When federal prosecutors unsealed the twelve-count indictment against former Trump campaign chairman and longtime alleged fixer for the Russian mob, Paul Manafort, a couple of companies were revealed as participating, to a greater or lesser extent, in Manafort’s efforts to disguise the beneficiary of lobbying efforts that portrayed the Ukraine of Russian quisling Viktor Yanukovych as a garden spot of democracy. This is from the indictment:
22. At the direction of MANAFORT and GATES, Company A and Company B engaged in extensive lobbying. Among other things, they lobbied multiple Members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections, and the propriety of Yanukovych’s imprisoning his presidential rival, Yulia Tymoshenko (who had served as Ukraine President prior to Yanukovych). MANAFORT and GATES also lobbied in connection with the roll out of a report concerning the Tymoshenko trial commissioned by the Government of MANAFORT and GATES used one of their offshore accounts to funnel $4 million to pay secretly for the report.
23. To minimize public disclosure of their lobbying campaign, MANAFORT and GATES ananged for the Centre to be the nominal client of Company A and Company B, even though in fact the Centre was under the ultimate direction of the Government of Ukraine, Yanukovych, and the Party of Regions. For instance, MANAFORT and GATES selected Company A and Company B, and only thereafter did the Centre sign contracts with the lobbying firms without ever meeting either company. Company A and Company B were paid for their services not by their nominal client, the Centre, but solely through off-shore accounts associated with the MANAFORT-GATES entities, namely Bletilla Ventures Limited (in Cyprus) and Jeunet Ltd. and Global Endeavour (in Grenadines). In total, Company A and Company B were paid more than $2 million from these accounts between 2012 and 2014.
24. To conceal the scheme, MANAFORT and GATES developed a false and misleading cover story that would distance themselves and the Government of Ukraine, Yanukovych, and the Party of Regions from the Centre, Company A, and Company For instance, in the wake of extensive press reports on MANAFORT and his connections with Ukraine, on August 16, 2016, GATES communicated false talking points to Company B in writing, including:
- Q: “Can you describe your initial contact with [Company B] and the lobbying goals he discussed with them?” A: “We provided an introduction between the [Centre] and [Company B/Company A] in 2012. The [Centre] was seeking to retain· representation in Washington, DC to support the mission of the “
- A: “Our [MANAFORT and ·GATES’] task was to assist the [Centre] find representation in Washington, but at no time did our firm or members provide any direct lobbying “
- A: “The structure of the arrangement between the [Centre] and [Company A and Company B] was worked out by the two “
- Q: “Can you say where the funding from for [sic] the [Centre] came from? (this amounted to well over a million dollars between 2012 and 2014).” A: “This is a question better asked of the [Centre] who contracted with the two “
- Q: “Can you describe the lobbying work specifically undertaken by [Company B] on behalf of the Party of Regions/the [Centre]?” A: ”This is a question better asked to Company Band/or the [Centre] as the agreement was between the parties. Our firm did not play a role in the structure, nor were we registered lobbyists.”
Company B through a principal replied to GATES the same day that “there’s a lot of email traffic that has you much more involved than this suggests[.] We will not disclose that but heaven knows what former employees of [Company BJ or [Company A] might say.”
So, who are Company A and B. While it isn’t possible to definitively tell which one is which from the indictment, it is child’s play to identify the two and we can make a very good guess at the company identities.
Last year, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, based in Brussels, paid Mercury $280,000 and Podesta Group $510,000 in lobbying fees, according to disclosure records. The group is considered close to Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president now wanted for arrest after the bloody crackdown in Kiev’s Independence Square.
Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a partner at Mercury, said the firm lobbyists are “not babes in the wood” about the group’s ties to Yanukovych.
“We don’t know who exactly funds the group, but it seems it is funded by supporters of Yanukovych. But it’s not funded by the government. It’s not funded by the party. It’s funded by individuals,” Weber said.
Mercury disclosed lobbying on several pro-democracy and pro-Tymoshenko resolutions last year. Weber said their client wanted the lobbyists to gather information on the measures.
The indictment also includes this passage:
For instance, GATES wrote to Company A that it would be “representing the Govennnent of Ukraine in [Washington,] DC.”
And as Mueller’s investigation heated up, there was this:
Lobbying powerhouse the Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department today acknowledging that its work years ago for a European nonprofit benefited the same Ukrainian political party once advised by Paul Manafort, who later ran Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The filings, obtained by POLITICO, appear to clean up the firm’s requirement to disclose its role in foreign lobbying that Manafort reportedly orchestrated. The Podesta Group said it believed its client was an unaffiliated European think tank. But the new paperwork suggests the Justice Department has information tying the think tank to the pro-Russian Ukrainian Party of Regions — a possible source of continuing legal trouble for Manafort, because he never disclosed his own role in the lobbying campaign.
The Podesta Group is run by Tony Podesta, brother of Clan Clinton éminence grise and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
There is no mention of Mercury LLC being told the name of the real client or a FARA filing by them.
Unfortunately, this kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell lobbying operation is pretty much the way lobbying works in DC. If you don’t know for a fact who is actually paying the bill, you can say with straight face that you didn’t know. If you are caught violating FARA, unless you are, like Manafort, being indicted for a lot of other stuff, there is no real penalty for failure to file. The last FARA-only prosecution took place in 1966. If we are concerned about cleaning up foreign influence in our politics, we need to get serious with FARA. But I suspect there is less concern about foreign interference in our politics than there is in political point scoring.