Richard Grenell, the incompetent buffoon and erstwhile Twitter Troll who Donald Trump selected this week to oversee our entire National Intelligence apparatus worked as a paid consultant for a corrupt Moldovan oligarch, and authored multiple articles defending that oligarch or placing him in a more favorable light, which articles were carefully placed in mainstream right-wing media outlets. According to reporting by ProPublica, he did this without telling anyone about his work for that oligarch, in potential violation of a federal anti-corruption statute.
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.
For the record, FARA is the same statute that a certain federal prisoner named Paul Manafort was convicted of violating.
Grenell was also quoted in the Houston Chronicle as criticizing a resolution proposed by Republican Congressman, Randy Weber, accusing the same oligarch and his allies of corruption. Ultimately, Mr. Plahotnuic was banned from entering the U.S. for his “involvement in significant corruption.” Formerly Moldova’s richest oligarch, he is now a fugitive. According to this article in the Observer, Plahotniuc is also Moldova’s leading human trafficker.
ProPublica determined from its sources that Grenell’s public affairs consulting firm, Capitol Media Partners, worked for a former (now-deceased) Republican political consultant named Art Finklestein as a media consultant for clients in Eastern Europe, including Plahotniuc. The ProPublica article also explains how the positions taken by Grenell in his op-ed pieces aligned with Plahotniuc’s interests.
Just take a deep breath and chew on that for a moment. Now consider this: this person, Mr. Richard Grenell, is now being made privy to our most classified intelligence secrets—the kind of super-secret intelligence that goes into the President’s Daily Brief, for his eyes and the eyes of a few select Cabinet members only.
Stuff like “Bin Laden determined to attack U.S.” That kind of stuff.
As Isaac Arnsdorf, writing for ProPublica, notes, it’s not clear whether Grenell’s pro-Moldovan oligarch articles were actually part of his paid consulting work—but that doesn’t necessarily matter in terms of disclosure:
“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.
The reason such disclosure is necessary is that it could leave Grenell open to blackmail. According to Sanderson, “This is exactly the type of circumstances I’d expect the Department of Justice to investigate further.”
Of course, maybe Grenell just decided to write his paeans to this corrupt oligarch out of the goodness of his heart. That’s basically what his lawyer said when asked by ProPublica for comment –that he wasn’t working for Plahotniuc or any foreign government, but that he was “advocating the ideal of a pro-western political party that was emerging.” And to be fair, I know when the creative muse moves my prose I lean towards singling out corrupt oligarchs to defend in my work.
Arnsdorf points out that the established policy from the same federal office that Donald Trump has dropped Grenell into would require disclosure of this type of prior contact, just to get a security clearance, let alone be placed in charge of filtering state intelligence secrets and recommendations to make them more palatable for Donald Trump’s re-election.
“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.”
In fact, McClanahan says it’s not even clear how Grenell could get a clearance as ambassador to Germany, his former reward for his support of Donald Trump.
The irony is particularly rich here. Trump’s rationale for removing former Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, was removed because a colleague from DNI briefed House Intelligence Committee members last week about Russian plans to infiltrate and interfere with the 2020 election on behalf of Donald Trump. He appointed Grenell who, although totally unfit for the job, could be counted on to bury such inconvenient intelligence and keep the public from learning about it.
But here is the first paragraph of one of the articles Grenell wrote, defending his oligarch friend (and apparent human trafficker) Plahotniuc:
Political insiders in Washington, D.C., have a long history of getting duped by foreigners pushing propaganda. The political agendas of these international players can range from largely innocent parochial issues to calls for U.S. military action to stop an injustice. Or in the case of Russian propagandists, to sway a national election that few people in the West are watching.
Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that captured and killed Osama Bin Laden, has written an op-ed in today’s Washington Post decrying Trump’s removal of Maguire, who himself served as a SEAL for 36 years, rising to the rank of rear admiral and Acting Director of National Intelligence before Trump sacked him in favor of Grenell. The final paragraph in McRaven’s impassioned piece should be etched in stone and placed on the White House lawn.
As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.
No truer words have ever been written.