Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, November 1st, 2017.

Tony Podesta and the Mueller Investigation

Trump Maladministration

When word got out that Tony Podesta, a Democrat and brother to John Podesta, was under investigation by Bob Mueller, the Right reacted with much joy. For example:

For the better part of a week, the Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been doing business as “The Tony Podesta Gazette.” The trend started with welcome news in Carlsonville: On Oct. 23, news reports indicated that eminent lobbyist Tony Podesta, of the Democratic-connected lobbying outfit Podesta Group, was a “subject” of the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is looking into allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. …

…In the best tradition of a cable-news opinionator, Carlson slipped his programming mitts around the Podesta-Manafort-Ukraine connection and squeezed until multiple segments trickled out. On Oct. 23, he riffed, “Robert Mueller’s team of investigators apparently has found evidence of suspected wrongdoing by the Podesta Group, which you will remember is a lobbying firm founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother Tony. According to news accounts, the Podestas may have violated criminal law by failing to register as lobbyists for foreign powers.”

The next night, Carlson claimed to have his own little break in the story, thanks to a “source” who’d formerly worked at the Podesta Group. “According to our source … Manafort is indeed at the center of this investigation, but not because of his ties to Trump. In fact, Paul Manafort spent years working with the Podesta Group on behalf of Russian government interests.” The “source” also claimed that Manafort could be seen in the Podesta Group offices at least once a month.

More: “Now, why did the Russians choose the Podesta Group? Well, because both Podestas were close to the Clintons and Hillary was then secretary of state. She could get things done for the Podestas’ Russian clients. It was influence peddling, the most obvious kind,” said Carlson. Such content bumped along through the end of the week.

Lawyers for the Podesta Group eventually sent a sternly worded letter to Carlson. However, Tucker and others at Faux Nooz continue to say that the Podesta investigation is “the real Russia story,” not the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is supposed to be making the Democrats look bad.

In fact, as Ben Mathis-Lilley writes at Slate, many Democrats would be thrilled if Mueller indicts Podesta.

The point is that the Trump-industrial complex is hyping Podesta’s resignation as if he were an irreplaceable cornerstone of modern progressivism. This isn’t true: While he is former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s brother and certainly is/was a figure of more influence in the Democratic Party than, say, me, he’s not a household name and has never held office. His lack of importance to the Democrats’ public image is evident when you consider which party figures have suggested that Mueller’s investigation of his firm is inappropriate or misguided: none of them. To state what is weirdly not obvious to Trump and Fox News—possibly because they can only perceive of politics through their own lens of reflexive total partisanship?—Mueller prosecuting a few relatively minor Democrats here and there is good for the Democrats, because it burnishes his reputation as a man of nonpartisan integrity whose investigation deserves continued public support as it (presumably) uncovers more and more evidence of malfeasance in Trump’s inner circle.

Still, what exactly does Tony Podesta have to do with any of this? It turns out that in 2012 Manafort hired the Podesta Group and another lobbying firm to lobby for a Ukrainian political party within the United States. There’s nothing illegal about that. However, the Podesta Group did not disclose this work to the Justice Department as required by the Foreign Agents Registrant Act (FARA). Podesta claimed they believed the group was not affiliated with the Ukrainian government.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, refers to “Company A” and “Company B” as the firms Manafort and Gates solicited in 2012 to lobby on behalf of the Ukranian government. Company A is Mercury Public Affairs and Company B is the Podesta Group, the sources said. …

… According to the indictment, the lobbying firms were paid $2 million from offshore accounts controlled by Manafort.

Their work included lobbying “multiple members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections” that the reasons for imprisoning Yulia Tymoshenko, the political rival of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The indictment also revealed that Gates told Company A, now known to be Mercury, in February 2012 that it would be “representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington] D.C.”

Seems to me Podesta ought to have been at least suspicious that this work was being done on behalf of an entity connected to the government of Ukraine. But if that’s the entire beef against him, that’s not really “the real Russia story,” is it? Elsewhere we find,

Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

And in another place we read:

The work for the European Center, which ended in 2014, was cited in the indictment on Monday as part of a “scheme” by Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates to gain support in Washington for their longtime client, the pro-Russian leader Viktor F. Yanukovych, a former president of Ukraine, while evading disclosure requirements for foreign lobbying.

Here’s another wrinkle, however, from Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider:

A New York publicist who has represented clients including former Trump Organization adviser Felix Sater and Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov says he was asked by Paul Manafort and Rick Gates if he could avoid registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent while he worked for them — and whether he would agree to be paid from offshore accounts. …

… Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5WPR, told Business Insider he was approached by Manafort and Gates in 2012. …

…Torossian said that he met and/or spoke with Manafort and Gates “on multiple occasions in February and March 2012” to discuss a prospective PR campaign “for billionaires and the Ukrainian government.”

It was around that time that Manafort and Gates “solicited two Washington, DC, firms (Company A and Company B) to lobby in the United States on behalf of” the Ukrainian government, according to the newly unsealed indictment. NBC News reported on Monday that Company A and B was Mercury Public Affairs and The Podesta Group, respectively.

“They acted like they controlled the government of Ukraine,” said Torossian, who did crisis work for the Eric Trump Foundation as recently as last month.

Torossian is not connected to the Podesta Group, as far as I know, and it’s possible that Manafort didn’t ask Podesta to not register as a foreign agent. But that may yet come out.

So Podesta, who has left the firm that bears his name, may end up facing some kind of penalty for not properly registering the work he did for Manafort. Or not. But so far, that’s all we know about why Podesta’s name turned up in all this.

See also Court Docs Reveal Fight Over Manafort’s Lawyer Testifying To Mueller Grand Jury, which relates to the 2012 lobbying project.

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Bad Vetting Isn’t the Problem

Trump Maladministration

I just want to point out that Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of killing eight people in Manhattan yesterday, is from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is not on any of Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban lists. And while we may learn otherwise, so far it appears Saipov became radicalized after he arrived in the U.S. in 2010.

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