by Chuck Ross
Two lobbying firms, including one owned by Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, knowingly worked with Paul Manafort at the direction of the Ukrainian government, according to an indictment released Friday by the special counsel’s office.
The indictment, which was released ahead of an expected plea deal for Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, says that as a part of his “lobbying scheme,” Manafort solicited two lobbying firms in February 2012 to lobby on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“Various employees of Companies A and B understood that they were receiving direction from MANAFORT and President Yanukovych, not the Centre, which was not even operational when Companies A and B began lobbying for Ukraine,” reads the indictment. The Centre is a reference to the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based non-profit that the government says was used to support Yanukovych.
Company A has been identified as Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying shop operated by former Republican Congressman Vin Weber. Company B has been identified as Podesta Group, the firm that Tony Podesta founded with his brother, John, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Manafort is expected to plead guilty on Friday to conspiracy against the United States and obstruction of justice. He was convicted in federal court in Virginia on Aug. 21 on bank fraud, tax fraud and money laundering charges. He was scheduled to face trial in Washington, D.C. on charges directly related to his consulting work for Yanukovych.
Nobody from Podesta Group or Mercury Public Affairs has faced charges in the case, though the latest indictment suggests that the lobbying firms skirted federal law by failing to register as foreign agents with the Justice Department.
According to the indictment, Manafort knowingly avoided registering with the Justice Department and lied to the government about his work for Yanukovych, who was forced to leave office in 2014.
The indictment lays out evidence that Manafort, his business partner Rick Gates, and employees at Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group were aware they were working for Yanukovych.
The head of Company B, believed to be Podesta, told his employees “to think the President of Ukraine ‘is the client.’”
The indictment also cites evidence that an employee of the Podesta Group realized that the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine was being used as cover for Yanukovych.
“An employee of Company B described the Centre as a fig leaf, and the Centre’s written certification that it was not related to the Party of Regions as ‘a fig leaf on a fig leaf,’ referring to the Centre in an email as the ‘European hot dog stand for a Modern Ukraine,’” the indictment reads.
“Company B wrote in an email to its team about a ‘potential representation for Ukraine,’ having been contacted ‘at the suggestion of Paul Manafort who has been working on the current PM elections.’”
The indictment also says that Manafort, Gates, and “employees of both Companies A and B referred to the client in ways that made clear they knew it was Ukraine, for instance noting that the ‘client’ had an Embassy in Washington D.C.”
Working at Manafort’s direction, Mercury and Podesta Group lobbied dozens of members of Congress, their staffers, and White House and State Department officials regarding a host of issues related to Ukraine, including the validity of its elections.
Manafort frequently briefed Yanukovych on Mercury and Podesta’s lobbying activities. He also tasked the companies to prepare reports that he could provide to Yanukovych.
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