It is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III whose work seems to be sending shock waves through the capital, by exposing the lucrative work lobbyists from both parties engage in on behalf of foreign interests.
The Mueller probe has already claimed its first K Street casualty: Tony Podesta.
.. Since Mueller was appointed, more people and firms have either filed or amended registrations that make public their work on behalf of foreign interests than had done so over the same time period in each of at least the past 20 years. Lobbyists, lawyers and public relations professionals who work for foreign companies and governments say Mueller’s probe has spooked K Street, and firms are likely to be more careful in their compliance with public disclosure standards.
.. John Podesta, resigned on the day Mueller announced charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates.
.. The 12-count indictment included charges of failing to accurately report lobbying work for a Ukrainian political party as required under FARA. That section made reference to “Company A and Company B,” later confirmed to be the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC
.. According to the indictment, the men used a Brussels-based nonprofit organization, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, to hide that they were running a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign for a Ukrainian political party friendly to Russia. Mueller’s team alleged that the men hired the Podesta Group and Mercury to lobby for the Ukrainians in the United States.
.. The indictment alleges that Gates and Manafort had weekly phone calls and exchanged frequent emails with the two firms to provide direction on specific lobbying steps they should take. The men paid the firms, which have not been publicly accused of any crimes, more than $2 million from offshore account
.. Criminal charges for noncompliance with FARA — such as those faced by Manafort and Gates — are rare. The act, implemented in 1938 to expose Nazi propagandists
Fox News is calling the Podesta brothers “central figures” in the Mueller probe.
.. Tony is obviously a big Democrat, but he has Republican friends and represents some clients that have more in common with the Republican side than the Democratic side. John is a hard partisan — a lot of people think of him as more strident, doing things that have never been done before to get your way.”
.. Tony built his firm into one of the top lobbying shops in the country — walks a delicate line between principle and profit. For every feel-good cause or nonprofit client, there’s a corporation or a foreign government with public relations problems and buckets of money to spend.
.. Tony’s work for Saudi Arabia has caused some raised eyebrows among human rights activists. Last year, the Podesta Group — one of several lobbying and PR shops the Saudis hired — was paid $140,000 a month by the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court
.. “You try to help people tell their story, and you try to make them better. I think that’s all to the good.”
.. Podesta and the other firm, Mercury Public Affairs, say that they were hired by the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, a nonprofit group based in Brussels, to boost Ukraine’s reputation in the United States and increase its chances of joining the European Union.
.. the question among lobbyists in Washington is why someone at the top of his game like Tony would have anything to do with Manafort, whom one Republican lobbyist described as a “shady businessman advocating for murderers, thugs and thieves — even if those criminals were heads of states.
Last week, Tony Podesta, an eminence in the annals of Washington lobbying, threw one of his signature events, a big birthday bash at his stately stone manse in Kalorama. His guests thought he was on top of his world, one of the men who makes the city go.
On Monday, hours after the first indictments in the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, Podesta abruptly quit his post atop the Podesta Group, the capital’s eighth-wealthiest lobbying firm.
.. raised questions about the work Podesta’s firm did with Manafort to buff the image of the Ukrainian government.
.. “It is impossible to run a public affairs firm while you are under attack by Fox News and the right wing media,”
.. For decades, Tony and John Podesta — brothers who share a Jesuit education, a devotion to liberal causes and a passion for politics — have been central players in Washington. And in the past year, both have been drawn into the orbit of scandals.
.. Tony’s Podesta Group is one of two firms described in Monday’s indictment as having been recruited by Manafort and Gates to lobby on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych
.. Both the Podesta Group and the other firm, Mercury Public Affairs, have said they were hired to lobby for a European nonprofit based in Brussels trying to polish Ukraine’s image in the West. But behind the scenes, prosecutors allege, the real client was a political party led by the former Ukraine president, who was friendly with Russia.
.. To their opponents, the Podestas are quintessential swamp rats, exemplars of the permanent Washington establishment. Their defenders, however, view them as the oil that makes the gears of government turn.
.. Tony Podesta has been a pivotal figure in the murky connections between policy and politics, becoming wealthy on fees from industries and foreign entities that want something from Congress and the White House. He also bundles big donations and dispenses them to politicians who might someday be helpful to those lobbying clients.
.. the Podesta Group, representing some of the country’s biggest and most powerful businesses, including Walmart, Bank of America and BP.
.. This year, the firm’s top clients are Mylan, a pharmaceutical company; Wells Fargo; Crawford Group, the parent of Enterprise car rentals; and Lockheed Martin
.. Along the way, the firm also represented a number of foreign entities, including the government of Egypt under ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Tony Podesta resigned so that he could address his firm’s involvement with Mr. Manafort’s firm while lobbying on behalf of then-Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych on, for example, “the propriety of imprisoning” his presidential rival. Yanukovych lives in exile in Russia now.
.. Robert Mueller is opening a drain on the Swamp.
.. That Tony Podesta would jump off the Swamp luxury liner called the Podesta Group suggests the seriousness of the threat Mr. Mueller could pose to the Washington economy.
.. When all this is over, President Trump will be seen as one of the greatest political naïfs to come down the Beltway pike in a long time.
.. The largely unheralded Trump effort to reduce regulation—in energy, the environment, land use, education, finance, telecommunications—won’t kill the Swamp but should shrink it.