Vice President Pence Has Cause to Support Trump’s Kremlin-Friendly Agenda

Two of his biggest Indiana corporate backers have significant business interests in Russia

The ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump administration’s entangling alliances with the Kremlin have so far left Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines.

Pence claims to be clueless about key moments in the still-unfolding scandal.

When President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, spoke clandestinely with Kremlin officials this past December about the status of US sanctions against that nation, Pence defended him initially — but claimed later that Flynn lied to him about the content of the conversations.

Despite the fact the Trump administration was informed by a member of Congress in November of last year that Flynn was working as a paid agent of the Turkish government while advising Trump on national security matters, Pence insists he only learned of Flynn’s Turkish lobbying pact through the media this past March.

Pence’s claimed ignorance of these events, until they became public via the media, is even more surprising in light of the fact he was responsible as head of Trump’s transition team for overseeing the vetting process for White House appointees like Flynn.

There is another side to Pence and his political agenda, however, that betrays the “Dudley Do-Right” image he has cultivated with respect to his knowledge of Trump’s Kremlin lemon.

In fact, one of Pence’s main corporate backers, Eli Lilly & Co., was charged by U.S. officials with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 2012 in relation to its business practices in Russia. That same year, Eli Lilly was a leading contributor to Pence’s bid to become governor of Indiana, a race he won by only 3 percentage points against his Democratic challenger.

While serving as a US congressman from 2001-2013, and thereafter as governor of Indiana until this past January, when he took on the vice president’s job, Pence also served the interests of another Indiana-based corporation that has deep business roots in Russia — Cummins Inc.

These two Indiana-based Fortune 500 companies with major business interests in Russia — diesel-engine manufacturer Cummins and drug-maker and distributor Eli Lilly — ranked as the No. 2 and No. 3 donors, respectively, to Pence’s federal campaign coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The leading donor, at $90,762, was the arch-conservative Club for Growth and its political action committee (PAC).

The Center for Responsive Politics, through its blog and via data maintained by its OpenSecrets.org campaign-donation tracking service, reported the following about Cummins’ and Eli Lilly’s PAC and employee donations to Pence’s six congressional campaigns:

Cummins Inc, an engine manufacturer, and Eli Lilly & Co, a pharmaceutical company, round out Pence’s top three campaign contributors. Employees and PACs of these Indiana-based corporations gave $78,500 and $64,350, respectively.

Although the donations made to Vice President Pence’s campaign coffers by Cummins and Eli Lilly may not be huge sums in the scheme of today’s multimillion-dollar political campaigns, they do represent a finger on the scale in terms of the interests of those corporations. The two industry giants generate millions of dollars annually in taxes and multiple billions of dollars annually in sales revenue — as well as account for a significant block of jobs, employee votes and associated corporate political power in Pence’s home state of Indiana.

In addition, Pence will be looking for donations from corporations in the future, including Cummins and Eli Lilly, as evidenced by the political action committee, or PAC, (called the Great America Committee) that he recently set up to raise money for his future political aspirations.

The Russian Front

Eli Lilly has had a business presence in Russia for a quarter century and sells numerous medications in the country. In 2014, it announced a contract with the Russia-based pharma R-Pharm to begin local production of several Eli Lilly insulin products. An industry newsletters targeting pharma executives, called The Pharma Letter, reported that Eli Lilly’s sales in Russia in 2013 totaled $130 million, while the potential market for insulin products alone in Russia topped $300 million as of the same year. 

The Russian market was deemed valuable enough to Eli Lilly’s corporate interests that the company took some shortcuts to secure market share in the country that led to charges being filed against the Indiana drug maker in 2012 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC alleged that Eli Lilly had violated the anti-bribery provisions of FCPA:.

“The SEC alleges that the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company’s subsidiary in Russia used offshore ‘marketing agreements’ to pay millions of dollars to third parties chosen by [Russian] government customers or distributors, despite knowing little or nothing about the third parties beyond their offshore address and bank account information,” the SEC alleged. “These offshore entities rarely provided any services and in some instances were used to funnel money to [Russian] government officials in order to obtain business for the subsidiary.”

Ultimately, Eli Lilly agreed to settle the bribery case brought by the SEC — which also accused the company of FCPA violations in Brazil, China and Poland. As part of that court settlement, Eli Lilly did not admit or deny the charges, but did agree to pay $29 million in fines and restitution.

In addition to being a leading contributor to Pence’s congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, Eli Lilly also donated $15,000 to an economic development fund used by Pence “to travel overseas, rent luxury sports suites, lobby lawmakers and fly to Iowa ahead of its first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest,” according to an investigation by the Indianapolis Star. One of the junkets financed by the so-called economic development fund was a trip to China, where Pence visited a Cummins production center in Beijing.

Eli Lilly’s media spokesperson did not reply to requests for comment for this story.

Pence’s other major corporate backer, engine-maker Cummins, also has a deep history in Russia. Its operations in the country date back to the 1970s, when its engines were installed in mining trucks imported into the market. Cummins opened a regional office in Moscow in 1985 and in 2006 inked a joint venture to produce engines for Russia’s major truck manufacturer, KAMAZ — a pact that is still in place. Cummins, according to a website for its Russian operations, was authorized by the Russian government as of 2013 to “raise its local sales” quota in the country to $700 million — which provides some insight into the size of its market in Kremlin land.

Jon Mills, media spokesman for Cummins, stressed that the company has “no concern about our perception” with respect to donations made to Pence’s political campaigns over the years or because of the fact Vice President Pence’s brother is an executive at Cummins.

“We have a highly transparent and ethical culture. We take great pride in the work we do, how we do it and we are committed to providing high-quality jobs and making our communities stronger across the world,” Mills said in an email sent to Narco News. “

Mills’ email response continues:

Contributions from the Cummins Political Action Committee to then [U.S.] Representative Pence over the years are in line with other candidates in states where we have significant operations.

And, our contributions were substantially less than the federal-election contribution limits. We do not give corporate money to any candidates for political office. [The contributions made by Cummins, as reported by The Center for Responsive Politics, include donations from Cummins employees, their family members and the company’s PAC.]

Ed Pence [Vice President Pence’s brother] has never lobbied his brother on behalf of Cummins. Ed Pence has been with Cummins for more than 30 years, pre-dating Mike Pence’s political career. Ed Pence has always been a great employee of Cummins and lives our values….”

One federal law enforcer told Narco News, with respect to Pence’s brother and his executive role at Cummins, that any investigation of the Trump administration’s potential collusion with the Kremlin should take note of “and document” the fact that Vice President Pence has a brother who is an executive at Cummins, which is a company that does business in Russia.

That’s not to say Pence’s brother has done anything wrong, but he would be considered a potential target of a foreign intelligence service looking to compromise the vice president, the law enforcer said.

Lobbying Pond

Cummins’ potential perception issues on the Russian front are not limited to its political contributions and family connections to the White House.

President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, and he didn't. So now that swamp, and the lobbyists and special interests that exist in its mire, are starting to suck the life out of his administration.

One lobbying firm, in particular, which has not been on the public radar, merits a closer look in the context of Trump's unfulfilled promises. That lobbying firm also happens to have been paid some $800,000 in fees over the past five years by Cummins.

The lobbying firm’s chairman is Charles Black, a past business partner of Paul Manafort, who is a longtime Trump advisor and his former campaign chairman. Black’s lobbying firm, Prime Policy Group (PPG), also did work for the government of Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 when its president was Kremlin puppet Victor Yanukovych. Black’s former business partner, Manafort, helped to get Yanukovych elected as president and served as a political consultant to Yanukovych at the same time PPG was representing his Russian-aligned government.

Black and Manafort were partners in a lobbying firm called Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly (BMSK) from 1982 until 1996 — when the firm was sold. In the ensuring years, the partners went their own ways. Former BMSK partners Manafort and Roger Stone, both former Trump advisors, are now in the scope of the various investigations into the Trump administration’s ties to the Kremlin, according to media reports, with the Senate Intelligence Committee recently requesting documents from both of them.

The tangled web of connections doesn’t stop there. PPG also inked a contract this past September to do work for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The TRNC is occupied by Turkish troops and closely allied with the Turkish government — which, through a subcontractor, also employed the Flynn Intel Group this past August.

Trump’s former national security advisor, Flynn, the founder of the Flynn Intel Group, is now the target of an FBI investigation related to his failure to properly disclose his paid work for both the Russian and Turkish governments. In fact, that misstep cost retired Lt. Gen. Flynn his White House national security post and it, and the continuing cover-up, could well wind up costing him his freedom as well.

All of these strings connect to a common ball of yarn. They all lead back to lobbying activities on the part of individuals who have, in the past, represented some of the most oppressive strongmen and governments in the world. Now, many of these same individuals (Flynn, Manafort and Stone) are in the legal fire pit because of their political work for the Trump administration — and potentially for its counterpart in Moscow.

Black, whose lobbying firm has seemingly fished for business in the same pond as Flynn, Manafort and Stone over the years, is not now in the legal spotlight with his former business partners, however.

When contacted by Narco News, Black said neither he or anyone else at PPG have been contacted by the FBI or congressional investigators looking into the Trump administration’s alleged Kremlin ties. Black also said no one at PPG played any role in suggesting potential vice presidential candidates to the Trump administration.

“Paul Manafort left our firm in 1996, and neither the firm, nor I, have done any business at all with him since then,” Black said in an email response to Narco News.

Still, Black and the lobbying firm he chairs, PPG, have definitely dealt with some of the same players — Ukrainian and Turkish government interests — that are at the root of Manafort’s and Flynn’s woes. But there are some lines not to be crossed, even in the morally elastic world of lobbying, and Black insists PPG has not crossed those lines.

Cummins also insists its relationship with PPG is on the up and up, according to its media spokesperson, Mills:

We have used Prime Policy [PPG] as a consultant for many years primarily for support on policy matters in the United States like tax policy and emission regulations, for example. They do not lobby foreign governments on behalf of Cummins.

No one has ever had contact with Paul Manafort. He has never serviced our contract at Prime Policy Group. We are not aware of any consulting arrangement he has with Prime Policy. And no one at Cummins was involved in suggesting or vetting VP [vice presidential] candidates for the Trump campaign, nor were we ever involved in conversations with the Trump campaign about VP candidates.

Country Bumpkin?

Pence, while governor of Indiana, flew to China to visit and tout a Cummins factory there. He has a brother who is an executive at the company. And Pence received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from Cummins’ PAC and employees during his career as a congressman.

In addition, Cummins, which has major operations in Russia, is represented by a lobbying firm, PPG, whose chairman has a history of doing consulting for some of the same oppressive regimes represented in the past by longtime Trump insider Manafort.

Likewise, Eli Lilly, a corporate giant with significant operations in Russia and a history of allegedly skirting U.S. bribery laws to expand sales there, supported Pence in both his congressional and gubernatorial campaigns and contributed money to Pence’s economic-development slush fund.

With those facts on the table, it seems a stretch to believe Pence — a former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — is just a country-bumpkin politician who was completely clueless about Flynn’s entangling foreign alliances, or lacked the curiosity to examine closely all the clues. The clues included a notice sent this past January by Flynn’s attorney informing Trump’s transition team that Flynn was being investigated by the FBI as well as a letter addressed to Pence from U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings exposing Flynn’s lobbying transgressions.

From Cummings Nov. 18, 2016, letter:

Dear Vice President-Elect Pence:

I am writing to raise questions about the apparent conflicts of interest of the Vice Chairman of the Presidential Transition Team, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who reportedly has been selected by the President-elect [Trump] to be his national security advisor.

Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government’s interests.

Some media outlets, including CBS News and the Daily Beast, have reported that behind the scenes Manafort played a key role in convincing Trump to pick Pence as his vice presidential running mate. Is it possible that Manafort took an interest in Pence, in part, because he saw him as a Moscow-friendly ally, if push came to shove?

The corporate donations by Cummins and Eli Lilly to Pence’s political war chest were not illegal of course, but they are a clear indication that Pence has a history with these corporations — one of which, Cummins, is based in Pence’s home town of Columbus, Indiana. As both a congressman and governor, Pence represented their corporate interests as major players in the Indiana economy.

Cummins’ and Ely Lilly’s corporate interests also extend deep into the Russian economy, where both companies have been active for decades and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales annually. “As Cummins grows and thrives in these markets [such as Russia and China], more high-wage jobs in engineering and R&D are created at home,” Pence said during his 2015 visit to Cummins’ engine plant in China.

Given his home state’s reliance on these two huge employers and their past financial support of his political career, it can’t be ruled out that Pence is willing to carry some water for Trump on the Russian front, if that path dovetails with Cummins’ and Eli Lilly’s investment interests in Russia’s economy. The money trail certainly seems to lead in that direction, despite Pence’s reliance to date on pleading ignorance as a defense.

Stay tuned……

Prior Stories in the Series

Casino Owned by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Violated US Anti-Money Laundering Laws Repeatedly 

• The Donald and the Snitch

 Trump Campaign Is Still Playing Russian Roulette With Foreign Policy

 Lawsuit Threatens to Expose Trump Campaign’s White Supremacist Links

• Donald Trump’s Past Lobbying Exploits Paint a Picture of a Deft Washington Insider

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