Paul Manafort, President Trump's former presidential campaign manager for a brief time, was indicted Monday by a federal grand jury, along with one of his business associates Richard W. Gates, on twelve counts. The charges, which cover conduct going as far back as 2006 and continuing through 2016, include conspiring to defraud the United States in business dealings with Ukraine, conspiracy to launder money, false and misleading FARA [Foreign Agent Registration Act] statements, and being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. While the charges have been brought as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, they have nothing to do with Mr. Trump's campaign. In response to the news of the charges, President Trump tweeted: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
In fact, at least some of the charges brought against Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates may turn out to be millstones around the necks of the Podesta Group, the Democrat leaning consulting and lobbying firm co-founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and his brother Tony. It was reported that special counsel Mueller has opened a federal investigation into Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group.
Fox News' Tucker Carlson has reported some additional details about the relationship between Manafort and the Podesta Group that may provide some context for the charges brought against Manafort and Gates. Carlson said he was told by an unnamed source claiming to be a former senior employee of the Podesta Group that “Paul Manafort spent years working with The Podesta Group on behalf of Russian government interests. That relationship extends back to at least 2011 when our source claims Manafort had dinner with both Podestas, Tony and John.”
In the years following that dinner, Carlson’s source said he saw Paul Manafort in the Podesta Group offices frequently, “representing Russian business and political interests, who sought to influence Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton's State Department, and the Obama administration.” Tony Podesta in turn had direct discussions with Hillary Clinton while she was the Secretary of State.
Tony Podesta also had connections to the Clinton Foundation. The subject of one meeting between Tony Podesta and the Clinton Foundation, according to Carlson’s source, involved the Uranium One deal in which the Russians gained control of 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves while the company’s principals gave more than $100 million to the Clinton Foundation. “As our source put it, Tony Podesta was basically part of the Clinton Foundation,” Carlson reported.
Carlson proceeded to describe the vehicles Paul Manafort and the Podesta Group used to push the agenda of their Russian and Russian-friendly Ukrainian clients in high level Obama administration circles. One such vehicle, called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was a major client of the Podesta Group and Manafort. This relationship went at least as far back as 2012.
The Associated Press had previously reported last year that Manafort and Gates introduced the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine to the Podesta Group and another lobbying group named Mercury LLC. The Podesta Group did not file a Foreign Agents Registration Act disclosure until this past April, years after it engaged in lobbying work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. The Podesta Group reportedly received $1.13 million from the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine between June 2012 and April 2014.
The criminal indictment of Manafort and Gates ties some strings together, referring specifically to the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, and to two unnamed lobbying companies in the United States solicited by Manafort and Gates.
Paragraph 11 states, “The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (the Centre) was created in or about 2012 in Belgium as a mouthpiece for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. The Centre was used by MANAFORT, GATES, and others in order to lobby and conduct a public relations campaign in the United States and Europe on behalf of the existing Ukraine regime.” The Party of Regions was a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Yanukovych was the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine who was ousted in 2014.
Paragraph 20 of the indictment states that “in February 2012, MANAFORT and GATES solicited two Washington, D.C., firms (Company A and Company B) to lobby in the United States on behalf of Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the Government of Ukraine.”
Subsequent paragraphs of the indictment detail how the two lobbying companies were paid through offshore accounts associated with Manafort and Gates and were used as part of Manafort’s and Gates’ scheme to distance themselves and the former Ukrainian government from the lobbying effort run through the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine and the two lobbying companies. Although the Podesta Group is not identified by name in the indictment as one of the two companies, NBC has reported that the Podesta Group and Mercury are the two unnamed companies. It is hardly a coincidence that Tony Podesta stepped down from his leadership post at the lobbying group he had co-founded with his brother, John Podesta, on the same day that the indictment was announced.
The left is trying to spin the Manafort indictment to support its narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in view of Manafort’s brief tenure as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. There may indeed be more shoes to drop in special counsel Mueller’s investigation. However, so far it is the lobbying firm co-founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta that is in the cross hairs of the Mueller investigation, along with its indicted collaborators Manafort and Gates. They all helped a foreign entity with ties to the pro-Russian former government of Ukraine. Some of the charges brought against Manafort and Gates, particularly acting as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in lobbying government officials in the United States without registering the affiliation, may also apply to the Democrat leaning Podesta Group. It looks like the Russian collusion investigation is beginning to boomerang on the Democrats.