Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The "Russification of Alabama": Edmund LaCour Jr., state's new solicitor general, has worked at two law firms with ties to Russia and represented Gazprom, natural-gas producer with $350 billion in revenue

Edmund LaCour Jr.
Alabama's recently appointed solicitor general has worked for two law firms with strong connections to Russia. In fact, SG Edmund LaCour Jr. directly represented one of Russia's major energy companies while working for a law firm in Texas.

LaCour's appointment by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall -- replacing Andrew Brasher, who was confirmed as a Trump nominee to a U.S. judgeship in the Middle District of Alabama -- is just one sign of the "Russiafication" of Alabama's political and "justice" systems. Others came to light recently.

As usual, greed related to the gaming industry is at the heart of Alabama corruption, and the latest manifestation of it reportedly has attracted attention from the Trump Department of Justice (DOJ), probably because the president's buddies in the gambling industry are concerned about losing market share to Alabama's Poarch Creek Indians.

Russian influence on Alabama politics is not new, and it appears to have originated with former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and his alliance with Russian oligarch and mobster Oleg Deripaska and future Trump-campaign criminal Paul Manafort in an effort to win a $40-billion Air Force refueling-tanker contract for a European consortium that was to build tankers partly in Mobile, AL. The battle over that contract started roughly in 2000, and the ultimate winner in 2011 was Seattle-based Boeing (which also has a major presence in and around Huntsville, AL).

Sessions and Co. were losers on that deal, but the LaCour appointment is just one of several signs that the Russiafication of Alabama -- perhaps the state will become known as "Moscow on the Cahaba" -- is advancing apace.

LaCour, who grew up in Alabama's Wiregrass Region, came to the SG position from the D.C.-based law firm of Kirkland and Ellis, which also produced U.S. Attorney General and Trump protector William Barr. In fact, one of the most overlooked aspects of the Robert Mueller investigation is Barr's ties to Russia. It's possible Barr's recent actions on the release of the Mueller Report were only partially about protecting Trump; Barr might also have been trying to protect himself. From our recent post about Barr's ties to Russia, based largely on a report from Newsweek:

On Barr’s public financial disclosure report, he admits to working for a law firm that represented Russia’s Alfa Bank and for a company whose co-founders allegedly have long-standing business ties to Russia. What’s more, he received dividends from Vector Group, a holding company with deep financial ties to Russia.

These facts didn’t get much attention during Barr’s confirmation hearing, as Congress was hyper focused on an unsolicited memo Barr wrote prior to his nomination, which criticized the special counsel’s investigation—and whether he would release an unredacted Mueller report to Congress. Much of the information is public, but it has so far been unreported in relation to Barr. . . .

On his financial disclosure report, Barr notes that he earned anywhere from $5,001 to $15,000 in dividends from the Vector Group.

The company’s president, Howard Lorber, brought Trump to Moscow in the 1990s to seek investment projects there. The trip is widely seen as the first of many attempts to establish a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Barr's ties to Russia do not end there:

Barr’s former law firm Kirkland Ellis LLP, where he was counsel from March 2017 until he was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, represented Russia’s Alfa Bank. (Barr earned more than $1 million at Kirkland.)

As for Edmund LaCour Jr., it's clear that during his time at Kirkland and Ellis, he worked for a Russia-connected firm. But LaCour has more direct ties to Russia from his days at the Houston, TX, office of Baker Botts. That's where he helped represent a Russian energy giant in a case styled Moncrief Oil International v. OAO Gazprom.

How important is Gazprom in Russia? It is a central player in plans for a $500-billion Arctic oil-drilling project; the company wants to build man-made islands to support the drilling. The project has been stalled by U.S. sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. In fact, the desire to have those sanctions lifted might be the No. 1 reason Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to get Donald Trump in the White House.

From our post on Russia's drilling plans and its ties to two energy giants, including Gazprom. The post revolves around a USA Today report about FBI director Christopher Wray and his Russia-related conflicts from his work at the Atlanta law firm King and Spalding:

The most troubling issue that Wray may face is the fact that his law firm — King and Spalding — represents Rosneft and Gazprom, two of Russia’s largest state-controlled oil companies.

Rosneft was prominently mentioned in the now infamous 35-page dossier prepared by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele. The dossier claims that the CEO of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, offered candidate Donald Trump, through Trump’s campaign adviser Carter Page, a 19% stake in the company in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. The dossier claims that the offer was made in July while Page was in Moscow.

Rosneft is also the company that had a $500 billion oil drilling joint-venture with Exxon in 2012, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Exxon’s CEO. However, the deal was nixed by President Obama in 2014, when he imposed the sanctions that crippled Russia’s ability to do business with U.S. companies. The lifting of sanctions by the Trump administration would enable Exxon to renew its joint venture agreement with Rosneft, and the law firm of King and Spalding could end up in the middle of the contract negotiations between those two companies.

What about Gazptom's role in all of this? Here are details:

The law firm’s representation of Gazprom raises even more serious conflict issues for Wray. Gazprom was a partner in RosUkrEnergo AG (“RUE”), which is controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash. He is under federal indictment in Chicago for racketeering charges, has had numerous financial dealings with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and is generally considered to be a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Though there is no indication that Wray personally worked on any of the Rosneft or Gazprom legal matters handled by his law firm, he might well have an ethical and legal conflict of interest that would prevent him from any involvement in the FBI’s Russian probe. When a law firm such as King and Spalding represents clients, then all of the partners in that law firm have an actual or potential conflict of interest, preventing them from undertaking any representation of any other client that has interests clearly adverse to those of these two Russian companies. These conflict rules continue to apply even after a lawyer leaves the law firm, so Wray could be ethically barred from involving himself in a federal investigation that includes within its scope a probe of Rosneft, Gazprom, and affiliated companies.

Christopher Wray might not have personally worked on Gazprom legal matters, but new Alabama SG Edmund LaCour Jr. definitely did, as this press release makes clear. How substantial is Gazprom's international footprint? This 2015 article from spells it out, along with details of the Moncrief Oil case:

Moncrief Oil International Inc. unexpectedly dropped its $1.37 billion case Monday against Russia’s national energy company, one month into its trial.

The decision abruptly ended Moncrief’s decade-long trade secrets legal battle against Gazprom after the Fort Worth company discovered lethal holes in its case.

Lawyers for Moncrief told Tarrant County District Judge Melody Wilkinson over the weekend that they wanted to dismiss its claims against OAO Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas producer with revenue exceeding $350 billion. The judge informed the jury of six women and six men Monday morning that the case was over.

What about other signs that Alabama is becoming a subsidiary of Russia Inc., answering to Vladimir Putin and his associates? One such sign came with an article from Alabama Political Reporter (APR) about the Poarch Creek Indians alliance with a Russian oligarch to help the tribe establish a gaming monopoly. Writes APR's Bill Britt:

A former Russian banker’s company is now offering software to the state that would take screen captures of contractor PCs at least once every three minutes and also track keystrokes and mouse activity.

Poarch Creek’s lobbyist, Barton and Kinney, LLC, is pushing legislation similar to that being hawked in New Jersey and 20-plus other states that would require any company doing at least $100,000 worth of work for a state to “use software to verify that all hours billed for work under the contract for services performed on a computer are eligible charges.”

Barton and Kinney, LLC, comprised of former Republican Rep. Jim Barton and Phillip and Allison Kinney has become a powerhouse lobbying firm based on their relationship with Poarch Creek’s Vice President Robbie McGhee. McGhee and the Kinneys have been nearly inseparable during past legislative sessions. However, this year McGhee has only shown his face at the State House on rare occasions when the tribe has felt its gaming monopoly was being threatened.

Who is the Russian seeking to interfere with state contracting in Alabama? Writes Britt:

The lobbying outfit now represents TransparentBusiness, Inc, which is pressing state lawmakers across the nation to pass legislation that would demand the type of monitoring software it offers.

The company was founded by Alex Konanykhin, a Russian national who, according to his Wikipedia profile, was granted political asylum in the United States in the early 2000s.

Russian Time Magazine reported that Konanykhin was considered one of the most wealthy and influential men in post-Soviet Russia. They said, “You could call him an oligarch, or a genius.”

Three days after that article was published, APR followed up with a report titled "Poarch Creeks subject of multiple federal probes, White House is watching." Writes Britt:

Federal authorities are actively investigating the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama.

APR recently learned from a former federal prosecutor with deep ties to D.C. that President Donald Trump’s administration now has the Poarch Creeks on its radar after several news reports focused on the tribe’s monopoly in Alabama and its expansion plans.

A former White House insider confirmed to APR on background that the Trump administration is watching what is happening in the State Legislature as the Indians are interfering in gaming and lottery legislation to ensure the tribe’s monopoly grows at the expense of private gaming interests.

“Stories citing the president’s disdain for Indian underhanded tactics are always an interest to the White House,” said the former White House insider. “Trump forgets nothing … what the tribe is up to in Alabama is being heard in Washington.”

I don't agree with Trump on much of anything, but it's about time someone in law enforcement started taking a look at the rampant sleaze in Alabama. Of course, if Trump realizes his beloved Russia is helping drive much of the crookedness, he might call off any investigation.

Then, Alabama might be well on its way to becoming "Moscow on the Cahaba."

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