It's Happening: Clinton Bundler Tony Podesta Steps Down, Dissolves the Podesta Group
After the arrest of Paul Manafort on Monday, Hillary Clinton bundler Tony Podesta announced he would be stepping down from leading the Podesta Group and that the firm would dissolve. Tony Podesta co-founded the firm with his brother John Podesta, who would become Clinton's campaign manager for the 2016 election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Donald Trump's Russia connections followed Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. Manafort turned himself in to the FBI on Monday, after being indicted on 12 counts, among which were "conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts."
Interestingly, many of these charges could also be applied to Podesta. Manafort worked for the Party of Regions, a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party whose president, Viktor Yanukovych, ruled Ukraine between 2010 and 2014. Amid the "Panama Papers" leak emerged a Party of Regions ledger listing $12.7 million in cash payments for Manafort.
In a subsequent report, the Associated Press revealed that Manafort helped the Party of Regions "secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012." The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU), a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit, allegedly paid the $2.2 million to the Podesta Group and the Mercury LLC — to lobby the White House and Congress for positions in line with Yanukovych's government.
Both Manafort and the Podesta Group failed to register as lobbyists acting on behalf of a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Last week, three sources told NBC News that Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group had fallen under the purview of Mueller's investigation, due to their connections to Manafort's finances.
Both Manafort's firm and the Podesta Group filed FARA registrations for the ECMU work only after the payments were reported by the media last year.
Politico's Anna Palmer reported Tony Podesta's resignation from the Podesta Group on Monday. Podesta announced his decision during a firm-wide meeting Monday morning, and has alerted clients of his impending departure.
He will be handing over full operational and financial control to longtime firm CEO Kimberley Fritts. She and a senior group will be launching a new firm in the next one or two days. Politico's sources said the transition has been in the works for the past several months.
Podesta "was very magnanimous and said, 'This is an amazing group of people,'" a source told Politico, recalling Tony Podesta's remarks. He reportedly told staff he "doesn't intend to go quietly, or learn how to play golf," but rather he "needs to fight this as an individual, but doesn't want the firm to fight it."