The latest subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election is a Democratic lobbyist and the brother of the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta.
Tony Podesta and his lobbying company, the Podesta Group, are now being investigated after ties were discovered with Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
Mueller has for months being investigating Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign between June and August 2016. FBI agents raided his Virginia home in July, seizing documents and other materials.
Mueller’s team was originally on a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign. But now it is looking into whether the Podesta Group may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires people or companies that lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political parties to file disclosures with the Justice Department.
Manafort’s consulting company DMP International only registered as a foreign agent in June, three years after the work it undertook in Ukraine between 2012 and 2014. The registration filings revealed that DMP International received $17.1 million from the Party of Regions during that period.
People who willfully neglect to register as foreign agents can face up to five years in prison, although prosecutions are rare as it is often difficult to prove that failure to register was wilful rather than as a result of negligence.
Podesta, 73, is the older brother of John Podesta, who chaired Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign. John Podesta is not affiliated with the Podesta group and is not subject to Mueller’s investigation.
The Podesta Group describes itself as a “top-ranked, bipartisan team of global public affairs specialists.” The organization has worked on various Democratic presidential campaigns and Podesta had close ties to the White House under former President Barack Obama.
A spokesman for the Podesta Group said that the company was “cooperating fully with the Special Counsel’s office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance. In all of our client engagements, the Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance with disclosure regulations at all times—and we did so in this case.”
In August, Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas to six public relations firms—including the Podesta Group—that were involved in the ECMU campaign.