The greatest beneficiary of the Gates plea may not be Rick Gates himself but Tony Podesta, the former head of the Podesta Group and the brother of John Podesta, the former head of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Tony Podesta recently resigned by the Podesta Group and has been cited as one of the Democrats who also engaged in work for Russian-backed interests in the Ukraine. Podesta suddenly registered as a foreign agent in the midst of the Russian investigation. (The Manafort-Gates indictments contained Foreign Agent Registration Act charges). Now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may have given Podesta legal shelter from any charge in working for the same interests as Manafort and Gates. Buried in the Gates plea agreement is a key section that could have been written by Podesta counsel in establishing a defense to a future charge. While there is still the possibility of charges against Podesta or his former company, the filings strongly suggest that Manafort and Gates knowingly hid both critical facts and sources of payments from two lobbying groups including the Podesta Group. Mueller has been filing “speaking indictments” and these papers notably do not speak to any criminality on the part of Podesta.
The Podesta Group was one of six lobbying firms that Manafort and Gates used to help Ukraine between 2011 and 2014.
Mueller only required Gates to plead to a false statement and a conspiracy charge. However, in the filings below, Mueller made clear that Gates lied to “Company A” and “Company B.” — believed to be the Podesta Group (Company B) and Mercury Public Affairs (Company A). The filing effectively clears Podesta of failing to file under FARA due having Gates take responsibility for giving false or misleading information to the Group.
Gates wrote to Company A that it would be representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington,]
22. MANAFORT repeatedly communicated in person and in writing with Yanukovych, and Gates passed on directions to Company A and Company B. . . .
23. At the direction of MANAFORT and Gates, Company A and Company engaged in extensive lobbying. Among other things, they lobbied multiple Members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections, and the propriety of Yanukovych’s imprisoning his presidential rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. In addition, with the assistance of Company A, MANAFORT directly lobbied a Member of Congress who had Ukraine within his subcommittee’s purview, and reported that lobbying effort to senior Government of Ukraine leadership.
24. To minimize public disclosure of their lobbying campaign and distance their work from the Government of Ukraine, MANAFORT, Gates, and others arranged for the Centre to be the nominal client of Company A and Company B, even though in fact the Centre was under the ultimate direction of the Government of Ukraine, Yanukovych, and the Party of Regions, and reported to the First Vice Prime Minister. . . .
25. Neither Company A nor Company registered as required with the United States Department of Justice. In order to avoid such registration, Gates provided the companies a false and misleading signed statement from the Centre, stating that it was not directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled . . . in whole or in part by a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party. In fact, the Centre took direction from Yanukovych and the Ukraine First Vice Prime Minister.
26. To conceal the scheme, MANAFORT and Gates developed a false and misleading cover story that would distance themselves and the Government of Ukraine, Yanukovych, and the Party of Regions from the Centre, Company A, and Company B. . . .