Manafort indictment implicates Dem bigshots Tony Podesta and Greg Craig

When a foreign country seeks influence-peddlers in Washington, DC, the smart ones buy-up  connections-for-hire merchants on both sides of the aisle. Those of us following the prosecution of Paul Manafort have realized that in 2012 he worked in tandem with Tony Podesta, the former superlobbyist and brother of John Podesta, on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a nonprofit apparently set up to provide a cover for lobbying.

Tony Podesta in 2009 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Robert Mueller team has been seeking any and every possible legal violation by people associated with the Trump campaign in order to squeeze them to “sing” – provide evidence of some legal violation by Donald Trump. In the case of Manafort, this quest led to a violation of a rarely-enforced law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). As Tucker Carlson, a longtime denizen of DC, has frequently noted, A huge chunk of the lobbing and legal industry in DC could potentially be prosecuted under this act, because foreign governments habitually take advantage of the abundant opportunities influence-peddlers offer their clientele.

Now that Mueller has turned over the Manafort rock and seen the Ukrainian creepy-crawlies, he can’t ignore the roles of Tony Podesta and Greg Craig, two of the most-connected Democrats in the lobbying biz, who failed to make the same registration that Manafort did. Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller explains the details of the Ukrainian Connection and how Podesta is caught in the same net with Manafort:

Two lobbying firms, including one owned by Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, knowingly worked with Paul Manafort at the direction of the Ukrainian government, according to an indictment released Friday by the special counsel’s office.

The indictment, which was released ahead of an expected plea deal for Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, says that as a part of his “lobbying scheme,” Manafort solicited two lobbying firms in February 2012 to lobby on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Various employees of Companies A and B understood that they were receiving direction from MANAFORT and President Yanukovych, not the Centre, which was not even operational when Companies A and B began lobbying for Ukraine,” reads the indictment. The Centre is a reference to the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based non-profit that the government says was used to support Yanukovych.

Company A has been identified as Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying shop operated by former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber. Company B has been identified as Podesta Group, the firm that Tony Podesta founded with his brother, John, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Unlike Manafort, who pleaded guilty on Friday in an apparent pleas deal,

Nobody from Podesta Group or Mercury Public Affairs has faced charges in the case, though the latest indictment suggests that the lobbying firms skirted federal law by failing to register as foreign agents with the Department of Justice (DOJ).

But the evidence that they were paired with Manafort in the same crime is obvious:

Working at Manafort’s direction, Mercury and Podesta Group lobbied dozens of members of Congress, their staffers, and White House and Department of State officials regarding a host of issues related to Ukraine, including the validity of its elections.

Manafort frequently briefed Yanukovych on Mercury and Podesta’s lobbying activities. He also tasked the companies to prepare reports that he could provide to Yanukovych.

The same net also has caught Obama administration White House counsel (and impeachment defense lawyer for Bill Clinton) Greg Craig, as Erica Orden and Evan Perez report for CNN:

Federal prosecutors in New York are weighing criminal charges against former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig as part of an investigation into whether he failed to register as a foreign agent in a probe that is linked to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In addition, these sources said, prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York are considering taking action against powerhouse law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where Craig was a partner during the activity under examination. Prosecutors are considering a civil settlement with the firm or a deferred prosecution agreement with Skadden, these sources said.

An attorney for Craig, who left the Skadden firm in April and who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama during the first year of that administration, said his client "was not required to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act." A spokeswoman for Skadden didn't respond to a request for comment. (snip)

Any action against Craig or Skadden would be an extraordinary step, given Craig's prominence and Skadden's position as one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country.

But lawyers do not enjoy perfect immunity from FARA:

Though FARA has an exception for lawyers who are performing legitimate legal work on behalf of a foreign client, it does require lawyers who attempt to influence US government policy matters to register. "Lawyers engaged in legal representation of foreign principals in the courts or similar type proceedings, so long as the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client, are exempt," according to Justice Department guidelines.

And Craig and Skadden appear to have crossed that line:

In advance of the report's official release, "Manafort arranged to have the law firm disseminate hard copies of the report to numerous government officials, including senior United States executive and legislative branch officials," the filing says. The partner who worked on the report -- according to court proceedings in another related case, that of former Skadden lawyer Alex van der Zwaan -- was Craig, CNN has reported. Van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty in February to lying to the special counsel's office, admitting that he misled investigators about his discussions related to Skadden's work for Yanukovych in preparing the report.

According to the New York Times, Craig himself was also involved in promoting the report to members of Congress and the media, a step that may have triggered FARA requirements.

Team Mueller now faces a dilemma. If they do not prosecute the Democrats, Republicans, with President Trump’s Twitter account in the lead, can harp on the theme of double standards. And even if prosecutions result, a failure to squeeze the defendants or threaten them with long prison terms will be a telling contrast.

But with their many connections to leading Democrats, these two may have a lot of people to trade away for leniency.

When a foreign country seeks influence-peddlers in Washington, DC, the smart ones buy-up  connections-for-hire merchants on both sides of the aisle. Those of us following the prosecution of Paul Manafort have realized that in 2012 he worked in tandem with Tony Podesta, the former superlobbyist and brother of John Podesta, on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a nonprofit apparently set up to provide a cover for lobbying.

Tony Podesta in 2009 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Robert Mueller team has been seeking any and every possible legal violation by people associated with the Trump campaign in order to squeeze them to “sing” – provide evidence of some legal violation by Donald Trump. In the case of Manafort, this quest led to a violation of a rarely-enforced law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). As Tucker Carlson, a longtime denizen of DC, has frequently noted, A huge chunk of the lobbing and legal industry in DC could potentially be prosecuted under this act, because foreign governments habitually take advantage of the abundant opportunities influence-peddlers offer their clientele.

Now that Mueller has turned over the Manafort rock and seen the Ukrainian creepy-crawlies, he can’t ignore the roles of Tony Podesta and Greg Craig, two of the most-connected Democrats in the lobbying biz, who failed to make the same registration that Manafort did. Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller explains the details of the Ukrainian Connection and how Podesta is caught in the same net with Manafort:

Two lobbying firms, including one owned by Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, knowingly worked with Paul Manafort at the direction of the Ukrainian government, according to an indictment released Friday by the special counsel’s office.

The indictment, which was released ahead of an expected plea deal for Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, says that as a part of his “lobbying scheme,” Manafort solicited two lobbying firms in February 2012 to lobby on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Various employees of Companies A and B understood that they were receiving direction from MANAFORT and President Yanukovych, not the Centre, which was not even operational when Companies A and B began lobbying for Ukraine,” reads the indictment. The Centre is a reference to the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based non-profit that the government says was used to support Yanukovych.

Company A has been identified as Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying shop operated by former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber. Company B has been identified as Podesta Group, the firm that Tony Podesta founded with his brother, John, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Unlike Manafort, who pleaded guilty on Friday in an apparent pleas deal,

Nobody from Podesta Group or Mercury Public Affairs has faced charges in the case, though the latest indictment suggests that the lobbying firms skirted federal law by failing to register as foreign agents with the Department of Justice (DOJ).

But the evidence that they were paired with Manafort in the same crime is obvious:

Working at Manafort’s direction, Mercury and Podesta Group lobbied dozens of members of Congress, their staffers, and White House and Department of State officials regarding a host of issues related to Ukraine, including the validity of its elections.

Manafort frequently briefed Yanukovych on Mercury and Podesta’s lobbying activities. He also tasked the companies to prepare reports that he could provide to Yanukovych.

The same net also has caught Obama administration White House counsel (and impeachment defense lawyer for Bill Clinton) Greg Craig, as Erica Orden and Evan Perez report for CNN:

Federal prosecutors in New York are weighing criminal charges against former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig as part of an investigation into whether he failed to register as a foreign agent in a probe that is linked to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In addition, these sources said, prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York are considering taking action against powerhouse law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where Craig was a partner during the activity under examination. Prosecutors are considering a civil settlement with the firm or a deferred prosecution agreement with Skadden, these sources said.

An attorney for Craig, who left the Skadden firm in April and who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama during the first year of that administration, said his client "was not required to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act." A spokeswoman for Skadden didn't respond to a request for comment. (snip)

Any action against Craig or Skadden would be an extraordinary step, given Craig's prominence and Skadden's position as one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country.

But lawyers do not enjoy perfect immunity from FARA:

Though FARA has an exception for lawyers who are performing legitimate legal work on behalf of a foreign client, it does require lawyers who attempt to influence US government policy matters to register. "Lawyers engaged in legal representation of foreign principals in the courts or similar type proceedings, so long as the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client, are exempt," according to Justice Department guidelines.

And Craig and Skadden appear to have crossed that line:

In advance of the report's official release, "Manafort arranged to have the law firm disseminate hard copies of the report to numerous government officials, including senior United States executive and legislative branch officials," the filing says. The partner who worked on the report -- according to court proceedings in another related case, that of former Skadden lawyer Alex van der Zwaan -- was Craig, CNN has reported. Van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty in February to lying to the special counsel's office, admitting that he misled investigators about his discussions related to Skadden's work for Yanukovych in preparing the report.

According to the New York Times, Craig himself was also involved in promoting the report to members of Congress and the media, a step that may have triggered FARA requirements.

Team Mueller now faces a dilemma. If they do not prosecute the Democrats, Republicans, with President Trump’s Twitter account in the lead, can harp on the theme of double standards. And even if prosecutions result, a failure to squeeze the defendants or threaten them with long prison terms will be a telling contrast.

But with their many connections to leading Democrats, these two may have a lot of people to trade away for leniency.