Just two days after pleading guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent and acting as a straw purchaser of presidential inauguration tickets for a Ukrainian oligarch, American lobbyist Sam Patten sent a pair of angry Facebook messages to Georgia’s former economy minister on Facebook messenger.
“Call of [sic] your trolls now or I’ll start releasing things about Misha he’d prefer I didn’t,” Patten wrote to George Arveladze, the Georgian former minister and parliamentarian, who had also served as chief of staff to then-Georgian President Mikheil “Misha” Saakashvili.
“Like now,” Patten continued, “and have them go back and erase their comments.”
More than three hours later, having not heard back from Arveladze, Patten wrote to him again.
“Misha knows what I’m talking about but frankly I have bigger problems these days, maybe you two are no longer as tight as you used to be.”
It was a surprising move from the lobbyist, whose undeclared work for a pro-Russian oligarch in Ukraine earned him the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Mueller eventually handed Patten’s case off to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., but as part of his plea deal, Patten pledged his cooperation on Mueller’s probe. Patten and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort share a number of associates — including Konstantin Kilimnik, who, like Manafort, is charged with witness tampering — and Patten could be a valuable witness for the Mueller team.
In a further sign that the special counsel’s office is watching Patten closely, lawyers for Mueller’s team attended Patten’s appearance in court last Friday. A jury questionnaire released Wednesday for Manafort’s upcoming trial in Washington, D.C. asks potential jurors if they have any connection to Patten, Kilimnik or the company they founded together, Begemot Ventures International — part of a long list of individuals and organizations “whose names may come up in connection with this case.”
But Patten also worked as a political operative in Georgia. After working briefly with Saakashvili’s party in 2008, he worked on the parliamentary campaign of Saakashvili’s rivals in 2012. In that election, Patten’s clients succeeded in winning a parliamentary majority, transferring power from Saakashvili’s United National Movement to the Georgian Dream alliance, backed by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Arveladze, the former economy minister and adviser to Saakashvili, told TPM he had no idea what Patten was threatening to release about his former boss, and it is unclear why Patten reached out to Arveladze on Sunday. One possibility suggested by allies of Saakashvili is that, earlier that day, Saakashvili had published a Facebook post commenting on Patten’s guilty plea, drawing the collective attention of the million-plus people who follow the former president’s account to Patten’s case — and undoubtedly drawing out some trolls unhappy with Patten’s past political work in Georgia.
Arveladze told TPM over the phone Wednesday that he and Saakashvili were in contact just a few minutes after Patten’s second Facebook message on Sunday. Saakashvili was preparing for a CNN interview, Arveladze said, and wanted to refresh his memory on Patten, who had pleaded guilty on Friday.
“Misha called me and said, ‘In five minutes I have an interview on CNN, remind me of some things about this guy,’” Arveladze told TPM.
“So I told him, look, this is what I just got from him, and of course I sent the screenshot.”
Within minutes, Saakashvili was reading the messages from Patten to Arveladze live on CNN. CNN anchor Ana Cabrera did the equivalent of a double take: “Samuel Patten is writing to your former chief of staff?” she asked. Both Arveladze and Saakashvili have since claimed the messages were an attempt at “blackmail.” Saakashvili posted the messages on his Facebook page the same day. (Arveladze provided TPM with his past exchanges with Patten on Facebook in order to corroborate that it was Patten’s real Facebook account — though the account was deleted shortly after Saakashvili’s CNN appearance.)
Last weekend, Saakashvili was in the United States following the death of Sen. John McCain, who received quite a bit of attention for his support of Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia. “Today, we are all Georgians,” McCain famously said during his presidential campaign that year.
TPM heard about Patten’s messages to Arveladze from Christina Pushaw, who identified herself in an email as Saakashvili’s representative in the U.S. In a phone interview, she said she’d forwarded Patten’s messages to the FBI and Department of Justice, and later provided screenshots of her call logs to TPM.
The special counsel’s office directed TPM to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., a spokesperson for which declined to comment. Patten’s lawyer, Stuart A. Sears, did not respond to emails and voicemails from TPM requesting comment.
Patten’s Sunday messages to Arveladze were first noted by the law professor Jonathan Turley, who followed Saakashvili as a guest on CNN that day and was taken aback by the messages he read on-air.
In a subsequent post on his blog, Turley published the same screenshots that Pushaw would later supply TPM, and argued the messages, if legitimate, could spell trouble for Patten. Turley noted the parallels to Paul Manafort, who’s now facing additional charges for alleged witness tampering, and said Patten’s messages to Saakashvili’s former chief of staff could be interpreted as potential witness tampering themselves.
“Manafort was a certifiable moron to reach out to potential witnesses while on house arrest — and most certainly under surveillance by the FBI,” Turley wrote. “If the allegations are true, Patten would rival the level of recklessness in the alleged text to the chief of state of Saakashvili.”