Why Did Susan Collins’s Husband Set Up Pro Bono Lobbying in Such a Remote Place?

Susan Collins, Thomas Daffron, Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church

A Hoax Vote?

Donald Trump is awfully fond of calling things a “hoax.” From labeling climate change a “hoax” concocted by the Chinese to telling reporters that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s wrenching testimony was a Democratic “hoax,” all sans evidence, nothing  that happens is real unless el Presidente says so, capisce?

But if a hoax was perpetrated at all in the past few weeks, it was likely the performance of Trump’s fellow Republican Susan Collins, Senator from Maine. She wasted the whole country’s precious time pretending to seriously consider Dr. Ford’s testimony and weigh the merits of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. She did this seemingly to gin up accolades in the media about her supposed centrist bona fides. She was likely also accruing various forms of kickbacks from her colleagues, as she realized that her vote had become the linchpin to whether or not Kavanaugh was seated, and she exploited it for everything it was worth.

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Collins is one of the more centrist Senators, in terms of how the Senate lines up with or against Trump’s policies. Collins votes with the president’s policy preference 80% of the time, which is one of the lowest numbers among Republican Senators. But her opposition consisted mostly of protecting the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights. She was also among those who opposed Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos. Otherwise, she talks a big game, but when the final tally is counted, she clicks her heels and salutes.

Looking back on the whole weeklong will-she?/won’t-she? drama, it seems absurd that there was actual suspense about how she was going to vote. George W. Bush, who cultivated both Collins’s and Kavanaugh’s careers, made several calls lobbying Collins on Kavanaugh’s behalf. Appeals to fealty to the Bush clan apparently worked. Collins was all too willing in the end to throw a sexual assault survivor under the bus, gaslighting her that she must have been confused about who had attacked her. Collins also explained her lockstep with the far right by acting dumb about what Kavanaugh is going to do on the Supreme Court, saying,

“My fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored, …”

That is the opposite of what Kavanaugh will do on the Court and Collins knows that.

As I demonstrated last week in my analysis of Lindsey Graham’s motivations for becoming a rabid Kavanaugh defender and Trump mouthpiece, it seems that those Republicans with Russia connections were the most determined to make sure Kavanaugh gets on the court, likely in the hope that he will act as the judicial getaway driver once Robert Mueller’s report drops.

Related story: This is How the Russians Got to Lindsey Graham

Old Believers and New Believers?

Apart from loyalty to Bush, was there another reason that Collins was already locked in to supporting Kavanaugh? Is Collins linked into Russian influence? Her donor profile shows that she’s quite cozy with General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and financial firms. One of those includes Elliott Management, which has a Cayman Islands operation, which puts her downstream from the global money laundering apparatus. But there’s no blatant Russia link like Graham has.

Let’s look at her husband, Thomas Daffron.

Collins and Daffron married in 2012. The two first met in 1974, when she was an intern. Both worked for Senator William Cohen. Daffron has worked for several members of Congress over the years. He left Capitol Hill and moved down the street to become the Chief Operating Officer of Jefferson Consulting Group, LLC, a powerful lobbying group with a large and diverse portfolio. According to Bloomberg, “Mr. Daffron oversaw Jefferson Consulting Group’s administrative and financial functions as well as the day-to-day operations of the firm.”

Daffron was Senator Fred Thompson’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1998. Prior to becoming a Senator, Thompson had been a lobbyist with Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kah. According to a 2007 report by the Sunlight Foundation, Thompson was lobbying on behalf of Haiti in the early 1990s despite not having properly filed paperwork under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Americans lobbying on behalf of foreign governments without proper FARA registration has been a big part of the Trump-Russia criminal saga. Remember, Mike Flynn, who was patient zero of the FBI’s collusion probe, first got into hot water for failing to register as a lobbyist on behalf of the Turkish government.

What did Daffron learn from Thompson?

Shortly after Daffron took the helm of Jefferson Consulting, the lobbying group did lobbying work for the town of Kenai, Alaska. I looked through lobbying records and saw a lot of typical work for typical business clients. But this stood out. Daffron had previously done lobbying work for Native American tribes (likely in relation to casino and gaming issues) while he was the executive vice president at Chesapeake Enterprises from 2001 to 2004. But Kenai, Alaska was, as of 2009, the only instance of Daffron or the lobbying group he worked for, lobbying on behalf of an individual town.

When you look at Kenai’s lobbying portfolio, the town’s retaining Jefferson Consulting in 2009 is the only instance of it ever retaining a lobbyist. And the work was done pro bono. This is especially weird because Jefferson Consulting strictly handles federal lobbying. Why would a town of 7,000 people that isn’t a sovereign Native tribe, need to lobby the federal government, as opposed to the state government?

Why did a powerful lobbying group under the direction of Daffron work on behalf of a small town on a peninsula in a remote area of Alaska–for free?

On the surface, there isn’t much special about Kenai. The area is famous for salmon-fishing. Employers in the area currently hiring include UPS, Home Depot, a movie theater. Hardly the type of economy that retains powerful lobbyists.

However, there is one thing that is–unique–about Kenai. The first European settlement at the site was named Fort Nikolaevskaia. It was established by Russian fur traders in 1786. In 1895, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church was built, and it’s still there today, with its Russian-style onion dome. Today, the fort is gone, and the town of Kenai sits atop the site of where it once stood, surrounding the Russian Orthodox church.

But even more remote than the town, at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, is a small settlement called Nikolaevskaia, and it is populated almost entirely by a community of “Old Believers,” members of a sect of Russians who fled Russia in 1666 to escape religious persecution when the Russian state sought to reform the Russian Orthodox Church. The people who live in the settlement are devout puritans of pre-reformed Russian Orthodox.

Now, I don’t want to point fingers at this settlement of fewer than 400 mostly simple people who happen to be the descendants of Russian refugees. The community is very estranged from Russia. However, if you were going to send a discreet message or launder money internationally, you could do worse than a town in a super-remote area where the population speaks Russian, a Russian operative could easily blend in and communicate under the radar of US intelligence. A town where there’s a barely-patrolled port and where Russian-speaking Americans on fishing boats practically bump into Russian fishing boats in mutually fished waters would be an easy place to move someone or something internationally.

After all, there had to have been some sort of cost. A high-powered DC lobbying firm doesn’t actually do lobbying for free. So what was the payment? And why did Susan Collins marry the man she’d known most of her life in 2012, the year when Trump first attempted to run for president?

There are more questions here than answers. But one thing is certain. When you start digging into the personal network of a Republican power-broker, you invariably find a first-degree link to the global money-laundering apparatus. And Russian influence is usually somewhere in the background of the network.

Special thanks to Eric Garland for suggesting this line of inquiry.

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Featured image via Susan Collins / Twitter and Wikimedia Commons

This is How the Russians Got to Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham is on a rampage. A Grahampage?

The senior Republican Senator from South Carolina has swiftly transformed from Robin to the Batman of the late John “conscience of the Senate” McCain into a barking mad defender of Donald Trump’s policy goals. His slide from Trump critic to Trump lackey has been happening quietly for a while. Graham, who once called Trump a “jackass,” has become one of his closest foreign policy advisers. As rumors of war with North Korea began rumbling before the June opening to the Hermit Kingdom, Graham was one of the most hawkish confidants whispering in Trump’s ear, according to Bob Woodward.

But the weird Trump-Graham bromance goes beyond foreign policy. The rumble in the Senate over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has made it unmistakable.

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During the September 27th Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to gather testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, Graham went berserk in defending Trump’s nominee and attacking Democratic colleagues.

Then, on October 2nd, Graham really went nuclear, threatening a yawning breach of democratic norms if Kavanaugh’s nomination fails:

“I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court very soon,” Graham said. “However, if his nomination were to fall short, I would encourage President Trump to re-nominate Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It would — in effect — be appealing the Senate’s verdict directly to the American people.”

Of course, Graham knows that Republicans have a good shot of keeping the Senate, despite a forecast “blue wave” in the House, just because of how daunting the Senate map is for Democrats. Forcing the issue again right before the election would electrify the race and likely get more Republicans to come to the polls. So it’s disingenuous to say that this would be putting it to the American people. Up until the Merrick Garland nomination, the norm has been that the American people decided how their representatives nominated judges in the previous election, not the next election.

This power play Graham suggests would be an unprecedented failure of the Constitution’s checks and balances–just so Trump can take another swing with his highly tainted nominee.

Graham’s behavior in the Senate hearings, and this “encouragement” to Trump to attack the Constitution and ramrod his deeply flawed judge through point to the possibility that Graham is not merely an adviser to the White House. He’s acting as Trump’s mouthpiece in the Senate. Both his and Kavanaugh’s angry tones were positively Trumpian. They seemed to be emulating the president in his viciousness of style, tone and substance. And this suggestion to renominate Kavanaugh sounds like something that Trump cooked up. Did Graham offer to put his name on it before floating it as a trial balloon to give Trump cover?

Clearly, Graham is in Trump’s pocket. So how did he get there?

Some have suggested that Russia has kompromat on Graham. I don’t deny that’s possible. But there is information in the public record that shows a blatant financial conduit from the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs to Graham’s coffers.

The single largest donor to Lindsey Graham’s doomed 2016 presidential run was Access Industries. The company paid $800,000 to Graham’s “Security is Strength” PAC and $32,000 to Graham’s campaign. Most of the other donors were conservative groups, banks, hedge funds, and defense contractors, all typical fare. But Access Industries was unique, and it was his number one supporter.

Access Industries is a multinational conglomerate focused on “natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, technology and e-commerce, and real estate sectors worldwide,” according to Bloomberg. It is privately owned by its founder, Leonard “Len” Blavatnik, who was born a Russian citizen in Soviet Ukraine. He lives in London and his company is based in New York City. According to Forbes, he is worth $17.8 billion, making him the third richest person in the UK and the 27th richest person in the world.

Blavatnik is deeply tied to the Russian oligarchy and top-level power structure in at least two ways that connect to the story of how Russia helped Trump become president.

In 2013, Blavatnik made $7 billion selling his share in Russian-UK joint petroleum company, TNK-BP. The buyer was Rosneft. That was after Russia, under the Vladimir Putin regime, nationalized Rosneft, making it a Russian state-owned asset. When the purchase was completed, Putin essentially became the wealthiest and most powerful oil baron in the world.

So, Blavatnik made Putin super-powerful, Putin paid Blavatnik a cool 7 billion, and Blavatnik paid Lindsey Graham $832,000 while he ran for president against Trump. Were they covering all their bases by funding multiple candidates? Or was Graham merely a foil? Meant to crowd out the field to give Trump breathing room and then bow out once Trump took off? Was the enmity between Trump and Graham during the election all an act?

The second connection is through Blavatnik’s media holdings. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Blavatnik and his fellow billionaire friend Viktor Vekselberg formed an investment group called Renova. Renova then joined with Alfa Group to form a conglomerate called AAR Ventures.

Alfa Group is a holding company privately owned by Russian and Israeli billionaire, Mikhail Fridman. Christopher Steele’s infamous MI6 dossier on Trump featured Fridman prominently. In 2017, Fortune argued that the dossier was believable because,

“The dossier paints a picture of a long-standing symbiotic relationship between Alfa Group and the Russian leader. More recently, the dossier claims, Alfa owners Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven have provided Putin with valuable information through their own network of business contacts in the U.S., valued particularly because of the conflicting signals Putin was getting from his diplomats and spies regarding the success of the alleged operation.”

Fridman’s “business contacts in the U.S.” could include Blavatnik, since Access Industries is based in New York.

In 2016, Slate reported on how investigators looked through Trump’s internet servers to find evidence that he had been hacked by Russia. Instead they found an odd electronic relationship. One server set up by Trump in 2009 would only allow communications from a small number of other servers.

“The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank [owned by Alfa Group].”

So Blavatnik’s support for Graham is a potential conduit of influence that would tie Graham to a Russian Trump-supporter who was possibly carrying on discussions with Trump that were meant to be secret.

Fridman also owns a controlling share of VimpelCom. That Russian telecommunications company has large-scale operations in Ukraine. It was in rapid decline when fighting broke out between Ukraine and Russia. However, VimpelCom survived, because it was bailed out with a huge investment made in 2014 by Renaissance Technologies.

American billionaire Robert Mercer owns Renaissance Technologies. He also owns the company formerly known as Cambridge Analytica. That is the notorious data company that illicitly acquired Facebook data on millions of users and used it to manipulate both the UK’s Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Mercer is also an owner of Breitbart and suggested to Trump that he hire rabid white nationalist Stephen Bannon in the opening days of his presidency.

To recap, the largest donation that Graham received in 2016 was from Blavatnik, who connects him to the Kremlin. Blavatnik’s money connects him to a Russian oligarch who was apparently pinging Trump’s secret server. It also connects him to the Russian-UK-American illegal data analytics and social media propaganda operation that helped get Trump elected. Far from being a legitimate Trump critic, Graham has been one of the offshoots of this democracy-strangling vine of corrupt influence from the very beginning.

Graham’s ferocious defense of Kavanaugh needs to be viewed in this light. Trump nominated Kavanaugh originally because of Kavanaugh’s history as a partisan hatchet man, and his expansive view of a Republican president’s executive power. But it could be that Trump isn’t the only one who wants a Supreme Court vote in his pocket because he’s worried about what the Mueller investigation might find. Lindsey Graham might have something to hide, too.

It has been speculated that Graham is “angling” to be the next Attorney General of the United States if and when Trump fires Jeff Sessions. In August, Graham seemed to telegraph his blessing for Trump to replace Sessions. He said that any new attorney general would have to let “Mueller … finish his job without political interference.” If Trump moves toward replacing Sessions, we should be very skeptical that this is what Graham actually believes.

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Featured image via CNN YouTube screencapture