Podesta Group now part of special counsel probe into Russian collusion

Rebecca D'Angelo  The Washington Post  Getty

News reported on Monday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Tony Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, over work in Ukraine that may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Both Manafort and the Podesta Group did not disclose their relationship with the ECMU until media reports exposed the arrangement.

Mueller's prime mission, of course, is to ascertain whether Trump's campaign helped Russian Federation in its efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election.

The Podesta Group represented ECMU while the non-profit countered the Obama administration's critical stance towards the Ukrainian government for jailing political opposition. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents searched his home in an early-morning raid this summer. It's the latest sign that Mueller's probe has ensnared prominent American lobbying and law firms.

In August, Mueller issued subpoenas to several firms that worked on the Ukrainian PR campaign, and a source told NBC that investigators have met with staffers from the companies. A spokesperson for Mueller also declined TPM's request for comment. The Podesta Group and Mercury did not respond to inquiries on Monday.

The Podesta Group said in a statement that the firm "is cooperating fully with the Special Counsel's office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance".

The investigation into Podesta stemmed from a probe into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's finances.

John Podesta co-founded the Podesta Group, but hasn't worked with the organization in years and is not under investigation.

According to NBC News, Podesta's company was one of many firms that worked on a public relations campaign organized by Manafort that promoted Ukraine's image in the west. In 2012, the firm disclosed 32 meetings, emails, and other communications it had with the State Department, at a time when Secretary of State Hillary Çlinton called the upcoming Ukrainian election "an important bellwether" to the country's commitment to democratic institutions. "The [ECMU] provided formal certification that it was neither funded by nor directed by a government or political party". LDA forms are filed with Congress and are far less detailed.

Manafort did work for a pro-Moscow Ukrainian political party and showed up in a ledger of off-the-books payments that drew scrutiny during the campaign. Yanukovych fled to Russian Federation in 2014 following mass protests that erupted after he obstructed the country's attempts to join the European Union. He is not under investigation by Mueller. The Justice Department has brought only seven criminal cases between 1966 and 2015, according to a DOJ Inspector General report, and only one resulted in a conviction.

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