Powerful Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta says he’s stepping down from the firm he and his brother built – an unexpected, bipartisan shock wave from special counsel Robert Mueller III’s indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman John Podesta, announced his decision to employees of the Podesta Group on Monday, as prosecutors met with Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, at federal district court in Washington, D.C.
Politico first reported Podesta’s departure. A spokesperson for the firm confirmed a Podesta quote from the Washington Post account, that “it is impossible to run a public affairs firm while you are under attack by Fox News and the right-wing media.”
Manafort in 2012 hired the Podesta Group and another firm, Mercury, to work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a think tank in Brussels. The lobbying firms provided a Washington voice, while the think tank shielded Manafort’s client, Victor Yanukovych, then president of Ukraine.
Yanukovych fled to Moscow in 2014 when he was ousted after asking Russian troops to enter Crimea, and the lobbying effort dried up after that.
The Podesta Group and Mercury registered for this work under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which applies to domestic lobbying. But last April, both firms registered retroactively under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, which covers lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and politicians, and requires more stringent disclosure. The Podesta Group told the Justice Department it had come to realize its lobbying “could be interpreted as principally representing a foreign government.”
Among the charges against former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on Monday were making false or misleading FARA statements.
A spokesman for the Podesta Group says the firm “has fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s office and taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms compliance with the law.” The primary contact for Mercury’s Washington office couldn’t be reached for comment.
Podesta is a steadfast Democrat, known for his campaigning and fundraising skills as well as his lobbying clout. His former wife, Heather Podesta, is also a prominent lobbyist.
The Podesta Group has ranked among the five most prosperous lobby firms in Washington for most of the past decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The top tier of its current domestic clients includes Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, SeaWorld, and Wal-Mart.
Top lobbyists at the Podesta Group plan to restructure the firm under a new name.