The troubling implications of Jake Sullivan's hot mic revelations

As part of the sanctions placed on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine, there was a massive crackdown on Russian assets.

This involved the seizure of assets such as luxury yachts, cars, aircraft, art, and the freezing of bank accounts owned by Russian oligarchs.

Obviously, seizing and maintaining assets such as super-yachts is a massive undertaking that involves great expenditure.

So who is footing the bill for the upkeep of the vessels seized?

That mystery was revealed just yesterday by Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Moments prior to an event at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Sullivan was caught on a live microphone, or hot mic, talking about the ongoing Operation KleptoCapture, which is a Justice Department–led effort meant to target Russian "elites, proxies, and oligarchs" by seizing civil and criminal assets of sanctioned oligarchs.

Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the CNAS, said

I just wasn't aware how many super yachts there were in the world. I mean the size of these things, the value of these things is unbelievable.

Sullivan responded as follows:

You know what the craziest thing is: When we seize one, we have to pay for upkeep. The federal government pays for upkeep, under the forfeiture rubric. Some people are basically being paid to maintain Russian super-yachts on behalf of the U.S. government. It's unbelievable.

"Forfeiture rubric" was possibly a reference to the U.S. government's responsibility for maintaining property it seizes in good condition.

This conversation was first reported by Vox reporter Jonathan Guyer:

If that revelation wasn’t troubling enough, there was more.

Sullivan mentioned his wife, Maggie Goodlander, who is a senior adviser to Merrick Garland, as saying

"She loves this klepto-capture stuff..."

It was unclear what the meaning of that remark was.

Did Sullivan mean his wife likes the idea of capturing Russian assets to weaken Russia?

Does she "love" the seized items, and do the Sullivans or someone else in Washington in some way have access to some of the seized items?  We will never know. 

Does she love the power?

The audio of this exchange that was inadvertently broadcasted when the event streamed live was removed the moment Sullivan's comments made headlines.  A spokesperson for CNAS called the takedown an "honest mistake."

Sullivan was referring to the seizure of a series of vessels owned by oligarchs allegedly close to President Putin.

The Amadea, a 348-foot yacht, worth $300 million, was owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.  The ownership of the vessel was disputed.  The U.S. had moved Fiji's supreme court to seize the yacht in early May, and it sailed for the U.S. in early June, after the court authorized its seizure.

In early April, the U.S. seized a 254-foot yacht in Spain owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate with interests in aluminum, oil, energy, telecoms, mining, and other sectors. 

Biden asked Congress for the authority to formally seize and sell assets of Russian oligarchs to fund Ukraine's defense and rebuilding.  The request is without precedent and would amount to a significant expansion of presidential sanctions authority.

There still remain a few open questions. 

Why would Washington take it upon itself to seize and sell Russian assets?  Shouldn't a global coalition such as NATO be doing it?

Does international law permit the U.S. to seize global assets and sell them? 

Beyond that, why would the U.S. want to unnecessarily provoke nuclear-powered Russia into a hot war instead of compelling all parties to come to the negotiation table and end the conflict?

Why must the U.S. taxpayer be compelled to pay for maintenance of seized assets that he will not benefit from in any way?

Washington has been most generous with taxpayers' money recently.

Back in May, both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly approved $40 billion of taxpayer money in aid to Ukraine.  Previously in March, both the House and the Senate approved $13.6 billion of taxpayer money for "assistance" to Ukraine.

That brings the total to around $53 billion in just two months.

There's now another $1 billion in the works.

What is troubling is that there is no tracking mechanism or transparency for this massive expenditure.  Sen. Rand Paul attempted to demand one and was shut down by even Republicans in the Senate who voted for the largest of the bills.

Ideally, there should be a comprehensive inventory made available online with all details of all seized assets.  Online auctions should be conducted for the tenders of all contracts and the sale of Russian assets.  Details about every stage from bidding to signing contracts and sales should be available online for public scrutiny.

Sadly that will never happen.

The tenders and contracts for various items such as arms, food aid, maintenance of seized assets, lawyers for extended war crimes trials, etc. are or will be awarded to cronies.  Obviously, there will be a quid pro quo agreement between Washington and the private contractors.

The sale of assets will also be very murky.  Perhaps they will be sold at under-market value to cronies.  Perhaps some of the smaller but valuable assets will mysteriously disappear.

It is perfectly obvious that the U.S. intervention in Ukraine isn't for the betterment of the suffering Ukrainian people, or to punish Putin.

This is just another emergency situation that presents an opportunity for Washington to swiftly access taxpayers' money and spend it the way it likes.

It helps that these people can cite high moral ground — i.e., compassion — for the suffering people in Ukraine to justify their plunder.  As is common with most U.S. foreign aid, a great deal of this money may travel all over the world and reach back to U.S. shores. 

Washington never fails to exploit an emergency.

They did it during COVID-19, and they are doing it with Ukraine.  The fact that Ukraine is far away, making tracking and accountability far more difficult, is an added benefit.

The staggering record of corruption in Ukraine and in Washington, particularly in Biden's White House, generally makes this absolute lack of accountability and oversight most worrying.

Jake Sullivan's hot mic utterances reveal what most already knew: there is a brazen casualness to how various personnel in the Biden administration conduct themselves.  They are not only reckless, feckless, and incompetent, but also corrupt and immoral.  They no longer care how they are perceived.  In fact, they scoff in defiance at citizen-taxpayers who may question the considerable expenditure in Ukraine and the risk it presents to the U.S. 

This attitude prevails across party lines.  The rot runs deep in Washington.

Image: PxHere, CC0 public domain.

If you experience technical problems, please write to