Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were indicted on several counts Monday. And hours later, Democratic super-lobbyist Tony Podesta announced that he’d step down from his firm, the Podesta Group, Politico’s Anna Palmer reported.
That’s no coincidence. According to a report last week by Tom Winter and Julia Ainsley of NBC News, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Manafort’s foreign work before the campaign implicated Podesta’s own foreign work.
Specifically, both Podesta’s and Manafort’s firms represented a Ukrainian nonprofit group — the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine — between 2012 and 2014. This group was attempting to improve the image of the Ukrainian regime at the time, which was pro-Russian and under scrutiny for its treatment of their domestic opposition.
The indictment of Manafort and Gates does not mention the Podesta Group by name, but according to a new report by NBC News it is “Company B” here:
A report from CNN earlier this year described how the Podesta Group repeatedly contacted the State Department about Ukraine’s 2012 election, attempting to put a positive spin on the regime’s handling of the elections. However, and crucially, they didn’t disclose the full extent of their work in federal lobbying filings until earlier this year — and per NBC, that failure to disclose has caught Mueller’s attention. (A Podesta group spokesperson emailed me last week to insist that all appropriate legal disclosures were made.)
Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Though they co-founded the lobbying firm at issue — the Podesta Group — decades ago, John Podesta is no longer affiliated with the firm, and there’s no indication that he’s a subject of Mueller’s investigation.
But Tony has also long been a well-known figure in Washington — he’s gotten incredibly rich as a “superlobbyist” monetizing his connections to Democratic leaders on behalf of all sorts of corporate interests. His expensive art collection and his divorce from his lobbyist wife have been the subject of media interest in the past.
It’s not just about Trump associates
The revelation that Podesta is under the gun shows, essentially, that Mueller is broadly interpreting his authority to investigate “any matters” that “may arise directly from the investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
It seems to make clear clear that Mueller is not only interested in Russia-related wrongdoing committed by Trump allies or Republicans, as some on the right have criticized him for.
Indeed, for months, Republicans — including the president — have argued that Tony Podesta’s foreign work should get more attention.
Was the brother of John Podesta paid big money to get the sanctions on Russia lifted? Did Hillary know?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
Now, it seems, Mueller is giving it that attention.
One final note: There’s long been some mystery over just what former Trump adviser Roger Stone meant when he tweeted last year that it would soon be “the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” (His account has since been suspended by Twitter.)
Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) August 21, 2016
Some have taken this tweet to indicate some foreknowledge of the later leaks of John Podesta’s emails. But Stone later claimed he was referring instead to the Podesta Group’s work abroad, which he’s suggested will expose them to legal scrutiny. And he’s reiterated that explanation this year:
This is what I meant when I referred to "Podesta's time in the barrel" pic.twitter.com/4BIiF0Mw5x— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) August 26, 2017