. Janukovič je predsedstvo dobil leta 2010 in se pripravljal na novo volitev. Bi se pridružil njegovi ekipi za pripravo oglasov? Rekel sem ne.

Potem, kako so stvari potekale, se je zdelo napačna stran zgodovine. Prav sem imel. Protesti so rasli čez zimo in februarja 2014 so postali nasilni. Najmanj 100 protestnikov je bilo ubitih blizu središčnega trga v Kijevu, ki je znan kot Maidan. Javnakovićeva jeza javnosti je preplavila in ta mesec je bil odpuščen. Pobegnil je iz Kijeva, najprej za Harkov, veliko vzhodno mesto, na koncu pa dosegel Moskvo. "Revolucija dostojanstva ljudi" je zmagala.

Da bi to dokazal zgodovina se ponavlja, znova sem v Iraku pomagal sunitski arabski stranki v letih 2013–14, ko je iz Ukrajine prišla še ena ponudba. Tokrat je šlo za oligarha Petra Porošenka, ki je bil pripravljen postati naslednji ukrajinski postrevolucionarni predsednik. Ampak to bi zahtevalo, da odpovem svojo kampanjo v Iraku, v katero sem se počutil globoko predano, zato sem spet rekel ne. Washington Post poslala poročevalca na Bližnji vzhod, da napiše funkcijo o mojem delu na tej kampanji: "Ali se lahko v Iraku taktike Washingtona prevedejo? Sam Patten in njegov kandidat tako upata. "

Alexander Nix, nekdanji izvršni direktor Cambridge Analytica. Patten je politično delal za to podjetje v ZDA in tujini.

Neil P. Mockford / Getty Images

Prvi ljudje, ki sem jih slišal po Objava Na vrh mi je bil profil malo poznanega londonskega političnega svetovanja, ki je postalo Cambridge Analytica. Bil sem spet v Washingtonu, njen izvršni direktor Alexander Nix pa je obiskal prestolnico in me povabil na pijačo. V kleti hotela Hay-Adams smo imeli vsaj nekaj, do konca dvournega pogovora pa smo zaključevali stavke drug drugemu.

Njegovo podjetje je želelo vdreti v republiško svetovalno podjetje v ZDA, za katerega sem se mi zdelo, da bi ga bilo treba pretresati. Teden ali dva pozneje me je Nix vprašal, ali bi sodeloval v eksperimentu, ki ga je delala Cambridge Analytica. Ali bi prišel v London in pozneje v Britansko Kolumbijo na vrsto usposabljanj, ki bi jim sledila napotitev na ključno dirko senata ZDA kot "arhitekt sporočil", ki bi mela meso kosti Cambridgeove mešanice podatkov o mikro ciljanju s psihografskim profiliranjem . Vse je bilo še v fazi razvoja, toda če bi delovalo, bo po njegovem mnenju revolucija političnih kampanj.

Nix mi je ponujal priložnost, da se udeležim ključnih dirk v Zahodni Virginiji, Severni Karolini, Arkanzasu, Koloradu ali Oregonu. Zdelo se mi je pot nazaj v domačo politiko – nekaj, kar sem si zelo želel, da bi bil lahko bližje sinu in novi ženi. Tako sem se prijavila. V času, ko se je usposabljanje končalo, je Cambridge sodeloval z le dvema – Severno Karolino (možna pikapolonica) in Oregonom (dolg strel, če rečem velikodušno). In Severna Karolina je bila odpeljana. Odšel sem v Oregon.

Nič ni šlo po načrtih. Lokalno osebje kampanje je z naklonjenostjo sprejelo našo skupino Britancev, Kanadčanov in mene, ki so se zvrstili ob trditvah, da je bila kandidatka Monica Wehby, privlačna ženska otroška nevrokirurga, obtožena tudi zalezovalka. Nacionalni republiški senatorski odbor nas je mislil še manj, po enem mesecu pa so Cambridgea odpustili (po e-pošti, nič manj). Karteli, ki so nadzirali politiko stranke v ZDA, niso marali nove krvi. Toliko o mojem streljanju, da sem se prenovil v domovini – očitno je bilo leto 2014 napačno leto za tuje volilne posege.

Toda potem je od Kostje prispelo sporočilo. Sem imel minuto za pogovor? Njegov čas ne bi mogel biti boljši.

Iz pepela Manafortova stranka Janukovičeve stranke regij je Manafort podpisala nekaj novega: opozicijski blok, ki je prevzel vlogo Janukoviča v zastopanju predvsem rusko govorečih na vzhodu države. Medtem ko sem pred tem letom zamudil predsedniške volitve, bi imel srečo, da bi bile sklicane parlamentarne volitve konec oktobra.

Manfort je v senci vodil nominacijsko kampanjo opozicijskega bloka, toda Lyovochkin, ki je zapustil Janukovičevo stran, ko so oblasti uporabile nasilje nad protestniki Maidana v začetku leta 2014, je ostal zadaj, ko je Janukovič pobegnil v Rusijo.

Lyovochkin, ki je s peščico prvotnih podpornikov Stranke regij zdaj vodil opozicijski blok, se je bal, da Manafortova velika strategija sama po sebi ne bo naredila trika. Želel je, da bi vzporedna operacija, ki bi jo v državah imenovali kontrastna kampanja, skušala nasprotnike OB-ja spustiti na nekaj zatičev. Šlo naj bi za lokalno govorico o kampanji minusov. Kostya je delal za Manafort, kot je že dolgo, in tudi mene bo podpiral na terenu.

V nekaj dneh pogovora s Kostjo sem pristajal na kijevskem letališču Boryspil – slabe sedem let po zadnjem odhodu iz Ukrajine. Kostya je ob prihodu delil serijo pisnih poročil o ključnih temah, ki so me pripeljale do hitrosti v manj kot uri. Moje stanovanje, tik ob Maidanu, je imelo jeklena vrata, ki so bila v celoti ognjena, z luknjastimi črnimi in rjastimi koščki; prejšnje leto je ščitilo prejšnje stanovalce pred lokalom Molotovljevih koktajlov. Odložil sem svoje osebne stvari in se lotil svoje druge ukrajinske kampanje.

Za zunanjega se morda zdi, da preprosto prestavljam strani – zavzemam se za tako imenovane proruske sile, za katere sem mislil, da so na napačni strani zgodovine. Se mi zdi, da v resnici nisem bil. Igra se je povsem spremenila in kot opozorilo je že njen opozicijski blok. To je bilo v skladu z večino dela, ki sem ga opravil do takrat, in v skladu s svojimi načeli o izenačevanju konkurenčnih pogojev v politiki. Poleg tega bi bilo "prorusko" pomenilo naklonjenost okupatorju več ukrajinskih regij, česar pa opozicijski blok ni storil. Njeni člani so si želeli miru, prav tako kot ljudje, ki živijo v teh regijah, in še vedno to počnejo.

Ali je bil opozicijski blok stranka mafijev, kot so moji klienti sedem let prej trgali? Če bi bili, je večina kriminalnih vrst pobegnila v Rusijo ali pa se je preselila na druge stranke – vključno z lastnim predsednikom Porošenko. Moč, kot je opazil Lord Acton, pokvari. Po isti sliki je prišlo do čiščenja v opoziciji in milijoni vzhodnih Ukrajincev, ki jih je nekoč zastopala Stranka regij, so bili zdaj v Kijevu brez prvaka.

To se ni prvič zapletlo v tovrstno zapletenost. V nekdanji sovjetski Gruziji sem delal v stranki takratnega predsednika Miheila Sakašvilija in ji pomagal osvojiti super večino v parlamentu leta 2008, samo da sem se tri leta pozneje vrnil v državo in delal za njegove nasprotnike, ki so ga uspeli izpustiti. Razlog je bil, da se je situacija spremenila in je Sakašvili po mojem mnenju in po mnenju številnih drugih odšel z tirnic. Moje sedanje okoliščine bi se lahko na prvi pogled zdele enako nasprotujoče, glede na to, da v veliki meri izhajajo iz moje vpletenosti v številke, ki so blizu Donaldu Trumpu – čeprav sem leta 2016 glasoval za njegovega nasprotnika. Ali sem opustil svoj idealizem? Ne. Politika ne gre za dajanje izjav, ampak za rezultate.

Kostya me je odpeljal do Parusa (kar pomeni "jadro"), jeklene in steklene stolpnice, ki je vzniknila v osrednjem Kijevu od moje prejšnje bivanja, in smo se v 19. nadstropju ustrelili v dvigalu, ki je žvižgalo in žvižgalo z vetrom. Odprla so se jeklena vrata (ne ognjena, nasprotno precej pikantna in visokotehnološka) in Lyovochkinov varnostni detajl nas je mahnil v bleščečo belo konferenčno dvorano, ki je lebdela kot vesoljska ladja visoko nad mestom prestolnice.

Ko smo se namestili v belih usnjenih vrtljivih stolih in mu je tajnica ponudila čaj in čokolade, je Lyovochkin stopil, oblečen v dekonstruiran blazer, ki je poudarjal njegov atletski okvir. Začel sem se predstavljati, a on je zamahnil z roko in rekel: "Ni treba, dobro vem, kdo ste in," odvrne pogled Kostja, "sumite, da veste, zakaj ste tukaj."

V pripravi sem izrisal osnovo načrta, ki sem ga poimenoval Operation Claw Back. Narisal je premik v pripovedi, ki je naše nasprotnike pozval k oportunistom, ki jih narod malo skrbi. Kostya mu jo je izročil. Smejoč se je Lyovochkin pogledal skoznjo. "Popolno," je rekel, "Pridi na delo."

Takoj sem začel ustvarjati oglase, ki napadajo naše nasprotnike. Na splošno sem napisal morda 20 scenarijev, od katerih jih je približno polovica. Lyovochkin je ponudil mlado Ukrajinko, ki sem jo klical Sonce, kot svojo prevajalko in pomočnico. Sunshine je končala srednjo šolo in univerzo na Zahodni obali, tako da je razumela, od kod prihajam, pa tudi v ukrajinski kontekst.

Prevedla bi moje skripte, nato pa bi Kostya uredila in odobrila svoje prevode, preden se je Lyovochkin odjavil. Najučinkovitejši oglasi za napad niso bili proti kandidatom, katerih podporniki tako ali tako nikoli ne bomo zmagali, temveč tistih, ki so nasprotovali našim volivcem.

Naslednje veliko srečanje naj bi bilo z Manafortom. To bi lahko bilo bolj zapleteno. Kostya se je dogovoril, da bom neposredno delal za Lyovochkina, čeprav prek njega. Z drugimi besedami, Manafortu ne bi smela poročati ali plačati.

To se je razlikovalo od prejšnjih dogovorov v preteklem desetletju, ko je Manafort bil tisti, ki je najemal in vodil raziskave, medije ali druge izvajalce, kar jih je vse razdelilo. A če je bila to težava prepira s "modro staro sovo", kot ga je Kostya pogosto navajal, Manafort tega ni pustil pokazati. Na zajtrku smo se srečali v restavraciji Hyatt Regency, ki se je kopal v Kijevu.

Natakarica je bila dobro navajena, da se je s svojim dolgoletnim gostom spoštovala in nam je ponudila zasebni kotiček. Ko sem svoj krožnik nalagal z jajci in klobaso ter slanino, me je presenetilo, kako zdrav in pridno je legendarni republikanec izbiral sadje in zelenjavo. Morda to ni bil njegov edini zajtrk v dnevu ali pa se je motil do pasu.

Pogovor sem začel z majhnim pogovorom, laskanjem in kratkim uvajanjem sebe, ki ga je, za razliko od Lyovochkina, poslušal, ko je pobral za svoj krožnik. Oči so mu bile utrujene, vendar ne mehke. Njegov glas je bil nizek in hrustljav. Počasi je, kot sesedaj, ki govori s konjikom, z mano v široki stroki delil nabrano modrost, ki jo je pridobil o tem, kako delati z vrhunskimi psi, ki so se iz Stranke regij preselili v opozicijski blok – z drugimi besedami ki z Janukovičem ni zbežal v Rusijo.

"Nikoli ne daj nož s temi fantje," je dejal. "Držite se svoje besede in vztrajajte pri tem, kar je treba storiti, dokler ne pridete na pot." Tako je uspel Ukrajini in kaj bi moral storiti, če hočem tudi jaz. Po vseh teh letih je rekel: "Prišli so me videti kot enega izmed njih." Kot tisti, ki se je vtiral s strankami po Evraziji in na Bližnjem vzhodu, sem se počutil, da sem si pri strankah prislužil enak ugled. in v zvezi s tem so se zaradi njegovih besed postavile nanj kot narodnega duha.

Kostya se nam ni pridružil, je povedal nekaj o tem, da bi morali biti na drugem sestanku, in ker sva se Paul in jaz Američana domnevala, da bova zmogla sama. "Tvoj prijatelj je majhen moški," mi je rekel Manafort.

Ni natančneje opisal, vendar je nadaljeval, da je povedal, kako obdavčeno se mu zdi, da je Kostjo moral preživeti in pogosto posredovati neskončna srečanja med volilnimi frakcijami v OB. Kaj je mislil pod "močan"? Oligarhi, ki so bili v bistvu delničarji stranke, so Kosti plačali več zaslužka, kot nam ga je plačeval natakar v Hyattu.

Tako sem prebral, da je po toliko letih, ko je funkcionar razlagal to, kar Manafort govori sponzorjem strank, voditeljem in podobnim hekerjem, tudi sam postal del legende. Videla sem, kako ga gleda Lyovochkin, pozneje pa bi videl, da ga drugi gledajo na povsem enak način. Postal je, kot so ga pozneje nekateri medijski računi poimenovali "Manafortov Manafort."

Nekega jutra a teden ali nekaj kasneje, sem se vrnil iz žvrgolega, jesenskega dirkanja po grebenih gričev, ki obkrožajo Kijev, še vedno namočen v kaleidoskopu rdečih, rjavkastih, porjavljenih in zelenih ter vonju po mokri brezi, ko sem opazil kombi v prostem teku zunaj moje stavbe. Bolj tiho kot ponavadi sem se zarežal v podyedtz (predprostor) in začel hoditi do svojega stanovanja v prvem nadstropju, ko sem opazil, kako štirinajst ali pet krepkih moških stoji pred mojim trkom.

Prepozno se je obrnilo nazaj, zato sem nadaljeval hojo mimo njih in se nameraval povzpeti vsaj izpred oči. Eden je sledil za mano in skočil nekaj stopnic pred mano ter me ustavil z roko na rami. Nekaj ​​vprašanj je rekel v ruščini, za katero sem se pretvarjal, da ne govorim.

V angleščini sem rekel, da delam za USAID, ves čas pa sem nanašal na najbolj izmučen izraz, ki ga lahko obvladam. Delovalo je, in odpovedal. Ko sem prišel nekaj nadstropij nad njimi, sem poklical dvigalo, in ko je prišel, ga usmeril nazaj v pritličje, s palcem pritisnil na gumb Zaprta vrata.

Spustil se je eden od mlakarjev in me z drugim zasledoval. Na vhodnih vratih sem naredil dobrih 15 korakov pred njimi in se sprintal po hribu in nazaj v park. Potem ko sem eno uro prej tekel, sem imel prednost pred moškimi v modrih kavbojkah in zajetnih usnjenih plaščih, ki so se verjetno zapeli v čevelj. Ko sem bil prepričan, da sem jih stresel, sem poklical Kostjo.

Z enakomernejšim glasom, ki sem ga lahko zbral, sem vprašal: "Kaj za vraga ?!!?"

Ne skrbi, rekel je, to je verjetno vse samo nesporazum, to bomo odpravili.

Nekako dvomim, da je šlo za nesporazum. Pred časom je bil moški, ki me je identificiral kot policaja v civilni obleki, ki je iskal par Gruzijcev, za katere naj bi živel v mojem stanovanju. Tu ni Gruzij, zagotovil sem. Odnesel je izjavo, ki jo je moral podpisati.

To sem takrat odpisal kot nesporazum, vendar se je to, kar se je ravno zgodilo, zdelo kot splavljen poskus ugrabitve. Zakaj bi me kdo hotel sprejeti? Da bi kaj storil, se nisem mogel spraviti v špekulacije, vendar sem bil precej prepričan, da ima to opravka z mojim delom. Čudno, da nisem vztrajal pri selitvi.

Kostya je večji del tistih tednov preživel nežno Manafortu in pustil, da svoje ustvarjalne energije usmerim s Sunshine, ki se je izkazal za nadarjenega ustvarjalca videoposnetkov, in pamfletera, ki smo ga klicali Michael. Z Manafortom smo si delili pisarno, ki je blizu Maidana, vendar so bili naši postopki precej drugačni. Sometimes our paths would cross.

Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime associate and confidant.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Rick Gates was Manafort’s loyal lieutenant—to a point, anyhow. We would sometimes swap copy in the office and look at what the other had written and make a suggestion or two out of courtesy. Once we were looking at a direct-mail piece that had a photograph of a babushka, an old village woman, on the cover. Manafort heard us talking and walked by, glancing at the final proof. “Looks like a witch,” he said. To me, she looked like a pensioner. Still, they changed the photo to a less witchy-looking babushka.

But it seemed to work. When the election came, OB won about 10 percent of the vote—more than double where we had started three weeks prior, and nearly twice the performance of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party. This was a good yardstick of success, as Tymoshenko, who portrayed herself as a national martyr and possesses one of Ukraine’s more brilliant political minds, normally gets between 12 and 20 percent of the national vote in any given election.

The night after the election, Manafort, Gates, and I (again, Kostya was absent) had dinner at a restaurant near Kyiv’s opera. The mood was relaxed but ebullient. At one point, Manafort looked at me with an avuncular smile and said, “You earned your money, kid.” It was the last time I ever saw him.

Manafort did return to Ukraine the following year to work on local elections for OB, and I was hired by Kyiv’s mayor, the former heavyweight champion of the world Vitali Klitschko, as the strategist for his reelection campaign. Klitschko headed his own party, which was in a coalition with President Poroshenko’s, so there was no real overlap—Manafort’s path and mine didn’t cross. (From what I understood, he rarely left his room in the Hyatt the month he was there.)

But I did remain in contact with Kostya, who would occasionally send me OB ads or messaging scenarios developed by Manafort or others for a second look. As OB had such minimal presence in Kyiv and presented no threat to Klitschko, I saw no conflict.

At this point, Kostya and I launched our own company to explore ways we could apply our talents. I named it Begemot Ventures International. Begemot is the Russian word for hippopotamus, and behemoth. But thanks to the novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, one of Stalin’s favorites, begemot has a double meaning. In his fantastic The Master and Margarita, Begemot was the name of an enormous cat who accompanies Woland, the devil incarnate, who comes to Moscow to do great mischief.

Kostya loved cats, and that played a role in my choice of a name for our company. Our intent was not necessarily mischief, though we did aim to achieve unexpected outcomes. In this respect, I suppose, we were successful.

Billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska

Emile Ducke/The New York Times/Redux

Kostya came up with a series of possible projects throughout the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Africa—one in Kazakhstan, another in Guinea—each of which I would sketch out in concept form, for consideration by such funders, Kostya told me, as Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. As one of the world’s largest owners of metal companies, Deripaska’s equities are as close by as Ukraine or as far flung as Africa. It is in his interests to have good relations with the governments of the countries where he does business, just as American companies fund political action committees and give money to parties. (When asked to confirm the connection to Deripaska by WIRED’s fact-checking department, Kostya said these pitches were not specifically intended for Deripaska.)

None of these projects was ever green-lighted in the sense of being funded, but the nature of the game is to pitch and pitch and pitch until something sticks. There was at least one of Kostya’s ideas in which I flatly refused to participate, because it involved supporting anti-NATO political forces in Montenegro.

Even as we were looking for the next big thing, the task of fixing OB always loomed in the background. Manafort’s moon was waning while mine was waxing—some pols in Kyiv had started referring to me as “the new Paul.” So one afternoon in the fall of 2015, Kostya brought me to meet Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch. The son-in-law of former president Leonid Kuchma, Pinchuk made his initial fortune in the ’90s on pipeline production, later diversifying into media, oil and gas, and other sectors.

Of all the Ukrainian oligarchs, he was the most focused on his own image: He donated millions to the Clinton Global Foundation and even paid Donald Trump $150,000 the following year to appear via Skype at his annual mini-Davos confab in Ukraine while the real estate magnate ran for president of the United States.

Pinchuk’s office was in Parus, the same building as Lyovochkin’s, but on a higher floor. The purpose of the meeting was not entirely clear to me, though I assumed it was Lyovochkin’s or Kostya’s way of showing me off, as one might an expensive watch.

The conversation was meandering. Pinchuk began by trying to make me understand he wasn’t only friends with Democrats like the Clintons in the US, but with Republicans also. He showed me a picture of himself with George H. W. Bush to prove his point. (Mind you, this was before he hired Trump to appear at his conference.)

Then the conversation got interesting. Putin, he told me, believed that the United States had been behind all the so-called color revolutions in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. That’s ridiculous, I replied, and he said he knew, but it didn’t really matter because that’s what Putin thought.

In late 2015, Lyovochkin asked me whether it was true that Trump was going to hire Manafort to run his campaign. Just as I told Pinchuk that Putin’s perception of America’s capabilities was ridiculous, I told Lyovochkin that was an absurd notion; that Trump would have to be nuts to do such a thing.

After all, other than Yanukovich, Manafort had worked for notorious Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Zairian despot Mobutu Sese Seko, and Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, accounting for an awful lot of negative baggage. This track record led some to say he had invented the “Torturer’s Lobby.”

Moreover, his former partner Rick Davis told me candidly, just before taking the reins of the McCain campaign, that neither of them knew much about running a campaign in the US beyond staging a convention. (Manafort helped manage the convention floors for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bob Dole.)

But I was wrong. In early April 2016, Kostya sent me the press release announcing Manafort’s hiring. Manafort had also instructed him to pass this astonishing announcement around Kyiv, to make sure that his once and perhaps future clients were aware that he was still the man.

When you are a political consultant, your bread and butter are elections. Ideally, the time between elections should be spent positioning your client so they are so strong as to scare off all comers, or at least honing their bona fides the way a boxer trains for a prizefight.

But in reality, it seldom works that way. For consultants, the time between elections is spent undercutting one another and pitching for new business. And it is usually only in the 11th hour—often when it is already too late—that the client opens their purse and hires you.

The OB followed this pattern in the period between 2014 when I started working for them and the election that just took place on July 21, but with a particularly sticky twist: There were two factions within the party, and they couldn’t stand each other or work together.

Each poll, each briefing, each slew of strategic recommendations to party leadership seemed like Groundhog Day. They listened politely and occasionally asked questions suggesting they understood what we were saying but then proceeded to do more or less what they had been doing before, to little effect.

It came to the point where I would deliver the same brief to each side because they couldn’t abide being in the same room. During one such episode, Boris Kolesnikov—a member of parliament, an oligarch, and the leader of the Donetsk-based faction who opposed what he saw as Lyovochkin’s more Machiavellian group—interrupted me in mid-sentence to blurt out: “Paul said if we created this party, we would grow to 20 percent or more, and that hasn’t happened. Can you explain that? This is not Opposition Bloc, it is Ass Block!”

The answer, dear Boris, is not in the stars … I wanted to say, but didn’t. Ever since the news of a “black ledger” allegedly showing that Manafort had taken more than $12 million in cash from the Party of Regions broke in The New York Times in mid-August 2016—leading to his firing from the Trump campaign—I found myself cleaning up the messes of the wise old owl, for mere pennies.

In September 2017, I was in Prague on a separate assignment for Cambridge Analytica. By then it had been more than a year since Kostya’s fateful meeting with Manafort in New York. Trump had been president for nine months, and the investigations of Russian collusion had begun in Congress. The Justice Department had appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to conduct its own investigation.

I received a letter from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asking me to submit all communications with, about, or regarding Kostya, Manafort, and Gates, and to submit to a voluntary interview with the committee’s investigators of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. When I told Kostya of this, his response was unhelpfully cavalier. It’s no big deal, he said, they’re just on a fishing expedition, this will all be over soon.

The next day, he sounded more concerned: “I didn’t sleep all night,” I remember him telling me.

I would see Kostya twice while abroad before my Senate interrogation, which wasn’t scheduled until two months after I delivered the requested documents, or early in 2018. That was the beginning of grueling year that culminated in my guilty plea on the FARA charge on August 31, 2018. For me, it was a year in which everything fell apart—my reputation, my livelihood, and to a large extent, my belief in myself.

In addition to my FARA violations, purchasing tickets to the US presidential inauguration for Lyovochkin, Kostya, and another Ukrainian oligarch supporting OB named Vadim Novinsky was a violation of a rule prohibiting foreign money from going into inaugural accounts—Novinsky reimbursed me for the tickets. At the time it didn’t strike me as terribly conspiratorial given the fact that Novinsky has business interests in the US.

But in the febrile environment of the Russia investigation, many things that had once been routinely overlooked suddenly became a big deal. Novinsky did not attend, because the US embassy in Kyiv would not grant him a visa. Kostya begged out of the ball, telling me that he feared he’d bump into Manafort. So it ended up just being Lyovochkin and me going to an expensive and not terribly memorable dance.

I also accepted responsibility for withholding a handful of emails from the Senate Intelligence Committee, specifically pertaining to who I got to purchase the tickets for me as I was in Africa at the time Kostya asked me for them on Lyovochkin’s and Novinsky’s behalf. To my mind, there was no reason to tar that individual in the same muck in which I am now covered. After all, the investigation was supposed to be about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election—not in Ukrainians attending the 2017 presidential inauguration.

In all, I did voluntarily turn over 1,300 pages of email to the Senate Intelligence Committee and did voluntarily submit to a five-hour interview about them. But sometimes the breach matters more than the observance, especially when it comes to congressional investigations.

In April this year, eight months after I stood before Judge Jackson and pleaded guilty, I was back in her courtroom, where she pronounced my sentence: three years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $5,000 fine. No jail time. She took into consideration the fact that I had agreed to work with federal prosecutors on several cases that grew out of the Mueller investigation and noted that I had done everything in my power to make amends. With my wife by my side, I left the courthouse feeling that finally, maybe, I could breathe again.

It will take me some time to recover from all this, but I will. Time and again, I have had to tackle tough assignments and big challenges, so I do believe I’ll put the downsides of my highly scrutinized relationship with Kostya behind me.

But just as important as my belief in and about myself, what did I believe about Kostya? Was he a Russian agent—as the Mueller Report suggests? Why did Manafort meet with him in 2016?

Based on what Kostya told me, Manafort met him to discuss getting old bills paid and probably had designs on future work with the Ukrainians when the Trump campaign was over. Whatever polling insights he shared were likely intended to convey that Trump had a chance of winning and, for that reason, Manafort should be taken seriously—and paid. This made sense to me but was at odds with the prevailing media narrative. Still, I had to wonder: Was I played?

Watching my downfall from Moscow, Kostya sent me a note: “Who could have thought things would turn out this way? One day, the truth will come out, it always does.” As Kostya appealed to eternal truth, I remembered John Hay’s crediting the Russian officials as being those with whom “mendacity is a science” and Theodore Roosevelt, at the same time, expressing frustration with the Russians’ “stupendous mendacity” in a letter to British diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice while attesting, in the same sentence, to how much he liked them.

Yes, I have come to learn, Kostya did lie to me—or at least he was parsimonious with the truth. I credit Andrew Weissmann, deputy special counsel, and inter alia, his boss Robert Mueller with this discovery. In supporting their claim that Manafort lied to them about his dealings with Kostya, they reference a poll the two discussed doing for a Ukrainian political party in 2018—long after the point at which Kostya assured me Manafort was old news. And, by the same special counsel filing, it became clear that Kostya met with Manafort during the 2017 inauguration, even though he’d told me he didn’t want to run into Manafort during that visit.

So I sympathize with Roosevelt's frustrations with the Russians. Kostya is ethnically Ukrainian but also holds Russian citizenship, so the same principles apply. Still, one has to modulate one’s expectations based on whom one is dealing with, and to always ask the right questions. I never asked, “Kostya, did you go meet Manafort while I was at the inaugural ball with Lyovochkin?” or “Kostya, are you and Paul still trying to angle for more Ukrainian business?” This was, perhaps, because I assumed—incorrectly—that he wasn’t.

A better example of how to extract the truth would be this: After my five-hour grilling by the Senate panel on January 5, 2018, one of the investigators asked me to contact Kostya and call his attention to the invitation they’d sent him. “Tell him how nice we were to you,” the investigator said. So when I got home, I called him.

Have you also received a request to appear? I asked him. There was some obfuscation, but then he said, “Let me check my spam filter … oh, here it is.” OK, no outright lie, because I believe he was disinclined to lie to me. Then, after I gave him a brief rundown of how my grilling had gone, he added something that stuck in my head for many months. “Funny,” he said. “I received a message today from BuzzFeed asking about many of these same things.” It was funny indeed, because my production of documents to the Senate panel was supposed to have been confidential. So why would BuzzFeed be privy to them?

Months later, despite the new constraints on our communications, I asked Kostya if he could produce the communication he’d referenced on January 5 for me. “What communication? I don’t remember.” I pressed him and said I very damn well did remember. Shortly after that, he pinged me back and apologized: “Completely slipped my mind, here it is.”

To be fair, he’d probably had a lot on his mind in those intervening months, and one of many outreaches from an American reporter was likely less significant to him than it was to me. The point being, when I would press, he would tell me the truth, I believe. But to expect him to volunteer it would be silly. Looking back, there is no shortage of examples of my being a fool.

For Kostya, any assessment of who Ukrainians are is complicated. He told me more than once that Viktor Yanukovich, the former president who fled to Russia after the second Maidan uprising, was very much misunderstood and was not a traitor but a true Ukrainian patriot. “He put this country’s interests first; after all, why was his first foreign visit after being inaugurated to Brussels and not to Moscow?”

Each time Kostya brought up Yanukovich, I would change the subject. No matter how great the nostalgia among certain OB supporters was for their former hetman, I considered him to be yesterday’s news. Maybe Kostya considered Yanukovich’s election in 2010 to be his greatest professional achievement. I don’t know, because I had always hoped there would be greater and more redeeming accomplishments just over the horizon.

If Kostya were the linchpin between Manafort and the Kremlin that he has been alleged to be, why did so few of our pitches get funded? I can only conclude that it is either because the Kremlin’s reach is vastly overstated or that Kostya was precisely what I considered him to be—a man trying to make the most of his circumstances.

Born in an industrial armpit of Ukraine, he made his way first to Moscow and then, through IRI and later Manafort, to European capitals and Washington—a city that, now that he has been indicted, he is unlikely ever to see again.

His preoccupation with a peace deal to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is another factor I can only attribute to a man caught between two countries trying to do what he could to ensure that one didn’t destroy the other. According to disclosures coming again from the special counsel’s office to the judge tasked with determining whether Manafort had lied to our government, Kostya pestered the then-Trump campaign chair with whatever the latest iteration of a peace deal might have been in August 2016 which, reportedly, Manafort dismissed as being “nuts.” Manafort couldn’t care less, but Kostya did.

I may never know for sure whether Kostya was or is a Russian agent. “Having ties to Russian intelligence,” as US media generally describes him today, is a cop-out as far as I’m concerned. Russia’s secret police services have run that country for over 400 years, and President Putin rose through the ranks of the KGB. Just about every Russian who isn’t digging potatoes in Tver or drinking himself into oblivion in Magadan probably has some tie to intelligence services.

We had talked in the period between August 2016 and the time charges were brought against me a year later about the allegations made against him, and Kostya said more than once it was simply a reflection of how little the people making them actually knew about Russian intelligence services. Yes, he’d gone to a Soviet military language school, but it took a good deal more than that to be a KGB/FSB officer, he would explain. Was he? Was he operating as a Russian agent the whole time I knew him?

In late February of this year, The New York Times ran a lead article in the Sunday edition questioning whether Kostya was just a hustling political operative or a Russian intelligence agent. The piece references Kostya’s early exposure to “brash young Americans” such as my IRI predecessor and former Manafort aide Phil Griffin, Roger Stone henchman Michael Caputo, and myself.

It does not draw any conclusions but rather lays out what the authors came across in the course of their reporting. Its new news was that Kostya was a source for the State Department, an interesting twist to Mueller’s FBI-based conclusion that he was tied to Russian intelligence.

That article’s final quote has Caputo asking whether the various American officials Kostya regularly met have themselves been subjected to the same kind of scrutiny we have been, suggesting not so subtly that the authors themselves agreed that there was a double standard.

I would be well within my rights to say that Kostya had become a very expensive friend, and my wife would probably tear him to pieces if she had the chance. Still, I resist the obvious pressure to pile on, perhaps foolishly. I still see him as more hustler than spook.

My wife has put up with a lot from me throughout this episode, so when she asked me not to communicate with Kostya anymore, I agreed. I wrote to him in Moscow in April, where I presume he still resides given that the US indictment would make his travel anywhere else difficult, and told him he wouldn’t be hearing from me anymore.

“We both became prisoners of war in this shit show, and we know it,” he said in response, adding that he understood my decision to sever contact but that he hoped it would not be forever.

Now, I just feel as though, in addition to everything else, I lost a friend.


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