BANGOR, Maine — The Mainer ensnared in the Russia probe wants to build a cabin here. His wife, a former covert CIA operative, wants to start an art gallery. But for now, they’re staying in “the swamp” as he quibbles with the Senate’s handling of his case and writes a memoir.
Sam Patten, 48, is a bit player in the orbit of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation: His August 2018 guilty plea for a lobbying violation came after he admitted to helping a pro-Russian politician from Ukraine get tickets to President Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration, but Patten’s lawyer said in a court filing that his client “openly opposed” the Republican president’s election.
Patten, who was born and lives in Washington, D.C., but was raised mostly in Camden, considers Maine home and has worked for its last three Republican senators. He called the Bangor Daily News switchboard earlier this month to arrange an interview with the editorial board that happened by chance a day before Mueller testified to a House committee. A BDN reporter sat in for the interview.
Patten is trying to move on — which could eventually bring him back to Maine. He said he sympathizes with Trump a bit more after his investigation, that his main conclusion from the probe is little more than that Russia “dangled disinformation” before two campaigns and that Americans should be “wary of politically charged narratives on either side.”
“This is going to sound weird,” Patten said. “I think that Trump is good for America in the sense that he forces people to get involved in politics in a way that they weren’t before.”
That message of engagement may be an odd one to hear from a convicted political operative from a patrician family. Upon her 2004 death, the Los Angeles Times called his grandmother, the socialite Susan Mary Alsop, “the grand dame of Washington society.” Patten’s father ran the Camden Herald, and Sam Patten worked there as a reporter for a year after leaving college.
Patten was Susan Collins’ press secretary during her unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial run and finance director on her winning 1996 Senate campaign. He worked in Portland as a coordinator for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000.
While working in Moscow the next year for a democracy-building group, he met Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian who prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence — which Patten doubts — and was charged by Mueller alongside Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager sentenced to prison last year for financial crimes. Patten’s association with Kilimnik made him of interest to Mueller.
Patten worked on the first post-invasion elections in Iraq in 2005, where a character witness told a federal court that Patten “risked his life” and Patten’s lawyer said his client developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He was also an ally of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in 2015.
But Patten also worked in parallel with Manafort alongside pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians. That work led to his prosecution for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a little-enforced law that requires Americans to register when working for foreign powers.
Federal prosecutors say he and Kilimnik founded a consulting company in 2014. Patten wrote op-eds for his Ukrainian clients and tried to set up meetings with members of Congress. The two were paid more than $1 million between 2015 and 2017 by the Ukrainians, prosecutors say. Patten has admitted to failing to register and he was sentenced to three years of probation.
This consulting work included Patten’s activities before Trump’s inauguration, to which Ukrainian parliament member Serhiy Lyovochkin asked him to get four tickets despite a ban on foreign donations to the inaugural committee. Patten got a U.S. citizen to buy the tickets, reimbursing that person with money routed to Patten’s company by Lyovochkin.
Patten’s case was spun off from the Mueller probe after a referral to the U.S. attorney in Washington. His trouble started after voluntary participation with the Senate’s parallel Russia investigation. He gave 1,300 pages of documents to the intelligence committee in October 2017, but prosecutors said he withheld some and gave false testimony in January 2018.
Patten was contrite about his crime on Tuesday. He got defensive when asked how he arranged the ticket purchase, saying “I’m not going to go there” and prosecutors know who helped him. Recently, he has gone public with concerns about the Senate’s handling of the case.
In June, he sent a letter to intelligence committee members saying panel investigators asked him about registration issues despite a promise not to and that a staffer later convicted of lying to the FBI may have leaked his documents to the media.
A committee spokesperson has said the panel didn’t learn of his association with Kilimnik from the documents he provided and media reports and court filings suggest some had already been shared with others. Collins, a member of the panel, said in a statement that the investigation has been “fair, in-depth, and thorough.”
Patten said his work has dried up since the prosecution. He said he and his wife, Laura, who has most recently worked in risk management in the art market for the professional services giant Deloitte, have gone through “a big strain” while “living under surveillance and scrutiny.”
They have talked about moving to Maine or Laura’s native Minnesota, but they’re staying in Washington for now as he writes a memoir about his time in international politics. He said that many haven’t learned the lesson of why Trump won on a slogan of “drain the swamp.”
Patten’s industry is “part of the problem,” he said. He was citing operatives who pushed partisan narratives about the Russia investigation, though his legal trouble came while arranging what was ostensibly access to the president.
“I think we need to look at why people hate the swamp that much,” Patten said.