A federal investigation into lobbying done by top firms in D.C. that is connected to the Paul Manafort work in Ukraine is continuing, according to a New York Times report Tuesday, with prosecutors in Manhattan interviewing witnesses about the flow of money that paid for the work.
Prosectors’ interest appears to be around the lobbyists who led the projects at Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group, prominent lobbying shops in D.C, according to the Times. The questioning has also covered the role in the effort played by Gregory Craig, former White House counsel under President Obama and a former partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the Times reported.
Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York have led the questioning, with the help of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s National Security Division, the Times reported.
The latest flurry of activity appears to be the outgrowth of the referral Mueller reportedly made to the Manhattan prosecutors regarding the firms’ involvement in the lobbying project and whether laws were broken by failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Manafort was charged in 2017 with violating FARA, as well as with financial crimes stemming from the Ukraine work. He reached a plea deal with Mueller in September, but their cooperation agreement has fallen apart due to Mueller’s claims that Manafort had since lied to investigators.
Tuesday’s New York Times report says that the Manhattan prosecutors have in recent weeks presented witnesses — including witnesses who were previously interviewed months ago — with new information. But the report doesn’t say whether that information came from Manafort’s cooperation.
Skadden reached a $4.6 million civil settlement last month with the Justice Department over its Ukraine work.
Skadden was commissioned by Manafort to put out a 2012 report whitewashing Ukraine government’s prosecution of a Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival of the ruling party.
The settlement resolved the case against the law firm. It included an admission from the firm that while it was in discussions with the Justice Department over whether it needed to register under FARA, the firm made made a false statement to the government about its contacts with the media regarding the Tymoshenko report.
A former Skadden lawyer has already served a month in prison for lying to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about his communications with Manafort’s deputy on his Ukraine work, Rick Gates.
In a court filing in the separate case against Russians who allegedly facilitated the country’s 2016 social media trolling effort, Mueller said Tuesday that the “law firm is not alleged to have condoned the former partner’s actions” — presumably a reference to Skadden and Craig, respectively — and that the law firm “cooperated extensively” in the matter.
Craig left the law firm last April. His lawyers told the Times that Craig never “acted as a lobbyist, press agent or public relations counsel for Ukraine” and that he “never sought to mislead the Department of Justice or his former partners about his actions.”
Skadden’s settlement, however, says that Craig misled the Justice Department about his contacts with a journalist, which the Times revealed was its own reporter David Sanger.
Prosecutors in Manhattan have also been interviewing witnesses who worked with the two lobbying firms that were involved with Manafort’s Ukraine work.
According to the Times, prosecutors have been asking witnesses about Mercury’s lead partner on the project, former Rep. Vin Weber (R) and whether he had political reasons for failing to register under FARA, given his role as a foreign policy adviser for Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) 2012 presidential campaign.
Tony Podesta, the former leader of the now shuttered Podesta Group, is the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.