Department of State

John McCain's Cronyist 'Humanitarian' Group: Your Path to Trump's State Department

Kurt Volker, the McCain Institute's well-connected executive director, has been appointed special representative for Ukraine negotiations.


Kurt Volker (center) with Liz Schrayer and Sen. John McCain
The McCain Institute/Facebook

The McCain Institute—Sen. John McCain's cronyist "humanitarian" group—has proved the quite the pathway to Donald Trump's State Department. Fresh off an announcement that the president plans to tap the senator's wife (and McCain Institute figurehead) Cindy Hensley McCain as some sort of "ambassador at large for human rights," the department has appointed McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker to be its special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Volker—formerly of the CIA, McCain's Senate office, the National Security Council, and NATO—is also an advisor and former managing director at the BGR Group, a D.C.-based lobbying firm and investment bank (former slogan: "The world of business has no borders"), as well as a board member for the Hungary Initiatives Foundation, a group founded by the Hungarian government to lobby for the country's interests in America.

Both the BGR Group and the Hungary Initiatives Foundation have given at least $100,000 (and possibly much more) to the McCain Institute. And the Prague Freedom Foundation (PFF), which lists the BGR group as its address, is also a McCain Institute donor. PFF is ostensibly concerned with promoting independent journalism, but "U.S. international broadcasting insiders suspect that it was set up as a front" in its founder's quest "to acquire State Department properties and influence public broadcasting," according to The Daily Beast.

BGR founder Ed Rogers, a major advocate of U.S. military action in Syria, is also the designated lobbyist for Raytheon—another big McCain Institute funder, as well as one of the largest U.S. defense contractors and a world leader in producing guided missiles. Raytheon is also a major beneficiary of government-surveillance tower contracts along the Arizona border, and it has recently been lobbying for the right to sell "smart bombs" to another McCain Institute funder, Saudi Arabia.

In general, the institute is funded by an odd mix (for a human rights philanthropy, anyway) of shady foreign regimes, former McCain campaign advisors, and corporations—Freeport McMoran, Swift Transportation, Chevron—with interests before Senate committees that John McCain sits on.

A who's who of high-profile Clinton Global Initiative donors also bankroll the McCain Institute. The Soros Foundation. Teneo. Lynn Forester and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. A state-owned Moroccan phosphate-mining company, OCP SA, that is wreaking havoc the western Sahara.

Upon the institute's launch, in 2012, Volker explicitly described it as a way to broker influence. "I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has," Volker said. "When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful."

Behind the scenes, McCain Institute donors and their buddies get to mingle with Volker, Sen. McCain, other sitting U.S. officials, and foreign leaders and ambassadors at private luxury retreats in the Arizona desert. The 2017 meeting included government officials from Ukraine, Singapore, Qatar, Kurdistan, Germany, Canada, the U.K., and the Trump administration, along with business executives, bankers, and lobbyists from around the world.

Publicly, however, the institute tends to downplay these connections and focuses on the anti-"human trafficking" (i.e., anti-prostitution) work that Cindy and her merry band of faux-humanitarians do.

Asked about a $1 million donation from the Saudis, Sen. McCain even claimed that he had "nothing to do with" his namesake institute—a claim that's patently false. (It was literally launched by McCain, and Volker, with leftover money from McCain's 2008 presidential campaign fund.)

Alas, it looks like Volker—and possibly Cindy, too—will now get to bring the McCain Institute's special brand of cronyism and international influence peddling to the Department of State. At least their friends in foreign governments and international arms dealing must be excited.

NEXT: #Resistance Thinks Paul Ryan Can Time Travel, Women's March Organizer Talks Jihad, McCain Institute Exec Headed to State Department: A.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wow, the people who voted against Hillary because of the corrupt Clinton Foundation must be furious about this.

    1. I guess this explains the love McCain gets from so many Dems.

    2. They are. You’ll find very little love for McCain among Trump’s base.

      1. True. The right-wing media has been allllllllllllllll over this.

        1. Dude, you look really stupid now, which is not uncommon for you. Maybe you should have read the right-wing media seething at the conspiracy that the institute is funded by George Soros. There is no love for McCain within any right-wing publication other than maybe the Weekly Standard, which happens to share the same Russia fever dreams as Reason.

          1. A quick Google news search gave me two stories from The Daily Caller, but if you say the right-wing media is seething, then I guess I have to take your word for it.

            1. Which right wing media do you speak of?

              There are not any.

        2. The neocon right-wing media, you mean?

          McCain is their war-dog.

        3. Considering the “Right-Wing Media” (which I assume is Fox News and various neocon publications) was anti-Trump during the election and remains so to this day, I’m sure they have their own agenda.

          If you mean “alt-right” pundits and publications, they also dislike McCain and tend to support Trump. So… as I said.

          Wonderful strawman though.

          1. I understand many on the right dislike McCain, but your comment made it seem like that because McCain is disliked, this story is causing outrage on the right. In reality, other than the news coming out about George Soros’ donations to the foundation – news which came out months ago – no one really seems to give a shit that this foundation, as of right now, could very well be functioning as the Clinton Foundation did during the Obama administration.

            But again, feel free to provide evidence to the contrary.

            1. No, I’m saying TRUMP SUPPORTERS dislike McCain. Not right-wing, not left-wing (hence the reason why I didn’t mention any political leaning other than supporting Trump in my original comment).

              Normal Americans who like Trump and follow what he does through media sources other than State-owned talking heads. Aka, people who know what the Clinton Foundation does, which makes sense considering I was responding to a comment about the Clinton Foundation.

              I don’t give a shit about the neocon news, and you’re the only one bringing them up as a point of argument. You chose to misinterpret the comment to prove a point to yourself.

              1. ‘m saying TRUMP SUPPORTERS dislike McCain

                So then, the people outraged by the Clinton Foundation are just as outraged by the McCain Institute because government corruption – encouraged by the same fucking donors as the Clinton Foundation – still matters to the Trump supporters?

                It doesn’t seem like that is receiving any attention in any media other than here and two Daily Caller stories, because nobody seems to care when their guy is doing it.

                1. That first paragraph made no sense, but I hope you get the gist: Trump supporters – as far as I can tell – don’t seem to care that a cronyist foundation has essentially replaced the Clinton Foundation in the State Department because their guy is in charge.

                2. To answer your first question, yes. Trump supporters dislike the right side of the swamp as much as the left side.

                  To your second point, try looking harder. It’s easy to find people outside of the neocon and progressive circles who dislike McCain. For example, Ben Garrison is a popular cartoonist – here are a couple of his pieces and articles:

                  If you’re saying that establishment Republicans aren’t calling out McCain… no shit. But that wasn’t my point in the first place, only an imaginary argument that you read in the glare coming off of your monitor.

                  1. To Crusty… >you, anyone who is not on the left is in full support of this pay-to-play scheme and supports McCain.

                    There cannot possibly be factions in conservative circles that are anti-establishment conservatives and voted for Trump.

            2. It looks like Mike Cernovich has tweeted this post, so that’s one more data point.

          2. Consider the source….lololol

  2. Wow, the people who voted against Hillary because of the corrupt Clinton Foundation must be furious-ly rushing to deflect and change the subject

    Fixed that for you.

  3. ENB’s article does a better job of showing the threat from McCain than Cathy Brown’s does in explaining the threat from Putin.

    1. “Cathy Young” and she’s an idiot through and through. Pro-war libertarians are a disgusting breed

      1. I haven’t finished reading the whole article, but I skimmed the conclusions at the end. It seems quite informative and well-thought. To call the article “pro-war” seems grossly disingenuous.

        1. Actually now, looking over the comments on Young’s article your take is completely incoherent. You acknowledge that “no one denies” that Putin is an enemy of freedom and provide no evidence to contradict any of Young’s factual claims, but then appear to say that merely pointing this out makes her a bloodthirsty warhawk.

          1. You’re absolutely right, economic sanctions coupled with unsubstantiated claims about election interference are benign topics of conversation. Hey, why don’t we slap sanctions on China too, which is just as much a boogeyman? No? That would be protectionism?

            Pro-war libertarians are a disgusting breed

            1. “Economic sanctions?particularly when they target the Russian political elite and its properties abroad, as opposed to targeting ordinary Russian consumers?can be more effective than they are often believed to be”


              “Meanwhile, Ron Paul?style libertarians are inclined to see Russia as a check on U.S. foreign adventurism and Russia hawks as hardcore proponents of the American imperial leviathan.”

              That crazy Ron Paul and his actual stance on non-interventionism. War is cool, brah

            2. lol thanks for proving my point

            3. Like do you even hear yourself? Suggesting sanctions on Russian oligarchs can sometimes be effective at achieving policy objectives is a BLOODTHIRSTY CALL FOR APOCALYPTIC WAR.

              ENB’s article here criticizing McCain and Volker? Basically calling for their summary execution, it’s all the same.

              1. >>>Basically calling for their summary execution

                death-cage-match might be fun. McCain thinks he’s tough.

  4. And FFS, would someone please tell me why we are doing anything with the Saudis? Iran funds their brand of Islamism, and the Saudis fund their own version. Fuck em both.

    And if we are going to do anything in Syria (not that we should) let’s help Russia crush ISIS, and in return gain concessions from Assad. As bad as he is (and no doubt, he is a monster), the people are worse off due to the war, and certainly would be worse with ISIS in charge.

  5. Publicly, however, the institute tends to downplay these connections and focuses on the anti-“human trafficking” (i.e., anti-prostitution) work that Cindy and her merry band of faux-humanitarians do.


  6. Neocons will get their was one way or another.

  7. Hillary Clinton: “Who taught you how to do this stuff?”

    John McCain: “You, alright? I learned it by watching you!”

  8. Did anyone else snicker at “the president plans to tap the senator’s wife”? Am I the only juvenile here?

    1. >>>Am I the only juvenile here?

      nope. funny.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.