National Security

Law firm tied to Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying will register as foreign agent

Greg Nash

A prominent law firm that helped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lobby on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine has agreed to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department. 

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP has also agreed to pay the Treasury Department over $4.6 million that it received from its work for the Ukrainian government, according to the settlement agreement announced by the Justice Department on Thursday.

In connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Manafort was charged in October 2017 with a slew of crimes stemming from his lobbying on behalf of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and his political party. 

Manafort hired Skadden, which is based in New York but has offices internationally, on behalf of the Ukrainian government to produce a 2012 report that defended the Ukrainian government’s imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival of Yanukovych. 

Manafort also orchestrated a media rollout of the report in the United States, which included selectively “leaking” the report to a U.S. media outlet so that the resulting article could “influence reporting globally,” according to a September court filing in Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C. 

Skadden has admitted to acting as an agent of the Ukrainian government by contributing to the public relations campaign in the United States in 2012 and is retroactively registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a federal law governing foreign lobbying, according to the agreement announced Thursday. 

The Justice Department also said that Skadden received “multiple inquiries” from its Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) unit in 2012 and 2013 and that an unnamed partner at the firm made false and misleading statements to officials that led them to conclude the law firm was not obligated to register as a foreign agent under the law.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement that Skadden’s actions “hid from the public that its report was part of a Ukrainian foreign influence campaign” but acknowledged the firm’s “more recent extensive cooperation in the investigation of this matter, which facilitated its resolution.”

A lawyer for Skadden, Alex Van Der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents in connection with Mueller’s investigation last February, including admitting to lying about his communications with Richard Gates, a former Trump campaign aide and Manafort’s former business partner.

Prosecutors also said that Van Der Zwaan falsely characterized his roll in the rollout of the Tymoshenko report as “passive,” when in fact he aided the public relations campaign by providing an advanced copy of the report to a public relations firm and giving Gates talking points about it. Van Der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison back in April, the first sentence handed down in connection with Mueller’s probe.

Manafort’s lobbying work for Yanukovych came under scrutiny during the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, and he was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016.

Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow has shed further light on foreign lobbying activity.

Mueller has reportedly referred to prosecutors in Manhattan related foreign lobbying investigations that involve the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs, two D.C.-based lobbying firms that were hired by Manafort. The referral also reportedly involved Greg Craig, a former Skadden lawyer who worked as White House counsel under former President Obama. Craig left the firm last April.

Meanwhile, Manafort pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in September and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s probe, but his plea deal fell apart late last year when the special counsel accused him of lying to investigators about his contacts with the Trump administration and other matters.

Tags Manafort business dealings Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom Special Counsel investigation

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