Lobbyists tied to ex-Trump aides register as foreign agents

"The New York Times reported today that on August 19, 2016, the day Manafort stepped down as chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, a shell company was formed, "controlled by Mr. Manafort" that received "$13 million in loans from two businesses with ties to Mr. Trump, including one that partners with a Ukrainian-born billionaire and another led by a Trump economic adviser". Spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement that Manafort's lobbying for a foreign client ended before he began working on Mr. Trump's presidential campaign, and "was not conducted on behalf of the Russian government".

A few months before President Trump won the election, his campaign manager Paul Manafort quit.

Also Wednesday, one of the Washington lobbying firms involved in that covert campaign, the Podesta Group Inc., formally registered with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Apparently Manafort is planning on registering with the USA government as a foreign agent for his work with the Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych in 2012-2014. The effort sought to promote a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party's interests in Washington. The group chose to retroactively disclose its work to the Justice Department based on "information brought to light in recent months" that led the group to understand the principal beneficiary of its work might have been a foreign government or political party.

USA investigators have struggled to find direct evidence of wrongdoing from the financial ledger, partly because much of it is hand-written in cyrillic and Ukrainian investigators haven't been able to cross-reference the entries with bank records.

Officials with the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which is investigating corruption under Yanukovych, have said they believe the ledger is genuine. Manafort declined to comment to NPR, saying only that he hopes Ukrainian investigators will look into an apparent attempt to blackmail him with compromising material.

When a person registers as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, it means that they are lobbying for the interests of a foreign government in the United States.

Federal law says USA citizens who do work on behalf of other governments must register with the Justice Department, though prosecutors rarely file charges based exclusively on that law.

The AP first reported Manafort's and Podesta Group's work for the European Centre last summer.

"Since before the 2016 election, Mr. Manafort has been in discussions with federal authorities about the advisability of registering under FARA for some of his past political work".

Mercury LLC told the AP just hours later that it also intends to file with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

The Podesta Group has previously acknowledged to AP that Manafort's firm, DMP International, had provided guidance about the lobbying effort.

AP reported that US prosecutors have been looking into Manafort's work for years as part of an effort to recover Ukrainian assets stolen after Yanukovych fled the country.

In late March, Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, revealed documents he said prove Manafort tried to hide payments from Yanukovych and presented a contract showing a $750,000 payment for computers made between Manafort and a shell company registered in Belize.

"How many obscure European think tanks were able to hire sophisticated A-list lobbyists?" he said.

  • Larry Hoffman