Liberal mega-donor George Soros made some big bets during the last U.S. presidential election. One was that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. Another was that he could reshape Ukraine’s government to his liking, and that his business empire might find fertile ground in that former Soviet state.
So when Donald Trump’s improbable march to the White House picked up steam in the spring of 2016, Team Soros marched to the top of the State Department to protect some of those investments, according to newly released department memos providing a rare glimpse into the Democratic donor’s extraordinary access to the Obama administration.
On May 25, 2016, for example, Chris Canavan of the Soros Fund Management firm provided Nuland a written briefing under the heading “Russia sovereign bond issue.” At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime posed a threat to Soros’s vision for Ukraine.
“Toria, here is my take on Russia’s foray into the bond markets this week, based on the market chatter I’ve been able to pick up,” Canavan wrote in an email, released with heavy redactions hiding most of his advice to Nuland.
Canavan worked on the for-profit side of the Soros empire, and his cozy nickname relationship with the top State official responsible for Russia and Ukraine policy speaks volumes about the access Soros was afforded.
Six days later, the nonprofit side of the Soros empire rang the same doorbell. Soros and his top foundation official in Ukraine scored a hastily arranged call with Nuland to discuss European migration policy.
“Many thanks for sorting today’s call on such short notice — much appreciated,” a Soros official wrote Nuland’s aide. “During the call, Mr. Soros promised A/S Nuland he would send her his draft article on migration policy for the New York Review of Books.”
Few people in the world could command the attention of one of America’s busiest, most influential diplomats for a pre-publication read of a column. Soros apparently was one of those few.
A little over a week later, Soros’s team reached out again to Nuland, this time seeking to discuss “EU visa liberalization for Ukraine and Georgia” after meeting in Brussels with a top European Union official. According to the emails to State, Soros’s team wanted the U.S. to intervene to get the EU to ease visa rules to help Ukraine, as that country pursued reforms advocated by Soros.
Nuland wrote back, alerting Soros’s top policy adviser on Eurasia, Jeff Goldstein, to a key piece of intelligence: One EU country “has changed its mind” and she was “happy to discuss this further.”
“We are working it. Not sure whether intervention by GS would help,” Nuland answered in response to Soros’s pressure.
Soros is arguably one of the largest, most influential donors of his generation, giving away as much as $1 billion a year to nonprofit and political causes and leaving an indelible imprint on policy positions of liberals worldwide. His reach and influence range from two dozen prosecutors he helped to elect in the United States, to fellows he helped train at the State Department, to global media institutions that he supports to the tune of $26 million annually.
His many admirers in America — including such financial beneficiaries as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, as well as many of the 2020 presidential candidates — all advocate to eliminate the corrupting influence of big political money and the access that big donors win inside government. Often, those liberals suggest it’s a Republican problem.
But the 2016 State memos offer a powerful irony: In many ways, Soros is emblematic of the very financial influence and access that liberals seek to eliminate.
People close to Soros told me in interviews that he often had contact with government officials during the Obama years, including a 2010 meeting with Clinton at State. But they acknowledged the flurry with Nuland in spring 2016 was unusual both for its frequency and its intensity.
They said the exchanges were driven by Soros’s concerns about Ukraine’s future, not politics or business.
“George Soros is the founder of an organization that gives away a billion dollars a year to promote democracy and human rights around the world. It is for that reason that people at the State Department speak to him, not because he is a political donor,” top Soros aide Michael Vachon told me.
But a close examination of internal Soros organization documents show a close alignment of his political, business and philanthropic interests, especially in 2016.
Federal election records show Soros was one of the top 10 donors to Clinton’s 2016 election effort, giving a whopping $10.6 million to her campaign and the super PACs supporting it.
And when Soros sought to build U.S. pressure on Ukraine policy in 2016, he turned to Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, as a prelude to Nuland.
“Both the migration crisis and Ukraine are part of his view of Europe as falling apart, and the U.S. as ultimately not doing enough to prevent the political disintegration of its most important ally,” Vachon wrote Podesta in a March 2016 email that U.S. officials say was hacked by Russia and published by WikiLeaks. That email sought a meeting with the Clinton campaign chairman.
Politics and policy intertwined.
Likewise, Soros set out a bold vision in an internal 2014 memo for his Open Society Foundation to help root out corruption in Ukraine and build a “civil society” after the Maidan Revolution ousted the country’s Russia-friendly president. It worked with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials to leverage the so-called Kleptocracy Initiative to fight corruption. The initiative enabled DOJ to prosecute or seek asset forfeitures from foreigners suspected of corruption, even if the crimes didn’t technically occur on U.S. soil.
Such initiatives are noble in principle. But in Ukraine, some targets had political and business implications as well.
For example, one DOJ investigation in 2014 targeted Ukrainian oligarch Dmitri Firtash. He and Soros both have significant energy interests in Europe — and rival plans to rebuild Ukraine. After Firtash’s indictment, Soros’s business announced plans to invest $1 billion in Ukraine.
Since then, significant problems have arisen with the DOJ’s case, thwarting efforts to extradite Firtash to the U.S. for trial.
Arguably, philanthropy and business collided.
On another front, a Ukrainian nonprofit funded in part by Soros was a cheerleader for the discovery of documents in Ukraine during the 2016 election that showed then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort received millions in payments from Ukraine’s Russia-friendly political machine. The revelations led to Manafort’s resignation and eventual prosecution.
This time, philanthropy and politics found common ground for the Clinton-backing Soros.
And when Ukraine’s general prosecutor sought to investigate one of the country’s nonprofits partially funded by Soros during 2016, the State Department pressured Ukrainian officials to drop the case.
Politics, philanthropy and governance were all intertwined.
Whatever political persuasion you hold, Soros’s election-year contacts at State speak volumes about the fact that big-money access to those in power is a bipartisan phenomenon.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.