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To "find some Americans," Braynin worked through Fred Lowell, a San Francisco lawyer with close ties to California's Republican Party. On Feb. 14, Lowell called Joe Shumate, a G.O.P. expert in political data analysis who had served as deputy chief of staff to California Governor Pete Wilson. Since Wilson's drive for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination had ended almost before it began, Lowell thought Shumate and George Gorton, Wilson's longtime top strategist, might be available to help Yeltsin. They were--and they immediately enlisted Richard Dresner, a New York-based consultant who had worked with them on many of Wilson's campaigns.
Dresner had another connection that would prove useful later on. In the late 1970s and early '80s, he had joined with Dick Morris to help Bill Clinton get elected Governor of Arkansas. As Clinton's current political guru, Morris became the middleman on those few occasions when the Americans sought the Administration's help in Yeltsin's re-election drive. So while Clinton was uninvolved with Yeltsin's recruitment of the American advisers, the Administration knew of their existence--and although Dresner denies dealing with Morris, three other sources have told Time that on at least two occasions the team's contacts with Morris were "helpful."
A week after the Valentine's Day call from Lowell, Dresner was in Moscow. The Yeltsin campaign was at sea. Five candidates, led by Communist Gennadi Zyuganov, were ahead of Yeltsin in some polls. The President was favored by only 6% of the electorate and was "trusted" as a competent leader by an even smaller proportion. "In the U.S.," says Dresner, "you'd advise a pol with those kinds of numbers to get another occupation."
For two days the supersecretive Yeltsin high command avoided Dresner, and none of the team ever actually met the President. "There are too many factions and too many leaks to risk your dealing with him directly," Braynin explained to Dresner. "You are our biggest secret."
Then, at 3 p.m. on Feb. 27, Dresner met with Soskovets. In English, the First Deputy Prime Minister asked, "How's our friend Bill doing?" Most of the hour-long session was spent discussing Clinton's re-election prospects. Dresner had prepared a five-page proposal that called for the Americans to "introduce your campaign staff to sophisticated methods of message development, polling, voter contact and campaign organization."
Soskovets had already read Dresner's paper and pointed to a calendar on his desk. The days remaining before the presidential election's first round on June 16 were highlighted in large, bold numbers. "There's not much time," he said. "You are hired. I will tell the President that we have the Americans." And then Soskovets ominously added a thought that would reverberate in early May. Alluding to Yeltsin's poor standing and the reluctance of his aides ever to yield power to the Communists, Soskovets told Dresner, "One of your tasks is to advise us, a month from the election, about whether we should call it off if you determine that we're going to lose."