By Robert Romano
The heart of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s case against one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is that when he was working as a lobbyist in Ukraine, he had also lobbied U.S. lawmakers in 2013 on issues related to Ukraine without registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
As such, all of the monies paid to Manafort as a lobbyist, per Mueller were allegedly then laundered by Manafort to conceal his activities.
Manafort, in his defense, has stated he was primarily lobbying the government of Ukraine. Now perhaps that’s true or perhaps Mueller is right, and Manafort really did lobby in the U.S. government on behalf of Ukraine without registering. Either way, Manafort will have his day in court and we’ll find out whether Mueller can make the charges stick. If Mueller can prove Manafort did indeed lobby U.S. officials, then things might not go very well for Manafort. We’ll see.
Manafort might also make a case that what he did actually is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Why should anyone need a government license to speak under the First Amendment to government officials or else face decades in prison? So what if he was lobbying a foreign government, the U.S. government or anyone else?
Manafort could also argue that this has nothing to do with the 2016 elections or Russia, really, as his lawyers have in court, and that Mueller has exceeded his mandate, and they’d be right. But let’s leave all that aside and focus on the Foreign Agents Registration Act and what constitutes money laundering, using Mueller’s own interpretation of the law, and apply it to the Democrats.
For certainly it appears that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign via law firm Perkins Coie were similarly acting as foreign agents when they hired Fusion GPS and former British spy Christopher Steele to dig up dirt on supposed Trump-Russia collusion. Why?
As a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele absolutely meets the definition of being a “foreign principal” under the Foreign Agents registration Act, which includes under 22 U.S.C. 611(b) “a government of a foreign country,” of which he was an agent, or “a person outside of the United States,” which he certainly was, or “a partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country,” of which Steele’s business Orbis, based in the UK, that was hired by Fusion GPS would certainly qualify.
Hillary Clinton, if she knew about it, the DNC, Perkins Coie and Fusion GPS were all acting as “agents of a foreign principal” under 22 U.S.C. 611(c), as anyone who acts on behalf of a foreign principal to affect U.S. policy. Now, this is where it could get muddy. He was nominally paid, but did he solely serve his clients, or a greater agenda?
Steele, via what former FBI Director James Comey stated was his “salacious and unverified” dossier that was given to Fusion GPS and then the Clinton campaign and the DNC, alleged that then-candidate Donald Trump was a Russian agent who had been compromised. This would certainly qualify as “political activity” under 22 U.S.C. 611(o): “any activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”
The Steele dossier was distributed to the FBI, the State Department, the White House, to Congress and so forth. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referenced it in an Aug. 2016 letter to Comey, urging a federal investigation into the allegations. In Oct. 2016, the dossier was used to launch said investigation, obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Trump campaign officials.
According to the Feb. 2018 House Intelligence Committee memorandum on the Steele dossier, in Sept. 2016 Steele told Justice Department official Bruce Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” So, whether or not Fusion GPS was paying Steele, he had his own agenda, and it was to influence the outcome of the election. Steele leaked the dossier to several news outlets. And it was also intended to affect U.S. policy because he had distributed the dossier to U.S. officials. Democrats who did the same had at this point elevated their efforts beyond simply paying for the information. Now they were advocating for it in an official government setting.
It worked. The allegations in the dossier, which Steele sourced to high-level Russian intelligence officials, blamed Russia for hacking the DNC and putting the emails on Wikileaks and that the Trump campaign helped, resulted in sanctions being enacted in Dec. 2016. It is was also used to put the Trump campaign under federal investigation for which it is still. So, the dossier, its general allegations of a Russian conspiracy involving Trump, absolutely affected public policy by federal officials in 2016.
Let’s leave aside certain inconsistencies. For example, why would high-level Russian intelligence officials rat themselves out to Steele to implicate themselves in the DNC emails appearing on Wikileaks?
Let’s just take everything at face value. After all, Steele using Russian sources could have still been a part of the Russian disinformation campaign or something else. Maybe he couldn’t verify the intelligence but ran with it anyway. In which case, he and the Democrats were unwitting pawns in Russia’s active measures, responsible for knowingly spreading foreign propaganda and using it to influence policy here.
Or Steele’s activities might have been sanctioned by the British government in an effort to interfere with the 2016 elections. In a U.S. court filing where Steele has been accused of libel because of the dossier, Steele’s lawyers have argued that if Steele were subjected to questioning about the dossier it would endanger British national security: “The Order is likely to require Mr. Steele to answer questions in circumstances where his answers would …. require the disclosure of sensitive intelligence information which would endanger UK national security interests and personnel.” Here, it would be the same story, different country. Democrats were spreading unverified intelligence generated by a foreign entity, in this case the UK.
Or let’s say Steele was never in contact with any Russians and that he knowingly used false information in the dossier, and distributed the lies to the Clinton campaign, media outlets and the FBI, and kept that part hidden. Then he was still acting as a foreign principal with an agenda to influence U.S. policy. Then the Democrats were simply useful idiots for his own agenda. Even if Democrats knew it was a deliberate deception, this would not alter the fact.
At the end of the day, Steele wanted to get Trump. The fact he managed to get paid for his work does not change the fact he was a British intelligence officer who ran a company in the UK that provided intelligence used to change U.S. foreign policy and launch a domestic national security investigation into his political opponent, Trump. This has done far more to interfere with the U.S. political system than anything Russia is accused of.
And then there’s the money laundering aspect. Just as Manafort was charged with allegedly “laundering” monies in an effort to conceal his illicit foreign lobbying activities, so too did the DNC fail to properly report its payments to Fusion GPS to pay for the dossier, which amounted to unregistered foreign lobbying on beh
alf of Steele. They kept it a secret. The Campaign Legal Center has since filed a complaint in Oct. 2017 with the Federal Election Commission make this very charge.
If Paul Manafort is guilty of acting as a foreign agent and laundering payments to conceal that activity, then potentially so is Hillary Clinton if she knew about it. So is the DNC. So is Perkins Coie. So is Fusion GPS. Perhaps even the FBI and other federal agents who pursued the scheme knowing the dossier’s provenance. But Special Counsel Mueller is not investigating these fairly obvious violations. Whatever happened to the equal administration of justice? If Mueller is merely serving a partisan agenda, which is still predicated on Steele’s disinformation, then it is clear the American people are being played for fools — because the Justice Department is still being played by Steele and serving his agenda.