Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Russian interference has a new subject: well-known Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta.
According to Tom Winter and Julia Ainsley of NBC News, an inquiry by Mueller’s team into foreign work by Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort has now expanded to include the foreign work of Podesta and his firm, the Podesta Group.
This part of the investigation has no specific connection to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Instead, it’s about work done by several Washington operatives for pro-Russian Ukrainians a few years earlier.
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.
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 has emailed me to insist that all appropriate legal
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.
What this tells us about Mueller’s investigation
The new revelation 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 was already known that Mueller was scrutinizing not only Paul Manafort’s actions during the 2016 campaign but also his work for pro-Russian Ukrainian interests years before the campaign.
Now, it seems, out of that line of inquiry, Mueller has expanded his investigation yet further to include the Podesta Group’s work for similar foreign elements, and whether it was properly disclosed at the time.
The news also makes 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.
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.”
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: