Thursday brought the news that Robert Mueller is offering immunity to Tony Podesta, brother of John Podesta, for testifying against Paul Manafort.
According to the Washington Examiner:
Mueller is offering immunity to five potential witnesses in the upcoming trial of Manafort. Mueller’s team is asking for “use immunity,” which is a limited type of immunity, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The five people have not been charged or identified publicly with the case, prosecutors for Mueller’s team said.
One of the individuals is Tony Podesta. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson put it this way in his Thursday evening broadcast:
“In other words, for a near identical crime, Bill and Hillary’s friend could escape and emerge completely unscathed while Paul Manafort may rot in jail. Only one of them made the mistake of chairing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign,” Carlson said.
Tony Podesta’s Podesta Group, disbanded in 2017, was a lobbying firm that represented the same Ukrainian non-profit that was a client of Manafort’s, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. The Centre for a Modern Ukraine was thought to be backed by Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly, oligarch-funded president of Ukraine who was ousted in the “Maidan” revolution in 2014. Podesta represented the Centre while Yanukovych was in office; what he needs immunity for is failing to register as a foreign agent.
In a technical sense, the alleged crimes of Manafort and Podesta are not really “near identical.” As relates specifically to the dealings with Ukrainian entities, Manafort is also charged with bank fraud and tax evasion.
But looking beyond technicalities, it is arresting to survey, in light of what Manafort is being pursued for, what Podesta is not being pursued for.
The survey inevitably involves Hillary Clinton, long-time associate of the Podestas. Tony Podesta represented Uranium One when the company was first operating as a Russian-controlled entity. This was shortly after the approval given by Hillary Clinton’s State Department to sell a major stake in Uranium One to the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom. In the run-up to the sale’s approval (which occurred in late 2010), Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 for a speech in Russia, and Uranium One-linked donors gave $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.
Yet, as John Solomon and Alison Spann reported at The Hill last year, the FBI had uncovered evidence of massive bribery by Rosatom subsidiary Tenex (operating in the U.S.) in the 2000s, even before the proposed Uranium One sale. A probe of top Tenex executive Vadim Mikerin was launched in 2009, before the sale was proposed (and approved) in 2010.
That probe was overseen by Rod Rosenstein. It began under FBI Director Robert Mueller. In spite of the wide array of evidence against Tenex, the Uranium One sale to Rosatom was ultimately approved, and the Rosatom-Tenex bribery affair was eventually settled with a quiet plea deal in 2015. Also in the supervisory chain during the period of the Mikerin probe – 2009 to 2015 – was Andrew McCabe.
Additionally worth noting: after buying the major stake in Uranium One in 2010, Rosatom acquired the entire company on 14 January 2013, just before Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary of state.
Another essential fact: Solomon and Spann reported that although Uranium One was not licensed to export uranium, the company did export uranium to Canada, starting in 2012, and the Obama administration allowed some of that uranium to be further exported to Europe. Withholding an export license for Uranium One after the Rosatom sale was a key point for the sale’s critics. But the Obama administration failed to honor that commitment.
The Podesta Group was still representing Uranium One when Rosatom bought it out entirely, in January 2013, and when the company began exporting uranium. Robert Mueller, whose agents were investigating bribery and kickbacks by Rosatom subsidiary Tenex, was still FBI director during those same events.
The Podesta Group had more recent links to Russian interests, however. In late March 2016 – an ironic time hack, to say the least – Podesta registered to lobby in Washington, D.C. for Russian banks with longstanding crony connections to Putin and his inner circle. The registration included lobbying for overseas subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and Cyprus, centers of international bank fraud and money laundering.
The purpose of the effort: to “lobby for the U.S. subsidiary of Russian state-held Sberbank on the scope of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine conflict and whether relief is possible.”
Says the Washington Free Beacon, citing a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
Sberbank and Troika Dialog have ties to companies used by members of Putin’s inner circle to funnel state resources into lucrative private investments.
“[O]ffshore companies affiliated with Putin’s friend had privileged rights to control large stakes in strategic Russian enterprises, to receive dividends, and to buy these stakes for laughable sums.”
Despite its apparent ties to the interests of Russia’s political elite, Sberbank is officially a private company. That allows the Podesta Group to report it as a standard lobbying client, rather than a state-owned entity, which would trigger the more detailed lobbyist reporting requirements of the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Lobbying for actual Russians – as opposed to Ukrainians – who move money around for Vladimir Putin would seem like a fruitful target for a probe looking for “collusion” with Russia in an election year. It’s not as if Podesta’s close associate Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, lacked Russian connections of her own. And she did hire Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Donald Trump from Russian sources – while her cronies Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer did the same thing on the side.
If the tables were turned, Democrats would say that looks an awful lot like Hillary laundering her own Russian-sourced dirt on Trump through Fusion GPS, while her campaign chairman’s brother was making whoopee with Putin’s Own moneybags brigade.
Meanwhile: Tony Podesta can’t necessarily be considered complicit in his brother John’s financial interest in another state-owned Russian firm, Rusnano. John Podesta, of course, was the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman referred to above.
But that seems worth investigating too, if we’re obsessing over Russian ties in an election year. Especially since Rusnano is Russia’s umbrella tech firm, deeply embedded with Putin’s secret cyber warriors, of whom so much is suspected relating to the U.S. 2016 election.
Tony Podesta also represented Chinese firm ZTE in 2016 – while brother John, formerly an Obama adviser, was Hillary’s campaign chairman – during ZTE’s plea deal negotiations with the Obama administration on violating the Iran sanctions by shipping telecom equipment to Iran.
As with his representation of Russia’s Sberbank, Tony Podesta avoided registering under Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) rules while representing ZTE.
If Paul Manafort is guilty of the wholly non-political crimes he is charged with, then convict and sentence him. But his crimes have nothing to do with “collusion” with Russia over the 2016 election. Don’t trust me on that; Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial team has already said it has no intention of making such a case.
Let’s not pretend this isn’t a politically motivated, one-sided game going on. Manafort doesn’t even look complicit in any election-related skulduggery in 2016, yet he is being pursued by all the hounds of hell – i.e., 2016 Election Guy, armed with special counsel prosecutorial powers – for crimes from years ago, as if those crimes had some connection to 2016.
Tony Podesta looks like a ripe suspect because of things he did in 2016, but is being given a pass.
Mueller is making it more and more likely Trump will hold Congress in 2018, and sail to a second term in 2020.