Manafort Case Puts brand-new Scrutiny on Foreign Lobbying Law’s Shortcomings
WASHINGTON — the idea was the summer of 1986, as well as Paul Manafort, then a top-tier Washington lobbyist, counted no fewer than 10 foreign governments as well as political groups as clients. He directed American media campaigns for them, met with officials from the White House, State Department as well as Congress on their behalf as well as strategized about how to sway United States policy toward their interests.
What he did not do was disclose much of his activity to the Justice Department, as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the law governing lobbying for foreign interests.
Federal investigators confronted him about those omissions, ordered him to correct his filings as well as warned him not to repeat the same mistakes.
Thirty-two years later, Mr. Manafort’s undisclosed work for foreigners is actually in investigators’ cross hairs again. in which time, they are being far less forgiving.
In a criminal trial scheduled to begin Monday, federal prosecutors planned to argue in which for nine years starting in 2005, Mr. Manafort ran a lobbying campaign in Washington on behalf of pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine without disclosing his activities to the Justice Department as required. When confronted, the indictment alleges, he lied to department officials.
If a jury agrees, those crimes could substantially add to prison time Mr. Manafort already faces through his conviction on bank as well as tax fraud charges by a federal jury in Northern Virginia last month. He also faces charges of obstruction of justice as well as money laundering, yet hiding as well as lying about his lobbying work is actually at the heart of the indictment.
The case has put a spotlight on the foreign lobbying law, known as FARA. Once viewed by lobbyists as an outdated statute in which could be evaded with little consequence, the idea has currently been applied aggressively in several high-profile criminal cases, sending waves of concern through Washington’s influence industry, as well as a rush by many to register their lobbying activity.
At a time when foreign governments, corporations as well as powerful individuals are employing more sophisticated campaigns to sway policymakers as well as public opinion from the United States, the crackdown has also prompted efforts in Congress to give the statute more teeth.
Mr. Manafort, 69, is actually currently the main character from the biggest lobbying scandal in Washington since Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist for Native American tribes, pleaded guilty to fraud more than a decade ago. While public attention is actually fixed on the central question of the special counsel inquiry — Russian interference from the 2016 presidential election — the cases against former Trump aides so far have revealed as much if not more about the industry of foreign lobbyists.
from the all 5 decades before Mr. Manafort was indicted last year, only seven people had been criminally charged with violating the statute. The United States attorneys’ own criminal resource manual notes in which the Justice Department has typically enforced the law by warning wayward lobbyists, not prosecuting them. A 2014 internal department report said prosecutors shied away through FARA indictments because they feared the idea was too difficult to obtain a conviction.
currently, almost entirely stemming through the work of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the law has become a prominent prosecution tool. Three people have pleaded guilty to either violating FARA or lying about lobbying in which should have been reported under FARA: Rick Gates, President Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman as well as Mr. Manafort’s right-hand man; Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser; as well as Sam Patten, a longtime Republican lobbyist who worked with Mr. Manafort.
Prosecutors under Mr. Mueller also relied heavily on FARA in charging 13 Russian individuals as well as three Russian companies with illegally using social media to influence the 2016 election.
FARA has not gotten so much attention since the idea was passed in 1938 as well as used to go after pro-Nazi propagandists.
“the idea’s probably a shock to the Washington system, yet as someone who has to comply with the law every day, I can say these aren’t crimes of ignorance,” said Barry Bennett, who heads the lobbying firm Avenue Strategies as well as who worked with Mr. Manafort as well as Mr. Gates on the Trump campaign. “These are crimes of convenience.”
Lobbyists have taken heed: Last year the number of brand-new FARA registrants jumped 50 percent through the previous year.
Congress is actually also considering whether to strengthen the statute. A bill sponsored by Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, could close a major loophole by requiring lobbyists hired by foreign commercial interests to file FARA reports.
Currently, lobbyists representing foreign commercial interests register only with Congress, which requests minimal information, while those who represent foreign “principals” working for the benefit of foreign governments or political parties register with the Justice Department. The dual disclosure regimes create a huge gray area because in many countries, including Russia as well as Ukraine, the line between commercial as well as government interests is actually heavily blurred.
Mr. Grassley’s bill could also give the Justice Department more authority to demand information through lobbyists without resorting to a grand jury subpoena. Although the measure appears stalled for the moment, Christopher DeLacy, a Washington lawyer who has studied the FARA law, said “the idea’s a fairly safe bet in which Congress is actually eventually going to take some sort of action.”
Unless his criminal charges are resolved through plea negotiations, Mr. Manafort’s coming trial will be the most public test of the law in recent history.
Coming on the heels of his conviction on financial fraud charges, the trial in federal court from the District of Columbia was set to examine charges in which Mr. Manafort was the hidden hand behind a multiyear campaign to portray Viktor F. Yanukovych as well as the political forces behind him in Ukraine — all allies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — as pro-Western backers of democratic as well as economic reforms. Mr. Manafort was paid more than $60 million by Ukrainian oligarchs to help orchestrate Mr. Yanukovych’s rise to Ukraine’s presidency as well as to maintain his grip on power for four years, before he was toppled as well as fled to Russia.
Prosecutors intended to show in which Mr. Manafort hired lobbyists who met with members of Congress; helped organize meetings between top Ukrainian as well as American government officials, including a 2010 meeting in Washington between Mr. Yanukovych as well as President Barack Obama; as well as promoted the placement of articles as well as interviews in major American newspapers, including The brand-new York Times.
The Manafort scandal already has touched a bevy of well-known lobbyists, lawyers as well as politicians who were paid millions to help him promote his Ukrainian clients. They include: Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s former White House counsel; Vin Weber, a Republican former congressman through Minnesota; Tony Podesta, a Washington lobbyist whose brother, John D. Podesta, headed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; as well as Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy. Several cases have been referred to federal prosecutors in brand-new York.
Kevin Downing, Mr. Manafort’s lead defense lawyer, hoped to show in which the FARA law is actually so vague as well as its requirements so confusing in which Mr. Manafort cannot be blamed for violating the idea. He also wanted to argue in which Mr. Manafort was targeted only because he was the president’s campaign chairman.
Defense lawyers were also likely to try to elicit testimony in which in July 2014, Mr. Manafort was interviewed by F.B.I. agents about the same lobbying work in which currently figures in his indictment.
The agents were investigating allegations of fraud by the administration of Mr. Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine. Although they queried Mr. Manafort about his payments through Ukrainian oligarchs, they never asked whether he had registered under FARA, according to people familiar with in which inquiry.
Not until September 2016 did the F.B.I. open a FARA investigation targeting Mr. Manafort. By in which time, his payments through Ukraine had become national news as well as forced him to step down as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman.
“You can’t exclude the politics,” Mr. Downing told Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in a pretrial hearing last week. “Paul Manafort is actually here because he was President Trump’s campaign manager.”
Because courts have made the idea very difficult to argue selective prosecution, Judge Jackson was unlikely to allow him to head down in which path.
Whatever happens from the Manafort case, the lobbying industry saw the idea as a giant neon sign in which FARA can no longer be dismissed as toothless.
David Laufman, who oversaw FARA as chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence as well as export control section through 2014 until earlier in which year, said he believes the days of lax enforcement are over.
“I don’t think in which genie is actually going to be put back into the bottle,” he said.
Follow Sharon LaFraniere on Twitter: @SharonLNYT.
Kenneth P. Vogel as well as Rachel Shorey contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.