Paul Manafort, a former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, indicated Wednesday that, on the advice of U.S. authorities, that he would register as a foreign agent “for some of his past political work,” presumably in Ukraine.
Such a move would add a new embarrassment to an administration dealing with investigations into possible collaboration with Russia during last year’s campaign. It also underscores the legal pressure on Manafort, who faces FBI, Justice Department and Treasury Department investigations, sources have told McClatchy.
It also means that Manafort is likely to acknowledge that he worked for years on behalf of a foreign government without revealing it.
Manafort’s disclosure came on the same day as a Washington lobbying firm registered as a foreign agent for its representation of a Belgium-based think tank with ties to Manafort and the Kiev government. The lobbying occurred in Washington from 2012 to 2014.
Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said the work at issue happened before he joined Trump’s campaign and was not conducted on behalf of Russia. The globetrotting political consultant headed the campaign for about two months before departing in August when questions arose about his foreign business dealings.
Manafort earned millions of dollars in consulting fees from the political party backing Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, whom he helped win office in 2010. Last August, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau released a ledger that appeared to indicate that he received $12.7 million between 2007 and 2012 in off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
While Manafort has challenged the ledger’s authenticity, the Associated Press said Wednesday it has obtained documents showing Manafort’s Washington consulting firm received $1.2 million in payments matching listings in the ledger.
In a brief statement, Maloni also said that, “since before the 2016 election, Mr. Manafort has been in discussions with federal authorities about the advisability of registering” under the federal law requiring those who act on behalf of a foreign government or a foreign political party to register with the Justice Department.
“Mr. Manafort received formal guidance recently from the authorities, and he is taking appropriate steps in response to the guidance,” Maloni said.
The 79-year-old Foreign Agents Registration Act requires any U.S.-based person or business to register within 10 days of any activity covered by the statute.
The law also requires periodic disclosures of all of the foreign agent’s activities and compensation, meaning that any filing would likely include a deeper look at Manafort’s Ukraine-related activities from 2006 to 2014.
Failure for years to have complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act is considered a “continuing offense.” The law carries maximum penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. It’s rare that a violation leads to imprisonment.
The AP reported recently that in 2006, Manafort signed a contract calling for payments of $10 million per year from a Russian billionaire in return for political consulting and for promoting the Kremlin’s interests. The billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, responded to that report by vehemently denying acting on behalf of the Kremlin in ads published in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He threatened to sue the AP.
McClatchy reported on March 29 that the FBI, Justice Department and Treasury Department are investigating whether any of Manafort’s consulting income in Ukraine was laundered from corrupt sources, whether he properly disclosed all his foreign bank accounts each year to the U.S. government, whether he paid taxes on all foreign income and whether he registered as a foreign agent, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke anonymously because the criminal inquiries are ongoing.
Investigators examining Manafort’s compliance with the foreign agents registration law have focused on a think tank in Brussels, The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which paid at least $2.2 million to two U.S. lobbying firms to burnish the image of Yanukovych’s government in Washington, the sources said. The firms in question are the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC.
On Wednesday, the Podesta Group filed as a foreign agent for lobbying between 2012 and 2014 on behalf of the Centre, a development first reported by Politico. A lawyer for the Podesta Group said the Centre had certified in 2012 that it was not “directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed or subsidized” by a foreign country, but that “information brought to light in recent months” prompted Podesta to review whether filing as congressional lobbyists was sufficient.
Former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber, who was directly involved in Mercury’s lobbying, said in a phone interview last year that Manafort had “approached” him about taking on the think tank as a client. At the time, the Kiev government was pushing for Ukraine’s entry to the European Union before Yanukovych tilted his policies toward Moscow.
Manafort and Rick Gates, a top Manafort aide in the Ukraine who later joined him in the Trump campaign, maintained initially that they had nothing to do with the think tank. While lobbying for the think tank, Weber said, “we had some contact with Gates, too.”