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A Billionaire At War And Putin’s Yacht


Welcome to the Checks & Imbalances newsletter. Today we look at billionaires battling it out in Illinois politics, examine a $500 million yacht linked to Vladimir Putin and catch up on the latest news about Ginni Thomas and John Eastman.


Facebook Made This 29-Year-Old Rich; War Made Him A Billionaire

“After being drummed out of Silicon Valley as a Trump-supporting hawk, the onetime VR wunderkind Palmer Luckey is feeling vindicated,” reports Jeremy Bogaisky:

Three years after he sold out to Mark Zuckerberg, he was fired by Facebook amid furor over his support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. His swift move to found a defense startup—partnering with libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and executives drawn from Thiel’s spooky spy software maker Palantir—completed Luckey’s spiritual exit from left-leaning Silicon Valley…

After losing friends who criticized him as a warmonger, Luckey is suddenly feeling vindicated. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Anduril has systems on the ground (he won’t say what precisely), some people are reaching out to apologize. They now realize “it is actually really important for the U.S. to have better weapons,” he says.

How he goes about building those weapons is key to understanding what sets his company apart. Anduril, which generated an estimated $150 million in revenue last year, develops much of its technology on its own dime, a high-stakes wager that inverts how military contractors normally operate. Rather than waiting for the Department of Defense to launch a multiyear process of defining tech requirements and inviting bids to develop prototypes, Anduril plows ahead and makes weapon and surveillance systems that it believes the government will want—as long as they work.


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The Band Of Billionaires Betting Against The Country’s Richest Politician

“A handful of billionaires, including Illinois’ richest person, a crypto cofounder from San Francisco and a cousin, have come out against one of their own: Illinois’ Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker,” reports Matt Durot:

Pritzker’s most well-funded opponent and one of the Republican frontrunners has the backing of his longtime rival. The state’s richest person, Ken Griffin (estimated net worth: $25.2 billion), the founder and CEO of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel, has spent an eye-popping $50 million on the campaign of Aurora, Illinois mayor Richard Irvin. Griffin donated $22.5 million to Pritzker’s opponent in 2018 and another $53.8 million to help defeat a tax hike proposed by the governor in 2020 (reportedly calling Pritzker a “shameless master of personal tax avoidance” in an email sent to Citadel employees at the time).


In Case You Missed It


Meet The Russian Billionaire Who’s The Proxy Owner Of Putin’s $500 Million Yacht

“The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Eduard Khudainatov, the ex-CEO of state-owned oil giant Rosneft, acts as the ‘straw owner’ for three superyachts held by Vladimir Putin and two Russian oligarchs—but Khudainatov has a multibillion dollar fortune of his own, thanks to his ties to the Kremlin’s inner circle,” reports Giacomo Tognini:

Khudainatov’s obscurity ended in May, when U.S. authorities identified him as the proxy owner of two megayachts: the 459-foot Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the 348-foot Amadea, which the U.S. Department of Justice found is ultimately owned by sanctioned Russian gold mogul Suleiman Kerimov. U.S. authorities seized Amadea in Fiji after a month-long legal battle on June 7. (A Fijian lawyer representing the British Virgin Islands-based company that formally owns Amadea disputed the claim that Khudainatov owns the yacht on Kerimov’s behalf.)

According to the DOJ, Khudainatov acted as a “clean, unsanctioned straw owner,” appearing to own the ships on paper and concealing the true owners—Putin and Kerimov—from authorities who might sanction the vessels. An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and its partners, including Forbes, found that Khudainatov is also the straw owner of the 445-foot Crescent, with the actual owner being Rosneft boss [Igor] Sechin. (Rosneft disputes Sechin’s ownership of Crescent.) The three floating palaces to which Khudainatov apparently lent his name are worth a combined $1.2 billion, according to yacht valuation experts VesselsValue.


Continuing Irresolutions

Updates on Checks & Imbalances’ previous reporting

Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told the Daily Caller on Thursday that she ‘can’t wait to clear up misconceptions’ amid news that the January 6 House Select Committee plans to seek her testimony,” the website reported.

Ginni Thomas’s conservative activism, including work to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest for her husband. She’s also contributed at least $15,000 to GOP campaigns.

*****

Right-wing legal scholar John Eastman, who backed former President Donald Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 election, was among a group that asked for pardons after rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” reports Nicholas Reimann.

Eastman, the focus of much of the House Jan. 6 committee’s hearing on Thursday, never received that pardon. Facing potentially massive legal bills, Eastman launched a campaign for his defense fund on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. So far it has brought in $180,000 and 1,040 prayers.

Since September, California’s state bar has been investigating Eastman regarding his role in the attempt to overturn the presidential election. His law license remains active.


Watch: ‘A Big Ripoff’—Dem Lawmaker Says Donations To Trump Were Not Used How He Claimed They Would Be


Tracking Trump

  • “The new details revealed tonight related to January 6 are disturbing. It’s my duty to investigate allegations of fraud or potential misconduct in New York. This incident is no exception.” (Twitter/NY AG Letitia James regarding a report that the Trump campaign allegedly used misleading fundraising tactics)
  • “Trump’s political operation and Republican Party committees have paid over $12.6 million to Jan. 6 rally organizers since the 2020 election cycle” (OpenSecrets)
  • “Kimberly Guilfoyle was paid $60,000 speaking fee for Ellipse rally intro, Jan. 6 committee member says” (CNN)
  • “Publix heiress paid Kimberly Guilfoyle’s $60,000 speaking fee on Jan. 6” (The Washington Post)
  • “Despite Testimony, Bill Stepien Is Still Making Lots Of Money Spreading Trump’s Election Lie” (HuffPost)
  • “Jersey City officials and Kushner Companies executives finally broke ground on the long-awaited, nearly $1 billion, One Journal Square project that includes a 67-story skyscraper.” (Hudson County View)
  • “Former ‘Trump Tower City Center’ In Westchester Announces Name Change” (Trumbull-Monroe Daily Voice)

Editor’s Picks

  • “As of today, candidates are able to submit reimbursements for childcare in the state of Connecticut.” (Twitter/Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, a former candidate for state representative)
  • “Gun Owners of America pushes back on bipartisan gun control legislation” (OpenSecrets)
  • “He’s one of the most powerful gun lobbyists in D.C. And you’ve never heard of him.” (Politico)
  • “Bipartisan bill aims to curb foreign influence in U.S. democracy” (The Washington Post)
  • “Maker of Uvalde massacre gun broke campaign finance law, complaint alleges” (The Washington Post)
  • “Police unions spend millions lobbying to retain their sway over big US cities and state governments” (OpenSecrets)
  • “‘Dark money’ group spends $600,000 to boost incumbent Democrats in three states” (OpenSecrets)
  • “Democrats’ Risky Bet: Aid G.O.P. Extremists in Spring, Hoping to Beat Them in Fall” (The New York Times)
  • “Former advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris joins Heather Podesta’s lobbying and PR firm” (CNBC)
  • “A GOP-backed bill would prohibit politicians from putting family members on their campaign payrolls” (Insider)
  • “GOP House Candidate Ryan Zinke Blows Financial Disclosure Deadline — Again” (HuffPost)
  • “GOP Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida appears to violate same federal conflicts-of-interest law that she slammed her Democratic predecessor for violating” (Insider)
  • “Infant-formula crisis finally hits lobbying disclosures” (LegiStorm)
  • “New crypto fundraising start-up will take political donations in digital currencies as 2022 midterms heat up” (CNBC)
  • “Who’s on the Hill this week” (Politico)

In Closing

“It’s a deadly circumstance

From simply getting by, uh

It’s a brainwashed straw man

To keep you ill-advised, woo ooh

It make a smart man stupid

And turn a rich man foolish”

– Ghostface Killah, “New World”





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