Demo­cratic lob­by­ist tied to Manafort steps down

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - TOM HAMBURGER AND CAROL D. LEONNIG

WASH­ING­TON — Tony Podesta, a Demo­cratic power lob­by­ist, an­nounced to col­leagues Mon­day that he is step­ping down amid a series of in­dict­ments that cast a shadow on work his firm had done with Paul Manafort.

The Podesta Group is not named in the newly re­leased in­dict­ments, but the com­pany is one of two in­di­rectly re­ferred to in the charges. Podesta and another lob­by­ing firm, Mercury Pub­lic Af­fairs, were work­ing with Manafort and his part­ner Rick Gates from 2012-14 in lob­by­ing to im­prove the image of a Ukrainian regime that was friendly with Rus­sia. In the in­dict­ment, the firms are re­ferred to as “Com­pany A and Com­pany B,” ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the com­pa­nies’ in­volve­ment.

Podesta an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion at a staff meet­ing at the Podesta Group’s Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to run a pub­lic af­fairs firm while you are un­der at­tack by Fox News and the right-wing me­dia,” he told his for­mer em­ploy­ees, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with his re­marks.

Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, a long­time Demo­cratic ad­viser who led the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Hil­lary Clin­ton. The res­ig­na­tion of one of Wash­ing­ton’s most prom­i­nent Demo­cratic lob­by­ists shows how the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller is re­ver­ber­at­ing through­out both par­ties.

It’s un­clear how much the Podesta Group or its prin­ci­pal founder knew about the fund­ing for the client they rep­re­sented.

The Podesta Group and Mercury claimed in lob­by­ing dis­clo­sure re­ports that they rep­re­sented a Brus­sels-based non­profit, the Euro­pean Cen­ter for a Mod­ern Ukraine, that sought to help Ukraine im­prove its image around the world. How­ever, the in­dict­ment al­leges that the lob­by­ing work was be­ing di­rected by Manafort and Gates on be­half of the gov­ern­ment of Ukraine. Gates and Manafort for many years rep­re­sented the Party of Re­gions, a Rus­sia-friendly po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion in Ukraine that was led by Vik­tor Yanukovych, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Ukraine who fled to Moscow in 2014.

“In 2012, Manafort and Gates so­licited two Wash­ing­ton DC firms (Com­pany A and Com­pany B) to lobby in the U.S. on be­half of Yanukovych and the Party of Re­gions, and the Gov­ern­ment of Ukraine,” the in­dict­ment said.

The Podesta Group fully dis­closed its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Euro­pean Cen­tre for a Mod­ern Ukraine and com­plied with fed­eral dis­clo­sure laws “by fil­ing un­der the lob­by­ing dis­clo­sure act over five years ago,” said Molly Levin­son, a spokesman for the firm, in a state­ment.

“The Podesta Group has fully co­op­er­ated with the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s of­fice and taken ev­ery pos­si­ble step to pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion that con­firms com­pli­ance with the law,” Levin­son said, adding that the com­pany’s work was in sup­port of Ukraine’s ad­mis­sion to the Euro­pean Union.

A Mercury part­ner, Michael McKeon, is­sued a state­ment Mon­day af­ter­noon ac­knowl­edg­ing the firm’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Euro­pean Cen­ter for a Mod­ern Ukraine and say­ing its goal was to align Ukraine with western democ­ra­cies.

“Mercury takes its obli­ga­tions to fol­low all laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions very se­ri­ously. Mercury has and will con­tinue to fully co­op­er­ate with the Of­fice of the Spe­cial Coun­sel,” he wrote.

While claim­ing that the Euro­pean Cen­ter for a Mod­ern Ukraine was the client, that or­ga­ni­za­tion was ac­tu­ally “un­der the ul­ti­mate di­rec­tion of the Gov­ern­ment of Ukraine, Yanukovych and the Party of Re­gions …,” the in­dict­ment said. “Com­pany A and Com­pany B were paid for their ser­vices not by their nom­i­nal client … but solely through off-shore ac­counts as­so­ci­ated with the Manafort-Gates en­ti­ties.”

The Podesta Group and Mercury came into fo­cus for prose­cu­tors as they delved deeply into Manafort’s fi­nances ear­lier this year.

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