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.
It’s not clear whether the articles were directly part of Grenell’s paid consulting work for Plahotniuc. 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.
“There is real reason to believe that Mr. Grenell should have registered here,” Sanderson said after ProPublica described the circumstances to him. “This is exactly the type of circumstances I’d expect the Department of Justice to investigate further.”
Undisclosed work for a foreign politician would ordinarily pose a problem for anyone applying for a security clearance or a job in a U.S. intelligence agency because it could make the person susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail, according to the official policy from the office that Trump tapped Grenell to lead.
“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.”
McClanahan said it’s unclear how Grenell could have already gotten a clearance as an ambassador. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Trump administration has overruled career officials in granting security clearances to political appointees.
As Trump’s pick for acting director of national intelligence, Grenell will have access to the country’s most sensitive secrets. Grenell isn’t subject to Senate confirmation because Trump appointed him on a temporary basis.
According to a person familiar with the relationship, Grenell worked for Finkelstein as a media consultant for clients in Eastern Europe. That person and another individual said the client in Moldova was Plahotniuc, the country’s richest man and then a top official in its ruling political party.
In August 2016, Grenell published op-eds in the right-leaning Washington Examiner and Washington Times defending Plahotniuc and attacking his enemies as serving Russian interests. Plahotniuc and his allies at the time were fending off suspicions of their involvement in a $1 billion bank fraud in Moldova. “Blaming the ruling party and its leadership has its political benefits for Russia,” Grenell wrote in the Examiner article. “Plahotniuc has been around Moldovan politics, business and civic life for decades and has turned out to be an easy target.”
This narrative aligned with Plahotniuc’s efforts to present himself as pro-Western in Washington and European capitals, according to lobbying disclosure records. “Certainly there was an effort by him to engage U.S. officials at the time, that despite all this corruption he was the guy most likely to keep Russia at bay and therefore you should accept him,” said Jonathan Katz, who oversaw U.S. aid programs for Moldova at the time. “It didn’t match anything he was doing internally in the country,” Katz said, because Plahotniuc didn’t advance U.S. interests such as promoting democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Plahotniuc lost power in 2019 and fled Moldova. His current whereabouts are unknown. Last month, the State Department endorsed the corruption allegations against him, banning him and his family from entering the U.S.
“In his official capacity, Plahotniuc was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova,” the State Department said in its announcement. “Today’s action sends a strong signal the United States does not tolerate corruption and stands with the people of Moldova in their fight against it.”
https://www.propublica.org/article/trum ... corruption
So, while Grenell may have no experience of security and intelligence from the government side, he has worked for the kind of people they target. Maybe Trump can get away with this by calling it "poacher turned gamekeeper"? Next step: Michael Milken to head the Treasury?