Reports: Amid public scrutiny, Manafort, Podesta Group finally file as foreign agents; Justice Dept. lax on enforcement of Foreign Agents Registration Act
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today made the following statement regarding reports that Paul Manafort and the Podesta Group are voluntarily registering as U.S. lobbyists for foreign entities after news reports indicated that they worked to influence U.S. policies on behalf of governments.
“We ought to know who is working to meddle in our government and influence policy decisions on behalf of foreign governments. Foreign lobbyists should be transparent about their work, and they should be subjected to the proper oversight. That’s exactly why Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Unfortunately, this case and many others highlight the Justice Department’s institutional failures to enforce this law in a timely manner. Voluntarily registering only after bad publicity because the law was not enforced sooner is not acceptable,” Grassley said.
For years, Grassley has expressed concerns with the Justice Department’s (DOJ) apparent lack of enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). In 2015, Grassley inquired about DOJ’s efforts to enforce FARA against Sidney Blumenthal, a self-described “advisor” to the Clinton Foundation and John Kornblum, a lawyer working for the opposition party in Georgia attempting influence then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The case received little attention in the media, and Blumenthal and Kornblum never registered under the law.
Last week, Grassley raised similar questions about Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, as well as lobbying firms the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, following news reports that Manafort and Gates hired the firms to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party. According to those reports, Manafort and Gates secured payment of 1 million dollars to each firm from the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which Gates allegedly described to a Podesta Group employee as a front group for Ukrainian politicians who were paying Manafort and Gates.
A September 2016 Inspector General audit of FARA enforcement found a lack of statutory understanding within the DOJ and a lack of coherent enforcement strategy. The DOJ has relied primarily on public reporting and voluntary registration to enforce FARA. Further, the DOJ has failed to adequately respond to previous inquiries about failures to enforce FARA requirements.