Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and another former Trump aide, Rick Gates, have been accused of setting up a lobbying scheme on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian leader that concealed the ties the effort had to his political party.
The allegations come in the bombshell federal indictment in Washington, D.C., made public Monday as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The claims made Monday are not specifically related to the 2016 election; rather, they largely focus on Manafort’s and Gates’ activities before joining the Trump campaign. Among the allegations is that they did not properly disclose the lobbying work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that is almost never used to bring criminal cases.
According to the indictment, Manafort began his work for the Party of Regions, led by Viktor F. Yanukovych, in 2006. Around 2012, an entity called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine was created to be a “mouth piece” for the pro-Russia party, the indictment alleged, noting it ceased its operations after Yanukovych was ousted in 2014.
Two unnamed companies were solicited by Manafort and Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, to engage in lobbying on the Hill on behalf of the Ukrainian government, with the Centre nominally being listed as their client, according to the indictment.
It has previously been reported that a prominent Democratic-leaning lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, had been involved in the Centre’s lobbying, as did a GOP firm, Mercury. It is unclear whether the indictment is referring to those two companies. There were six firms total, both in the U.S. and abroad, working on the effort, NBC News reported.
Regardless, the indictment suggests Manafort and Gates acted as intermediaries between the lobbying firms and Yanukovych, despite their attempts to publicly distance themselves from the Centre’s campaign.
Gates told one of the unnamed lobbying companies in writing that it was “representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington] D.C.,” the indictment alleged. He also instructed both companies to assemble reports on their lobbying campaign so that the “President” could be briefed by “Paul” “on what Ukraine has done well and what it can do better as we move into 2013″,” according to the indictment.
Additionally, Manafort kept in touch with Yanukovych, via verbal and written communications, and passed his instructions on to Gates to then pass on to the lobbying companies, the indictment alleged.
The lobbying effort included outreach with members of Congress and their staffs as well as the pushing of a report commissioned by Ukraine’s government to justify the prosecution and imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s political rival. It was previously reported that Manafort had arranged for the prominent New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to assemble a report for the Ukrainian government on the Tymoshenko case, but it is not clear from the indictment that that is the report being referred to.
Funding for the Manafort-Gates-led effort was provided through off-shore accounts, according to the indictment, with more than $2 million going to the two unnamed lobbying firms.
The legal problems for Gates and Manafort lie in their failure to declare the work in filings with the Justice Department required under FARA. After press reports last year about their work for the Centre, the Justice Department reached out to Manafort and Gates about the work. In forms filed in November and February, Manafort and Gates caused “false and misleading letters to be” submitted to the Justice Department that “mirrored the false cover story” of the Centre, the indictment alleged. Those allegedly false claims included Manafort and Gates claiming that their lobbying for the Party of Regions “did not include meetings or outreach within the U.S.,” according to the indictment.