In the past, we’ve claimed on numerous occasions that powerful Democrats have as many - if not more – links to Russian business, government and oligarch interests, and that if special counsel Robert Mueller would only investigate, he might discover evidence of collusion between the Clintons and their powerful allies on a level of that recently brought down former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Fast forward to earlier this week when the whole world was focusing on the indictments of Manafort and his Deputy Rick Gates, one powerful Democratic lobbyist, whose firm it was soon revealed was cited as “company A” in the Manafort indictment, decided Monday might be a good time to leave the company bearing his name. The reason? His firm worked on a Ukrainian lobbying campaign organized by Manafort’s firm.
At the time, we predicted that Podesta stepping down was only the beginning, and the other shoe would soon drop.
Podesta Group is next— zerohedge (@zerohedge) October 30, 2017
Just a few days later, that tweet proved eerily prescient, because as the Associated Press reported earlier this evening, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Tony Podesta for his role in lobbying on behalf of the Russian-aligned former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich.
Along with Podesta, the AP reports that Mueller is also examining Mercury LLC, the lobbying firm of Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman, for its role in lobbying on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern (ECMU) Ukraine – the Manafort-organized campaign for which the former Trump confidant was indicted on charges he failed to properly report his work on behalf of a foreign government.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.
At the center of the widening probe are Tony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman and leader of his own high-powered lobbying firm, Mercury LLC. The two men were hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates. With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller’s criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department. More witnesses are expected before the grand jury in coming weeks.
Representatives for Weber’s firm and Podesta said they are cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation. Podesta, whose brother was the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, has resigned from his firm.
Podesta responded to the Manafort indictment by claiming he wasn’t aware of the campaign’s ties to Yanukovich. However, it appears Mueller is looking into any possible contact Podesta might’ve had with members of Yanukovich’s party. Incidentally, none of this should be news to anyone: we reported all of this last August in "FBI Probes Firm Belonging To Brother Of Clinton Campaign Chair For Ukraine Corruption Ties."
The law firm Skadden Arps is also being investigated for its role in creating a presentation playing down the Ukrainian government’s motives in jailing former Prime Minister, and prominent member of the political opposition before the CIA-aided 2014 presidential coup, Yulia Tymoshenko.
FBI agents working for Mueller are asking witnesses about meetings between Gates, Podesta and Weber to discuss the lobbying work in detail and any communication with representatives of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, according to two people familiar with the interviews who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. “There were questions about how much Podesta and Vin Weber were involved. There was a lot of interest there,” one of them said.
FBI agents also expressed interest in the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which produced a 2012 report used to justify the jailing of an opposition politician in Ukraine. Both people said that investigators on Mueller’s team have asked about what the lobbyists knew about the source of the funding and who was directing the work in 2012 — long before Manafort became Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016.
According to the AP, ECMU was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party, and that subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government. Podesta apparently coordinated his work on the campaign with Gates, then Manafort's deputy at his lobbying shop.
Podesta acknowledged to the AP in 2016 that Gates had been involved in the European Center’s work, but said he had no idea the organization was not a legitimately independent client.
Meanwhile, sources have described the ECMU as a thinly veiled front for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.
And while the ECMU deal is under heavy scrutiny – and deservedly so - it’s certainly not the only example of the Podesta’s taking in clients with close ties to the Russian state.
As we first reported back in March, none other than Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, confirmed that it had hired Tony Podesta for lobbying its interests in the United States and advocating against sanctions against the Russian banking system that Podesta’s close friend, President Barack Obama, had advocated.
Podesta's efforts were a key part of under-the-radar lobbying during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign led mainly by veteran Democratic strategists to remove sanctions against Sberbank and VTB Capital, Russia's second largest bank." Former President Obama imposed the sanctions following the Russian seizure of the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014, and Russia was apparently hoping to lean on the Clintons to undo Obama's damage. Podesta was eventually paid $170,000 over a six-month period last year for representing Sberbank.
Podesta is listed as a key lobbyist on behalf of Sberbank, according to Senate lobbying disclosure forms.
But Sberbank’s political connections with Democrats don’t end there: far more importantly, the bank was the lead financial institution in the Russian deal to purchase Uranium One, owned by one of Bill Clinton’s closest friends, Frank Giustra, and now at the center of several Congressional probes into whether Hillary Clinton offered her vote ceding 20% of US uranium resources to Rosatom, the Russian state-backed nuclear authority, in exchange for speaking fees and more than $100 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation from Russia-linked entities. Podesta Group registered with the U.S. Government as a lobbyist for Sberbank, as required by law, in early 2016, naming three Podesta Group staffers: Tony Podesta plus Stephen Rademaker and David Adams, the last two former assistant secretaries of state.
Sberbank aside (for the time being), the question now is did Podesta knowingly commit the same failures to disclosure that his work for the ECMU was in fact work for a foreign government, and since we know the answer is yes, why did he wait as long as 2017 even though he knew he was the target of an FBI probe as long as a year earlier? According to AP's report, that appears to be Mueller’s area of focus. It is also recalling that Gates and Manafort were both indicted Monday on charges of acting as unregistered foreign agents and lying on forms they filed with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit as well as money laundering.
It appears Tony Podesta is about to get the exact same treatment.
But what is even more interesting, is that regardless of the Mueller probe into one of the Podesta, we will likely learn even more about Democrats’ Russia connections in the coming weeks as they start turning against each other, just as we saw earlier today with Donna Brazille and Hillary Clinton.