Manafort, Podesta Group highlight DC swamp culture

Manafort, Podesta Group highlight DC swamp culture
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Back in February I wrote a piece titled, “No one mentions that the Russian trial leads to Democratic lobbyists.” The article described the ties between “hired-gun” Washington lobbyists and their rogue’s gallery of Russian and Ukrainian clients — some fugitives, others barred from entry into the United States — along with companies closely allied with the Kremlin.

Rogue oligarchs hire Washington’s heaviest hitters among public-relations firms and establishment lawyers, including many names associated with Democratic Party interests.

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Many D.C. power players apparently are not picky in their choice of clients. Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Donald Trump, went straight to the top of the Democratic establishment — the Podesta Group — when soliciting lobbying power for his client, former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych.

 

Manafort is now under indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller; one of the charges is failing to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The Podesta Group, which Manafort hired, also failed to register in a timely fashion and could face similar charges.

According to the official text of the indictment, Manafort stands indicted on 12 charges, along with a business associate. The most serious charge is the laundering of some $75 million received between 2006 and 2016 as payment for his consulting services to then-President Yanukovych and to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

After Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev in February 2014, his Party of Regions morphed into the Opposition Bloc, which is the strongest political party in Ukraine’s troubled East today.

Manafort first came to public attention as a consultant for the Russian-leaning Yanukovych in Ukraine’s 2010 election. Yanukovych won handily, thanks in part to the feuding among his pro-European opponents.

Yanukovych fled Ukraine as the Maidan demonstrations intensified. In 2014, Ukraine's chief prosecutor accused Yanukovych of stealing roughly $100 billion from Ukraine, much of it hidden in offshore accounts.

According to the indictment, from 2006 to 2014, Manafort “engaged in a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign in the United States at the direction of Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the (then) Government of Ukraine.” He did so without “providing the disclosures required by law” under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

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The indictment further reads that, in February 2012, Manafort “solicited two Washington, D.C., firms (Company A and Company B) to lobby the United States on behalf of Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the government of Ukraine."

Although Company A was told that it would be representing the government of Ukraine, the nominal client was to be a European Centre for Modern Ukraine, purportedly founded by Yanukovych. Manafort remained in contact with Yanukovych and passed on instructions to Company A and B.

Company A and B were paid through Manafort’s offshore accounts and not by the nominal client, the European Centre for Modern Ukraine, according to the indictment.

According to news reports, Company B is the Podesta Group, which claimed to lobby on behalf of the European Centre for Modern Ukraine.

This was its excuse for not registering as an agent of a foreign government, although it was in fact lobbying in the interests of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. If the Podesta Group understood that the European Centre for Modern Ukraine was a cut-out to avoid registration, they could be subject to the same non-registration charge that Manafort faces.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has railed against the “swamp” of Washington, D.C. There could be no better illustration of how that swamp operates than the Manafort-Podesta affair. We do not know whether Mueller will pursue other aspects of the D.C. swamp, such as the Clinton Foundation and its pay-to-play antics.

After reading the Manafort indictment, it seems that Trump — and, by extension, the American people — dodged a bullet by getting rid of Manafort as soon as he realized that Manafort was himself a swamp creature.

Paul Gregory is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Gregory has written extensively on Russia and the former Soviet Union, including, "The Political Economy of Stalinism," (Cambridge, 2004), which won the Hewett Prize, an award given annually for an outstanding monograph on the political economy of Russia, Eurasia and/or Eastern Europe, published in the previous year.