Atlantic Council Board Member Under Federal Investigation for Illegal Lobbying

Justice Department investigating Sally Painter for ties to Burisma

Sally Painter moderates an Atlantic Council panel / Atlantic Council
June 4, 2021

An Atlantic Council board member is under federal investigation for illegal lobbying related to the corrupt Ukrainian company Burisma, Politico reported on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Blue Star Strategies, owned by Atlantic Council board member Sally Painter, failed to properly register as a foreign agent when lobbying for the Ukrainian gas giant. The U.S. attorney's office in Delaware is involved in the investigation, as is the Justice Department's National Security Division.

The investigation may shed light on whether and how Painter and her business partner, former Atlantic Council board member Karen Tramontano, leveraged their posts at the Atlantic Council to help Burisma. The two engineered a partnership between Burisma and Atlantic Council aimed at rehabilitating the energy company's international reputation, according to documents released as part of a Senate investigation last year.

It is unclear whether Painter will remain on Atlantic Council's board during the investigation. The think tank did not respond to questions about Painter's board status. Blue Star Strategies also did not respond to a request for comment.

The Atlantic Council has drawn scrutiny for accepting contributions from foreign companies and governments, with critics saying its partnerships compromise the think tank's intellectual independence. The council has developed close ties to the Turkish government, hosting a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2017. Two prominent council scholars lobby in favor of Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline backed by the Russian government.

Painter and Tramontano met with State Department officials regarding Burisma and investigations into the company's owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, a former Ukrainian minister of ecology. They were also instrumental in helping Burisma partner with the Atlantic Council. The think tank agreed in January 2017 to accept donations from Burisma, even though State Department had warned officials about allegations of corruption against Burisma.

George Kent, a State Department official, asserted in a Jan. 13, 2017, email that Painter and Tramontano likely helped arrange the partnership between Burisma and the Atlantic Council. Kent wrote that "the Blue Star duo" were "the probable pushers" of the partnership. Kent said he had warned John Herbst, an Atlantic Council official, against taking money from Burisma.

Herbst, a former ambassador to Ukraine, accompanied Painter and Blue Star executive Vadym Pozharskyi to a meeting at Atlantic Council offices in Washington on March 8, 2017, according to documents that Senate Republicans released last year.

Blue Star officials also helped arrange Atlantic Council forums where Burisma officials spoke as panelists. In 2018, Burisma funded an energy conference in Ukraine that hosted Atlantic Council associates, including former Pentagon official Evelyn Farkas. Farkas defended Hunter Biden and Burisma during her congressional campaign last year but failed to disclose that she had attended the Burisma-funded conference.