By Andrew Kerr
Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group, his Democrat-leaning lobbying firm, have become subjects of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.
The sources said Podesta and his lobbying firm came under scrutiny during Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. John Podesta is not included in Mueller’s probe and is not currently affiliated with the Podesta Group.
Podesta’s firm was one of the many that worked on Manafort’s public relations campaign called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which sought to promote Ukraine’s image in the West from 2012 to 2014.
According to The Daily Beast, the ECMU was backed by Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions, which, at the time of the campaign, was led by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yanukovych fled the country in 2014 after being oused by the Ukranian parliament, NBC reported at the time.
What began as a fact-finding mission about Manafort’s connection with the ECMU became a criminal inquiry into whether Podesta’s firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
FARA requires that agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments disclose their spending and activities with the Justice Department. Failure to file disclosures with the Justice Department is a felony punishable up to five years in prison.
However, prosecutions for violating FARA are rare.
It was only after the media reported the Podesta Group’s involvement with the ECMU that the organization filed its FARA registration.
Manafort’s firm also filed a FARA registration for its work in Ukraine from 2012 through 2014, but only after The Associated Press disclosed its foreign activities in June 2016.
In a statement to NBC News, a spokesman for the Podesta Group said the firm “is cooperating fully with the Special Counsel’s office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance. In all of our client engagements, the Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance with disclosure regulations at all times — and we did so in this case.”
NBC News reported in August that Mueller’s team sent subpoenas to six firms involved with Manafort’s ECMU public relations lobbying campaign.
The development came after Manafort’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, was raided by FBI agents in July. He remains a central figure in Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
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