World

U.S. lobbyist admits to foreign donation scheme tied to Trump inauguration

A business associate of a key figure in the investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party.

Sam Patten's case was referred by U.S. special counsel investigating Russian election interference

Sam Patten leaves the Federal Court in Washington on Friday, shortly after prosecutors released a four-page charging document that accused him of performing lobbying and consulting work in the United States and Ukraine but failing to register as a foreign agent as required by the Justice Department. (Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

A business associate of a key figure in the investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party.

Sam Patten entered his plea in Federal Court in Washington shortly after prosecutors released a charging document that accused him of performing lobbying and consulting work in the United States but failing to register as a foreign agent as required by the Justice Department.

Court papers also accuse him of lying to the Senate intelligence committee during its investigation into Russian election interference and of participating in a scheme to circumvent the ban on foreign donations to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee by lining up a straw purchaser to pay $50,000 US for four tickets to the inauguration.

The Patten case was referred by special counsel Robert Mueller's team to the United States Attorney's Office in Washington, said Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the office. Andrew Weissmann, one of the lead Mueller team attorneys in the Manafort prosecution, was seen at court Friday ahead of Patten's appearance

Patten was a business associate of Konstantin Kilimnik, a man U.S. authorities have said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Kilimnik worked closely with Manafort, who was found guilty this month in Virginia on eight criminal charges, including five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to report foreign bank accounts. Kilimnik also is a co-defendant in a pending case against Manafort in Washington, brought by Mueller's team, that accuses them both of witness tampering.

Court papers don't refer to Kilimnik by name, but say Patten worked with a Russian national on lobbying and political consulting services.

Sentencing guidelines unclear

Prosecutors say Patten, who formed a consulting company with a person identified only as "Foreigner A," worked to set up meetings with members of Congress and also drafted talking points for Capitol Hill meetings. They say Patten was working on behalf of a wealthy Ukrainian, who was a member of the Ukrainian political party known as the Opposition Bloc. The businessman is not named and referred to only as "Foreigner B."

The goal, prosecutors say, was to influence U.S. policy, but they say Patten never filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act or disclosed that he was representing the foreign businessman and the Opposition Bloc. The law is aimed at promoting transparency about lobbying efforts in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Patten that she couldn't provide any estimate of his potential sentence because U.S. sentencing guidelines don't have a section for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutions of the offence are rare, but in recent years the Justice Department's national security division has taken a tougher stance on enforcement of the law.

Patten's plea agreement requires him to co-operate with the government. He was released on his own recognizance Friday without a sentencing date.

Patten served in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. He has previously told reporters of his work in 2014 with SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica's parent company. Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting data from millions of Facebook users for targeted efforts to sway U.S. voters in the most recent election.

Berman Jackson is also scheduled to preside over Manafort's trial in September.

With files from CBC News

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