The indictment of ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates provides more insight into the lobbying campaign they orchestrated on behalf of Ukraine's pro-Russia Party of Regions.
Manafort and Gates were indicted on twelve counts by a grand jury on Friday, two of which directly involved violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August of 2016 after media reports exposed his ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Other actors in the 2016 election have since been caught up in FARA-related controversies, including former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Hillary Clinton bundler Tony Podesta (whose eponymous firm was working with Manafort).
FARA was enacted in 1938 to grapple with the spread of Nazi propaganda. Today, as the Justice Department describes, it "facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities" of anyone acting as the agents of foreign principles in a "political or quasi-political capacity." In other words, it forces people lobbying on behalf of foreign governments to be transparent about the interests they're representing. Failure to make such a disclosure within ten days of entering into a relevant agreement is a felony, albeit one that is rarely prosecuted.
"The purpose of FARA is to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws," the DOJ says.
In August of 2016, the Associated Press reported that Manafort and Gates oversaw a lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine's pro-Russian Party of Regions by enlisting Mercury and the Podesta Group, two high-powered firms, to work for the Brussels-based European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Both Mercury and the Podesta Group have maintained they were unaware the Centre was controlled by the Ukrainian government, which is supposedly why neither filed proper FARA disclosures after being hired. But the indictment presents evidence to the contrary.
Mueller's indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates knowingly took steps to conceal their work, as did the two firms they enlisted. Neither the Podesta Group nor Mercury is named in the indictment— which instead refers to Company A and Company B. Based on reporting and belated FARA disclosures it stands to reason both firms are the entities in question, but that is not confirmed. Both have since filed FARA disclosures for the work, though Podesta and his firm have reportedly also fallen under a federal criminal investigation by Mueller.
The indictment charges that the Centre was created in 2012 as a "mouthpiece" for then-Ukrainian President Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions and was ultimately under the control of that country's government, which directed Manafort's and Gates' lobbying efforts in the United States. Manafort and Gates, the indictment says, arranged for the Centre to be the "nominal client" of the two unnamed companies in order to minimize the extent to which their lobbying would need to be disclosed. Depicted as a somewhat innocuous think tank, the indictment says the Centre was merely a front for the interests of the pro-Putin Ukrainian government, which sought to influence U.S. policy. The indictment also alleges that Manafort and Gates "developed a false and misleading cover story" to distance themselves and their Ukrainian clients from the Centre and the two firms.
Manafort, according to the indictment, was regularly in direct communication with Yanukovych about the project. In November of 2012, the indictment claims Gates wrote to both companies asking them to assess their lobbying efforts so "Paul" could brief the "President" on what Ukraine had done well and could do better in 2013, implying both were aware their lobbying efforts were being directed by the Ukrainian government, despite failing to register FARA disclosures. That's largely in concert with what sources have told media outlets over the 14 months.
In short, the indictment alleges that under the direction of pro-Russia forces in the Ukrainian government, Manafort and Gates enlisted two powerful American firms to work on behalf of the shady European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which both men knew was a front for that country's government, in an effort to soften Washington's stance towards Ukraine. Counts ten and eleven in the indictment charge Manafort and Gates with knowingly and willfully acting as foreign agents without filing FARA disclosures and with making "false and misleading" statements in a FARA document. Both men also face charges ranging from money laundering to conspiracy against the U.S. They surrendered to federal authorities early on Monday.