Yuri Vanetik’s Berkeley Diploma with Highest Honors. Vanetik was Phi Beta Kappa and Valedictorian in his major (and commencement Speaker)
It is Cold War redux in America. People from Eastern Europe are now targeted and painted as villains. In this escalating, toxic and highly polarizing narrative of Trump-Russia election meddling wild conspiracy theories abound. East European immigrants are often labeled as suspicious “Russians”, tarred by the press and reduced to spy novel caricatures. Ruthless gangs of cyberbullies and Internet trolls are now operating under the guise of zealous “citizen journalists”, often instigating their career counterparts into action. There is little fact checking and even less regard for newsworthiness of half-baked conspiracy theories.
Complicit in this red scare is our media, which often cheerleads for this deceitful narrative every chance it gets, becoming a state propaganda arm for the extreme left faction in our government. Even if you subscribe to the idea that Russia did interfere in our presidential elections, and altered its outcome, the collateral damage of the red scare is undermining our core values by fostering an epidemic of discrimination.
Russian Americans or those from Eastern Europe with names that sound Russian are often innocent victims of the anti-Russia media obsession. They are noncombatants pulled into the media-driven frenzy of McCarthyite paranoia, the new red scare, or putrid yellow, so-called “journalism. As a journalist and someone whose parents immigrated from the Soviet Union, I harbor deep resentment for this type of dirty politics, and ethnic attacks.
There are many examples of what I am describing, but one recent smear campaign stands out. As I have been researching for this story on media discrimination against East Europeans, I came across several sloppy hit pieces written in rapid succession by a McClatchy DC reporter, Kevin Hall. Hall shamelessly went after a prominent California businessman with a long history of leadership in the Republican Party.
His name is Yuri Vanetik and he is a politically well-connected immigrant whose parents brought him over from the Soviet Union as a child. What struck me as particularly strange about the obvious McClatchy scandalmongering was that the articles did not seem newsworthy. Other than innuendo upon innuendo and personal attacks, they seemed to be driven by inferences and disdain for Yuri’s East European heritage and his online persona depicted with American politicians.
Yuri Vanetik with Speaker Paul Ryan
The initially Kevin Hall article seemed to suggest that Yuri Vanetik was somehow suspicious and had dubious affiliations because his social media displayed pictures of him with powerful politicians; another “story” scraped Vanetik’s social media yet again and discussed a civil lawsuit he was involved in some 5 years ago with Farmers & Merchants Bank on behalf of another major GOP donor who has also become subject of media scrutiny, and yet another suggested that he had registered under FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) for a foreign businessman from Ukraine, regurgitating various half-baked suspicions from previous articles. All were an obvious hatchet jobs, and even had they been factually accurate, were poorly written about virtually nothing. They had one thing in common: they oozed meanness and pandered to the red scare hyped by the Russia election probe.
I decided to speak with Yuri Vanetik. Vanetik was not difficult to reach and he agreed to talk to me in connection with my story after I explained that I am a journalist and that my own parents also immigrated from the USSR. Vanetik agreed to be interviewed, and albeit somewhat guardedly, responded to many of my questions. He explained that among pictures with politicians, he posted on social media pictures and information reflecting his love for nature, sports, poetry and music. I followed up with my own investigation to verify the veracity of Vanetik’s claims and explanations that the McClatchy stories were mostly factually incorrect. I was surprised to learn that in addition to ambiguous insinuations and ad hominem attacks, many of the allegations of fact in Kevin Hall’s articles were, indeed, false or distorted to mislead the reader and vilify Vanetik.
I have learned that Yuri Vanetik emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. It would be more accurate to say that his family immigrated when he was a small child. His family was from Ukraine, not Russia. If you haven’t noticed, Ukraine is fighting a war with Russia. Vanetik has been a successful businessman in multiple fields, has a law degree, and a business degree from prestigious universities in California. For many years Vanetik has been a political and civic activist, taking on multiple leadership roles in the top GOP circles. In the last several years, Vanetik has taken up the advocacy business in Washington, D.C., taking advantage of his knowledge of East European culture, his relationships in Eastern Europe, and his passion for American politics. Describing himself as a libertarian, Vanetik explains that patriotism drives his involvement in political campaigns. What is exactly nefarious about being involved in politics or introducing foreign politicians to Washington? All this is completely normal and legal.
By virtue of devoting almost 20 years to political, policy and civic activism, Vanetik developing relationships with power brokers in D.C. and has over the years had his picture taken with prominent politicians (both republicans and democrats), again, as many Americans do. Participating in the political process and being photographed with politicians is also entirely legal and not worthy of public scrutiny.
Vanetik explained that over the years he has been involved in many businesses. Some have been successful while others did not get off the ground or eventually failed. Everyone knows that many venture-backed businesses fail, and being affiliated with a business that fails is not nefarious in any way. Occasionally, Vanetik would end up in a lawsuit. In America suing someone over a business dispute or being named in a lawsuit is not unusual and typically not newsworthy.
Yet, McClatchy’s Kevin Hall decided to paint Vanetik is a shady person with some unspecified, covert pro-Russian agenda. Yet, beyond insinuations, Hall offers no verifiable facts to back his efforts to smear Vanetik. Hall is listed as a financial investigative journalist, although his stories about Vanetik have nothing to do with financial investigations and show virtually no understanding of politics or business. There was no crime, no unethical behavior, no law enforcement investigation or any other investigation of any kind, anywhere – unlike Hall falsely claims. No, there was simply a Russian-sounding name (Ukrainian-Jewish actually for those ignorant of Eastern Europe), and support for certain Republican politicians, think tanks and presidential campaigns. That was enough…torpedoes in the water.
Yuri Vanetik with Chairman Darrell Issa and Chairman Ed Royce
Vanetik was tight-lipped when I asked him if he intended to take legal action in connection to the McClatchy attack stories. He told me that the stories were “completely false” and that he believed were intended to defame him. He is weighing his options and assessing damages to his reputation and business interests, he explained.
Let’s go into a few allegations Hall made in his stories that turned out to be false or misleading. First, Hall makes a big deal of Vanetik’s ‘Russian-sounding’ name and him being a ‘Soviet emigre’. For a tolerant liberal, this seems highly discriminatory. Vanetik is an American lawyer and businessman. Hall uses this sinister moniker to transition into a misleading regurgitation of Vanetik’s alleged past, where he was involved in civil litigation arising out of business disputes, as most businessmen have. Yuri Vanetik found himself in this situation close to a decade ago. Disingenuously, McClatchy makes a preemptive attempt to explain why it is resurrecting an old lawsuit by falsely claiming that California somehow hides its public records. Vanetik is appealing a civil judgment arising out of a business dispute. Again, this is completely non-newsworthy.
Kevin Hall said Vanetik was not ‘valedictorian’ of his class at UC Berkeley. First of all, he was, but even if he was not, it does not measure up to allegations of falsifying one’s education. This was a pathetic, intellectually dishonest effort by Hall as he desperately parsed through a long list of Vanetik’s accomplishments trying to find something wrong. He could not. I conducted my own investigation into Vanetik’s education. There was no exaggeration of any kind.
Vanetik graduated in 1991 Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with Highest Honors and was the commencement speaker at his graduation. Berkeley has not used the world ‘valedictorian’ in quite some time, so technically correct, but obviously exculpatory information was omitted, again clearly intentionally. He sent me copies of his diplomas that show that he was a Phi Beta Kappa, and he explained that he was number one in his major upon graduation and was the commencement speaker. His speech referenced Francis Fukuyama’s essay, The End of History, as an illustration that liberal democracy has succeeded as the dominant force in the world. Fukuyama’s essay subsequently became his first book. Vanetik further explained that professional bio on his company’s website summarizes his achievements and does not state that he was a valedictorian. With prominent presence on the web, some other versions of his biography did list him as a valedictorian.
Vanetik graduated from a yearlong executive graduate management program at UCLA’s Anderson Business School, in addition to law school at UC Hastings. Hall, I guess, decided that Vanetik’s education at Berkeley and UCLA was somehow embellished because of Hall’s incorrect interpretation of what amounts to semantics. This leads Hall to allege that Vanetik faked his academic record on his “official” web site. Ridiculous.
It gets worse.
Hall alleges Vanetik has a ‘shell company’ in Wyoming. In case he hadn’t noticed, there are many jurisdictions in America where businesses are established for tax reasons and due to ease of registration and predictable laws – Delaware, Florida, Texas, and Nevada come to mind. This is not a crime and does not mean that a Wyoming company is a ‘shell company’. These are lawfully operating businesses. I did not bother contacting the Wyoming Secretary of State because Hall’s claim that Wyoming companies are set up for nefarious purposes is ridiculous on its face.
Hall alleges Vanetik “opened an office” to lobby in Ukraine. He never did. Hall claims that Vanetik has shady “associates”. This is also not true. Vanetik told me that he has not had contact with most of the people Hall picked out of multiple public records for over a decade. He has not been in business with most of these people, other than one individual who was Vanetik’s lawyer, and became his friend. Looking at Vanetik’s real affiliations, I came across mostly prominent business leaders, philanthropists, and respected academics.
Hall and his cohorts at McClatchy describe ‘delinquent’ debts on corporate credit cards. The debts were paid and since when is credit card debt a crime, or sinister? Hall suggests Vanetik’s FARA filings were deficient, although he never contacted Vanetik’s attorney to get the truth. The filings are all up to speed. In fact, I learned that Vanetik went out of his way and filed a report under FARA for persons that were referred to a prominent DC lobby firm. He did this to adhere to best practices since he had attended several meetings with them and wanted to disclose even tangential contacts that may be connected to advocacy work.
The list goes on and on and on, intentional misrepresentation of the facts, all done to paint a negative, sinister picture of an American citizen who is patriotic, successful, well educated, and well intentioned. McClatchy and Hall’s hit pieces are unethical, inaccurate, and malicious. Other than the red scare, we can only speculate what else led Kevin Hall to target Yuri Vanetik with such malice.
Americans should not have to suffer because they have a Russian-sounding name. But this doesn’t matter to the rabid, impeachment-seeking Marxists in our media.
It’s time they suffered some of their own medicine.
Robert Kraychik is a freelance journalist. He writes for Breitbart News, The Daily Wire, and many other prominent publications.