New registration details Manafort's lobbying for group with pro-Russia ties

New registration details Manafort's lobbying for group with pro-Russia ties
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Paul Manafort attended four lobbying meetings with members of Congress and Washington organizations while advising a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party, according to new disclosure forms filed to the Justice Department on Friday. 

The meetings were revealed in an 87-page disclosure obtained by The Hill that was filed by public affairs firm Mercury. Those forms retroactively register the firm as a foreign agent for work it did years ago. 

Vin Weber, a partner at Mercury and former Republican congressman, brought Manafort to meetings with members of Congress, including one with former Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, a board member at the International Republican Institute, in December 2012. He also brought Manafort to a meeting with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in March 2013.

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The filings detail the work Mercury did for the European Centre for Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based nonprofit, from 2012 to 2014. Manafort had referred the client to Mercury and another Washington firm, Podesta Group. The Podesta Group filed its own retroactive foreign lobbying disclosures earlier this month.

While the European Centre for Modern Ukraine’s stated goals include creating closer ties between the West and Ukraine, it has ties to the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine, to which leader Viktor Yanukovych belonged before protests forced him out of the country. 

It was known that Manafort introduced the Centre to K Street, and provided advice on Ukraine's politics, but the direct lobbying had not been previously reported. A spokesman for Manafort pushed back against the revelations

“One meeting with one lawmaker connected to this topic in a two year period looks like incidental contact to fair-minded Americans,” Jason Maloni told The Hill in an email. All the meetings, which also included former senior government officials at non-profits, happened on December 2012 or within March and April 2013.

Manafort, who advised the Party of Regions and Yanukovych for many years, later became President Trump’s campaign chairman.

It’s unclear how much the lobbying firms knew about Manafort’s other clients.

“At that time, [Manafort] was widely recognized for his significant experience in Ukrainian politics and we felt his perspective would be meaningful in those few meetings,” Mercury partner Michael McKeon told The Hill in an email on Friday.  

“That was the extent of his involvement with us,” he said. 

The new disclosures are required under a law that was passed to combat Nazi propaganda during World War II, known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The disclosure requirements are more stringent than domestic lobbying forms and include more information, including details like itemized meetings and phone calls.

Also in the filing is a flyer that the firm distributed, touting reforms to the voting process in Ukraine to make it more "free, fair and transparent." For example, one new rule increased the vote threshold a party is required to have before they could be admitted to parliament from 3 percent to 5 percent. Another nixed the option to "vote against all" on the ballot. 

The new standards, the flyer reads, are in compliance with international electoral standards. 

During the contract with Mercury, Manafort also attended meetings with Paula Dobriansky, a former State Department official during the Bush administration, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Nadia Diuk, a vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy. 

The disclosures also detail all the other contacts Mercury made on behalf of the Centre, including reaching out to dozens of news outlets and meeting with government officials, staffers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, think tanks and nonprofit organizations. 

Manafort never worked for Mercury and had his own firm at the time, DMP International.

The documents also bring to light details first uncovered by The Associated Press last August about what Manafort did to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Russia. 

His relationships with pro-Russia figures and work in the Trump campaign have been central to the controversy swirling around accusations that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Similar filings by Manafort could be forthcoming, his spokesman told The Hill earlier this month.

Even before the 2016 elections, Manafort “has been in discussions with federal authorities about the advisability of registering under FARA for some of his past political work,” said spokesman Jason Maloni. 

“Mr. Manafort received formal guidance recently from the authorities and he is taking appropriate steps in response to the guidance.” 

Violating FARA is considered a felony, though only a handful of prosecutions have been pursued since the law's formation. It is considered a compliance-based statute, so even filling out registration paperwork late can get firms and individuals out of trouble with the Justice Department. FARA is more broad than the LDA, and covers consulting and public relations efforts, in addition to traditional lobbying.

Mercury and the Podesta Group had been registered for the Centre under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which dictates domestic lobbying disclosure. The two firms made a total of $2.2 million during the two years of work. 

Both firms had signed statements from the Centre, saying that it received no funds or support from a foreign government or party — something lawyers advised the firms would preclude them from registering under FARA. 

However, following a series of AP reports that included details about how Manafort and his associate Rick Gates directed strategy while operating as advisers for the Party of Regions, the firms have decided to register with the Justice Department retroactively.

Updated at 5:55 p.m.