Charles C. Thompson II is a network news veteran, both as a founding producer of ABC's "20/20" and as Mike Wallace's producer at
CBS's "60 Minutes."
An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays' recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part examination of
Vice President Al Gore’s role in the disintegration of America’s
relationship with Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Part 1, yesterday, documented how Gore’s current campaign claim of being a “Russia expert” rests largely on his experience co-chairing a commission from 1993 to 1998 with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Although the commission’s intended function was assisting foreign business people and companies wanting to invest in Russia and bailing them out if they ran afoul of bureaucrats or gun-toting gangsters, Gore pointedly overlooked Chernomyrdin’s reputation in Russia for actually promoting corruption. In fact, E. Wayne Merry, a senior diplomat at the American embassy in Moscow from 1991-94, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “The commission became an instrument to advance the political career of the vice president.”
Today’s report reveals just how deep Al Gore’s roots go into pro-Russian soil, starting with his father, the late Sen. Albert Gore Sr.’s strong ties to Armand Hammer, and continuing with the blatantly pro-Russian No. 2 man in the Clinton-Gore State Department, Strobe Talbott, whose highly controversial past activities and relationships in the former Soviet Union have caused many to question just why he has been put in charge of America’s Russia policy.
Armand Hammer, a notorious influence peddler and collector of politicians of all stripes, in 1950 put Al Gore’s father, Albert Gore, Sr., a Democrat, on the payroll when the senior Gore was a U.S. representative from Tennessee. Hammer also set up Gore Sr. in the cattle-breeding business. FBI reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act detail specific chores assigned to Gore Sr. by Hammer.
As the Tennessee lawmaker gained national prominence and moved up to the Senate, the cattle business became very profitable, thus allowing the Gore family to live in luxury at Washington’s Fairfax Hotel. When Gore Sr. was defeated for re-election to the Senate in 1970, Hammer placed him on Occidental Petroleum’s board of directors and named him chairman of an Occidental subsidiary, Island Creek Coal Co. Occidental became the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal supplier for its electrical generation plants.
These posts brought the retired senator, who died in 1998, at least $500,000 per annum. Vice President Gore also benefited through his family’s association with Hammer. An Occidental Petroleum subsidiary, Occidental Minerals, negotiated a generous lease to mine zinc under Gore’s 88-acre farm in Carthage, Tenn., 25 years ago. The $20,000 annual lease amounted to $227 an acre — more than seven times the $30 per acre Occidental paid to other landowners.
Al Gore has received an estimated $450,000 from Occidental. He and his wife, Tipper, frequently attended Hammer’s lavish parties in Washington and Los Angeles and had the use of the tycoon’s customized Boeing 727 jet whenever they wanted.
In his capacity as “reinvent-the-government” czar, Gore made it possible for Occidental to buy up to 78 percent of the Elk Hills strategic petroleum reserve in 1998 for $3.65 billion, the largest privatization in U.S. history. Elk Hills, the huge oil field outside Bakersfield, Calif., and a similar rich reserve located in Teapot Dome, Wyo., were set aside for the Navy nearly a century ago.
A criminal investigation in 1923, which became known as “Teapot Dome,” brought disgrace on two members of President Warren G. Harding’s administration. These men had taken sizable bribes to lease the reserves to private concerns without competitive bids. One of these men, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, was convicted of accepting a bribe and was sentenced to prison. Historians considered this scandal to be the worst in U.S. history until Watergate came along a half century later.
Gore has recently been falsely claiming that he helped establish the strategic reserve program. He made the outlandish statement during the time he was persuading President Clinton to lease even more of the reserves to oil companies in order to offset the spiraling gasoline and home heating oil prices. Gore ultimately succeeded in getting Clinton to open up the reserves.
CIA sees ‘appalling bad judgment’ Clinton also went along with Gore on another point — namely, having his picture taken with Russian organized-crime figures. Grigory Loutchansky, discussed in
Part 1 of this report, and linked by Interpol to the Russian mafia, money laundering, drug trafficking, nuclear smuggling and international arms trading, attended a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner in Washington in October 1993. This occurred while Loutchansky was on the State Department’s exclusion list. Loutchansky was also deported from Canada in the spring of 1993 for money laundering and for “being a major organized crime figure in Europe.”
Nevertheless, he got a 10-minute meeting and a picture with Clinton. Former CIA director James Woolsey said later that an invitation to Loutchansky to meet with the president “would show a severe lack of scrutiny and appalling bad judgment.”
As revealed by Jerry Seper in the
Washington Times on Dec. 12, 1997, Loutchansky was the guest of and had been recommended to the DNC by Sam Domb, a New York landlord, who donated $160,000 to the DNC shortly after the dinner. During their private session, Clinton asked Loutchansky to deliver a message to Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuck to reduce the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Loutchansky agreed and asked Clinton’s help in getting international financing and investors for the Magnitogorsky Iron and Steel Plant, Russian’s largest such concern.
Despite his criminal background, Loutchansky was invited back to another $25,000-a-head DNC dinner on July 11, 1995, in Washington honoring President Clinton. But despite pulling strings, Loutchansky was denied entry by the State Department this time.
Clinton compromised himself again by posing with Gore for a picture with Vadim Rabinovich, Loutchansky’s business partner, on Sept. 19, 1995, at a fundraiser at a posh Florida hotel. This, even though the State Department had revoked Rabinovich’s visa a month earlier for being “a suspected criminal.” Rabinovich had been a partner with Loutchansky from 1993-95 in a Swiss firm called Ostex. When he returned to Russia, Rabinovich prominently displayed his picture with Clinton and Gore in his Kiev office to impress clients of another company he owned. Not surprisingly, this company was under State Department scrutiny for corrupt business practices.
Loutchansky’s name surfaced again last year, when the Washington Post revealed that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s two brothers, Tony Rodham and Hugh Rodham, were involved in a $118 million scheme to grow and export hazelnuts in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Their partner in the venture was Aslan Abashidze, who said his financial adviser was Loutchansky. Abashidze is a reputed member of a Russian organized crime family.
The Rodham brothers at first balked and then agreed to national security adviser Sandy Berger’s request that they terminate their venture.
The hazelnut imbroglio wasn’t the only time Tony Rodham was involved with people accused of having links with Russian criminals. While working as a consultant for a Florida hotel company hoping to do business with Russia, Rodham set up a meeting with Bill Clinton and Moscow’s powerful Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in April of 1997. Luzhkov had been linked in the Russian press to mob figures, and had been involved in a bitter dispute with an American businessmen who was subsequently found murdered in Moscow.
In a March 15, 1996, White House “memorandum of conversation” between Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in Moscow, Clinton is quoted as saying he wanted everything the U.S. did to “have a positive impact, and nothing should have a negative impact” on Russia until after Yeltsin was re-elected later that year. Clinton asked Yeltsin for a quid pro quo for this indulgence — namely, an end to the Russian ban on U.S. chicken imports. Clinton said chickens were a hot issue in Arkansas, which produced 40 percent of U.S. poultry.
Talbott and the KGB As influential as Gore was in setting Russian policy, he was rarely involved with the country on a day-to-day basis like Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. A native of Cleveland who graduated from Yale, Talbott, with his parents’ encouragement, had devoted his life to Russian studies, culture and language. His friendship with Bill Clinton hails back to their days as Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. After college, Talbott joined Time as a rookie correspondent in the magazine’s Moscow bureau. His career took off after he met Victor Louis (a pseudonym), a smooth, seasoned KGB operative. Louis masqueraded as an independent Soviet journalist. However, according to
Insight reporter and Russia expert J. Michael Waller, Louis’s real job was planting disinformation, recruiting agents and providing tips to trusted foreign journalists.
The KGB operative brought Talbott a treasure trove — boxes of documents and reels of tape concerning the career of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Talbott was asked to translate the material and write Khrushchev’s biography. Louis informed Talbott’s editors in New York that without Talbott’s active participation there would be no biography. Time agreed and allegedly paid Louis $600,000. The book was a huge success, Talbott’s name was on the cover, and his star was in ascendancy within liberal Democratic and journalistic circles.
Appointed by Clinton as deputy secretary of state, Talbott, at his 1993 confirmation hearings told Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that he had remained in close contact with Victor Louis until his death about 10 years ago. Louis had provided him with valuable information about arms control, said Talbott, supplying him with sources within the Soviet Union. When Helms tried to make the former Time reporter admit that he knew Victor Louis was a KGB officer, Talbott insisted Louis was only a newsman.
Mysteriously, that controversial portion of the hearing transcript was never released, although a copy was obtained by Insight’s Waller, who said it is damaging enough to prevent Talbott from ever holding office again.
In the past, Talbott was a vociferous defender of Boris Yeltsin.
“President Yeltsin is the personification of reform in Russia,” Talbott said. This, despite the fact that Yeltsin refused to sign legislation outlawing money laundering and other corrupt business practices within his country.
In 1997, a group of CIA analysts provided Talbott with a report concerning Yeltsin’s corruption as well as the criminal activities of other key Russian political figures. Talbott reportedly yelled at the analysts, ordering them to leave.
“If I were to believe half of what you said, I couldn’t have a personal relationship with these men. U.S.-Russian foreign policy is based on my personal relationships. Without my personal relationship with Boris Yeltsin and the other Russian officials, we wouldn’t have any foreign policy,” he said at the State Department meeting.
In 1998, shortly after the meltdown of the Russian ruble and recommendations by Gore and Talbott that the U.S. shore it up, two former CIA analysts, a highly respected husband-and-wife team, visited Moscow and compiled a report full of damning information about Yeltsin and his cohorts. The couple met with Talbott and showed him a final draft of their report. They later told associates that Talbott wasn’t pleased and summarily dismissed them.
During the winter of 1999, they traveled to Russia, where they were confronted by Russian internal security agents who had copies of their report and wanted to question them about their critical comments about Russian officials. They had previously been able to travel around the country, seeking information and asking questions without any interference from Russian security police. A former CIA station chief in one of the former Soviet republics, he told WND that he and his wife knew such access would never be possible again and that they were dismayed Talbott had burned them and their sources.
Talbott refused comment for this article. He also refused to cooperate with Rep. Chris Cox’s committee, provoking the ire of the California Republican.
‘Calm down, world!’ Gore and Talbott sought a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund payment during the summer of 1998 to help bail out the ruble. Many knowledgeable observers thought the money would go down a black hole, but the vice president and Talbott argued that the Russian economy was about to turn around and that without the IMF money democracy would end and the communists would win. In fact, federal law enforcement officials tell WorldNetDaily that less than 10 percent of the IMF money ever reached Russia.
Shortly after the Bank of New York scandal broke last summer, Talbott told Newsweek, “Calm down, world!” He attempted to downplay the seriousness of the money laundering at the Bank of New York. “We have been aware from the beginning that crime and corruption are a huge problem in Russia and a huge obstacle to Russian reform,” he said. He pointed out that Gore had been on top of the problem for years, conferring with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and two other former Russian premiers. He neglected to say that all three of those former premiers had been accused of corruption.
Despite all the serious allegations, for the most part Gore is still allowed by the establishment media to get away with claiming Russia as a success story. No reporters have pressed him with questions about the Russian mob, a subject about which he knows a lot, or how he allowed Viktor Chernomyrdin, the co-chairman of his commission, to continue to enrich himself at the expense of Russia during the same time he served with Gore.