NEW YORK – As the presidential race continues to heat up, the news media remain mysteriously uninterested in probing the controversial work of Anthony (Tony) Podesta, the man who could become one of America’s most influential lobbyists if Hillary Clinton wins the election.
Podesta’s brother is John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. John Podesta previously served as White House counselor under the Obama administration and helped to direct President Obama’s 2008 transition into the White House. He is founder of the heavily influential Center for American Progress.
Besides his family ties, Tony Podesta has been a major financial bundler for Clinton’s campaign, raising $268,000 as of July.
Tony’s wife, also a lobbyist, raised $407,000 for the campaign.
One major focus of Tony Podesta’s work has been Ukraine, a policy issue of enormous consequence to U.S. national security.
On June 11, 2012, the Podesta Group registered to lobby for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which has been described in numerous major news media reports as an operation heavily tied to the pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych, who served as president of Ukraine from February 2010 until February 2014.
In February 2014, when Yanukovych rejected a European Union trade agreement and instead favored $15 billion in Russian financing, the Ukrainian leader was faced with mass protests and fled the country for Russia. As a result, the Ukrainian parliament voted to oust him as president.
The Podesta Group has not responded to three Breitbart News requests for comment about the specifics of its activities in lobbying for the Centre beyond the few generalities offered in previous media reports.
Eight months after the Podesta Group took on the Centre as a client, Hillary Clinton on February 4, 2012, met with Yanukovych in Munich, Germany.
The Podesta Group did not respond to a Breitbart News request for information about whether Podesta helped to set up that meeting.
In December 2013, Reuters reported that “among the high-profile lobbyists registered to represent organizations backing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s government are prominent Democratic lobbyist Anthony Podesta and former Republican congressional leaders Vin Weber and Billy Tauzin.”
Reuters found that from 2012 to December 2013, Podesta’s firm was paid $900,000 to do lobby work for the European Centre.
Speaking to the news agency, Podesta described in general terms some of what he said he was his work for the Centre.
Podesta said in a phone interview that he and his counterparts at Mercury have been contacting U.S. legislators to argue that approving the pro-Tymoshenko measures would only complicate efforts to improve relations between Ukraine and the West, including the European Union.
Podesta was referring to calls from some in Washington for Ukraine to release from prison the country’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, an opposition figure who opposes Russian influence and strives for Ukrainian integration into the European Union.
At the time, John Podesta was reentering the White House as counselor. Reuters reported that Podesta “said he had never discussed Ukraine with his brother and will not talk with him about policy matters after he reenters the Obama administration.”
Reuters reported it was unclear who was funding the Centre at the time, with news reports tying it to Yanukovich’s Party of Regions:
The source of the lobbying funds from the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine is unclear. In a filing with the European Union, the group listed its budget for the financial year ending in November as 10,000 euros, or about $14,000 – a fraction of the $1.46 million it paid the Washington lobbyists.
The Centre’s managing director did not reply to two email inquiries. Sources and previous news reports described the group as tied to Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.
In March 2014, after Yanukovich was ousted as president, Bloomberg reported on Podesta’s involvement with the European Centre, including a $510,000 payment to the Podesta Group that year:
The European Centre involved Yanukovych’s government and members of his political party “because they were in the position to deliver on key reforms” needed to integrate Ukraine with Europe, the organization said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “Many of those reforms were initiated under the previous government. We hope that the current government will continue on this track. …
The Podesta Group is the third-biggest U.S. lobby firm by revenue, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm received $510,000 from the European group last year, Senate reports show, and Podesta said he still represents the organization.
“We think it’s in the interests of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine to join the EU,” Podesta said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“We’re happy to do anything we can to promote Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU.”
During the uprising that removed Yanukovych from power in February 2014, the Daily Beast reported anti-Yanukovych protesters also congregated outside Podesta’s DC office to protest his firm’s representation of the Centre.
The Beast stated:
Around 60 Ukrainian protesters from across the United States gathered on February 5th to protest outside the Podesta Group and Mercury/Clark & Weinstock, which are among the largest PR and lobbying firms in America. They sang the Ukrainian national anthem, chanted “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine) and held up placards saying, “Podesta Group Takes Blood Money,” “Return Blood Money,” and “Mercury, Stop Supporting the Bloody Regime In Ukraine.”
The two PR firms have been the subject of an extensive investigation by Ukrainian journalist Sergiy Leschenko, who has accused them of acting on behalf of president Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions to advance the government’s interests on the Hill. Leschenko’s reporting echoes a recent investigation by Reuters that found Yanukovych supporters had paid substantial amounts of money to the two firms.
Meanwhile, after Yanukovych’s downfall, Clinton reportedly described the deposed Ukrainian president as a weak leader, but one who at times appeared to value diplomacy. “It surprised everyone when he chose to be closer to Russia,” she added, at a March 2014 speech in Vancouver.
Podesta is not the only high-profile figure with ties to the 2016 presidential candidates to have represented entities close to Yanukovych. Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was an adviser to Yanukovych’s presidential campaign. The Associated Press reported Manafort worked with a business associate to help the Centre secure Capital Hill lobbying firms, including the Podesta Group.
Much of the media scrutiny following those revelations focused on Manafort while ignoring Podesta’s more significant and longstanding ties to the Centre.
Nature of activities
Writing at the Sunlightfoundation.com in February 2014, Bill Allison spotlighted the Podesta Group’s representation of the Centre as an example of lobbying disclosure requirements that do not apply to groups that are not official political organizations or direct representatives of foreign governments.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, requires lobbyists for foreign governments and political parties to disclose to the Justice Department detailed information about their activities on behalf of their clients. They have to disclose all contacts with U.S. government officials, any campaign contributions they’ve given, fees they receive from clients and expenses incurred in lobbying. They also have to disclose any “informational materials” (originally called propaganda) disseminated on behalf of their clients. Sunlight has digitized several years of filings under the act in the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker.
The ECMU, however, is not a political party. It says its donors are private individuals not connected to the Regions Party; because of that, its lobbyists have the option of registering and disclosing their activities to Congress instead — revealing far less information about their activities.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton on December 19, 1995.
Uranium One, Russia, Podesta and the Clintons
The Centre is not the only entity represented by Podesta’s firm with questionable ties to Russia.
Podesta Group also represented Uranium One, a uranium company acquired by the Russian government which received approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department to mine for uranium in the U.S. Podesta was first retained by Uranium One in 2012.
The New York Times bestselling book Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer documented that money was sent to the Clinton Foundation by persons with interest in the Uranium One deal. The New York Times itself reported Uranium One’s chairman made four donations totaling $2.35 million utilizing his family charity. And Bill Clinton bagged $500,000 for one speech in Moscow from a Russian investment bank the Times described as having “links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.”
An extensive Times piece documented that the Uranium One deal put Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his longtime “goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Brenda J. Elliott.