Where do Manafort's and Gates' indictments leave foreign lobbyists?
On October 30, President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates were indicted and charged with twelve counts related to money laundering, tax evasion and foreign lobbying.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Charges handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller stated that Manafort and Gates worked as unregistered agents, providing political consulting and lobbying work in Ukraine at least between 2006 and 2017. They were both paid millions of dollars for their work with Ukraine's pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovych.
The men are alleged to have laundered the money through offshore accounts in tax havens, such as Cyprus, and various shell companies based in the United States.
Mueller's team allege that more than $75 million had passed through these offshore accounts, and that Manafort had laundered more than $18 million to use on real estate in New York and Virginia, in addition to luxury goods, such as Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and services, such as house cleaning.
|Gates also joined Manafort on the Trump campaign, but remained on the team, even after Manafort was forced to resign|
Rick Gates was also accused of money laundering, but as Manafort's associate, he had more of the menial work, which included fabricating tax documentation and lying about their roles as foreign agents. Gates' relationship with Manafort goes back to the 1980s, when he interned at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly - a lobbying firm cofounded by Manafort and longtime Republican operative Roger Stone.
Gates also joined Manafort on the Trump campaign, but remained on the team, even after Manafort was forced to resign.
Gates then moved on to work with the Republican National Committee, as well as the Trump Inaugural Committee. While at Manafort's consulting firm, both men worked often with Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian clients.
These charges beg the question: what is the current state of American influence within international political consulting? In addition to working in Ukraine and Russia, Paul Manafort has also worked in the Philippines, and has most recently worked alongside the Kurdish Regional Government in their bid for independence.
For one, it can be expected that international consulting and lobbying will most likely face more regulation and scrutiny.
As one Republican consultant states: "International lobbying is the Wild West. It's not policed very effectively."
In fact, foreign lobbyists are already starting to feel the pressure. One foreign lobbyist has conveyed that many in the field used to feel comfortable with being lax when it came to the law because they knew they would not be prosecuted.
|Mueller's charges also show that the United States government is coming down hard on foreign consulting and lobbying|
Now he says that there's a growing fear that the Justice Department will now prosecute lobbyists, instead of working with them to guarantee compliance. In validation of those fears, Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Mike Johnson have already proposed bills that would address requirements for international lobbying and consulting.
While these indictments do not directly tie President Trump with foreign (Russian) collusion during the campaign, they do show that many of the people he had hired for the campaign had ties - business or otherwise - with Russian or pro-Russian figures. Mueller's charges also show that the United States government is coming down hard on foreign consulting and lobbying.
Another former Trump connection who has also been caught up in the "Wild West" of foreign lobbying is Michael Flynn. Flynn had been paid $600,000 by a Turkish man in order to lobby President Trump on behalf of the Turkish and Russian governments.
Although he resigned from his post as national security advisor back in February, White House officials were reportedly relieved that Manafort and Gates were the first to be indicted, instead of Flynn. The thinking behind this is that Manafort held a campaign job, while Flynn held a high-level position during Trump's presidency.
Mueller's team is believed to have enough information to also indict Michael Flynn, although only time will tell if that is the case.
While it remains to be seen if foreign governments or businesses will now hesitate to work with American foreign lobbyists, the fact of the matter is that Mueller's indictment of Manafort and Gates, with Flynn's potentially coming down the pipeline, is serving as a wakeup call to all lobbyists - that compliance with the law is priority number one.
While these indictments are unique in that they also involved tax evasion, lying to authorities, and other charges, the repercussions for foreign lobbyists are being heard loud and clear.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.