Manafort associate proposed hiring German, Spanish politicians to lobby on Ukraine

An associate of Paul Manafort in 2012 proposed recruiting former politicians from Belgium, Germany and Spain for a covert lobbying effort on behalf of the Ukrainian government, according to court documents briefly made public Wednesday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

The documents give new insight into the planning for and goals of a campaign Manafort orchestrated to boost the image of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his political party. The lobbying effort has subsequently become part of Mueller’s legal case against the former campaign chief to President Donald Trump, who faces charges of money laundering, failing to disclose his foreign lobbying work in the U.S. and obstruction of justice, among others.

The documents, some of which had previously been released with heavy redactions, appear to have been released in full by mistake. They were available online for a short time Wednesday afternoon, before they were replaced in a court database by edited versions in which the names of many of those involved were removed.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment.

One 2012 memo that was briefly made public in full Wednesday was apparently written by Alan Friedman, a former journalist based in Europe who previously had been identified as “Person D1” in documents released by Mueller’s team. (POLITICO and other outlets reported last week that Friedman appeared to be one of the people involved in Manafort’s campaign.)

Friedman’s memo, addressed to Manafort, outlines a plan “to assemble a small chorus of high-level European third-party endorsers and politically credible friends” to burnish Ukraine’s image ahead of the country’s election in the fall of 2012. The group — later dubbed the “Hapsburg group” — went on to lobby members of Congress and congressional staffers in the U.S. as part of a campaign orchestrated by Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, according to prosecutors.

Manafort has said the group’s work focused on Europe, but Mueller has made public documents that he says show they also lobbied in the U.S. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the new disclosures Wednesday.

Friedman proposed that the group would be led by Alfred Gusenbauer, a former Austrian chancellor with whom he said he had spoken shortly before writing the memo. He also listed other European politicians with whom he hadn’t spoken but who "represent the initial talent pool Alfred and I would canvass informally if you approve.”

The names included: Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister; Adolfo Urso, a former Italian trade minister; Jean-Paul Moerman, a Belgian judge; Bodo Hombach, a former German government minister and “influential publishing boss”; Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary-general from Spain and “respected man for all seasons in Europe”; Alain Minc, an old adviser to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Alain Juppé, a former French prime minister; and Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former Polish president.

“Although his appointment as European Parliament official to monitor the [Tymoshenko] trial would prevent Aleksander Kwasniewski from any formal activity, Chancellor Gusenbauer will meet him June 29th and probe with him the idea of him joining a more formal Advisory Panel in 2013, and in the meantime whether he might feel comfortable with some conference appearances and/or join op-ed with Chancellor Gusenbauer in the next few months,” Friedman wrote.

All of those names, including Gusenbauer’s, were redacted in documents previously released by the special counsel.

It’s not clear how many of the potential recruits identified by Friedman went on to become part of the Hapsburg group. Lobbying disclosures filed by two Washington firms retained as part of Manafort’s campaign show that Gusenbauer, Prodi and Kwasniewski came to the U.S. as part of the effort.

In the memo, Friedman proposed paying Gusenbauer 25,000 to 30,000 euros a month for his work and suggested that payments to the others they planned to recruit could be routed through Gusenbauer “so as to be quite indirect.”

“Alfred Gusenbauer is willing to be discreet,” Friedman wrote.

Prodi told The New York Times in February that Gusenbauer had paid him to work on bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union. But he said the money came as part of the “normal private relations I had with him” and didn’t come from Manafort, to the best of his knowledge.

The second unredacted document released on Wednesday confirmed that Manafort had reached out to Friedman in February through WhatsApp. Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate, sent messages to Friedman and a partner, Eckart Sager, in February and again in April.

Friedman and Sager turned those messages over to Mueller, according to the document. Mueller’s prosecutors have charged that the messages constituted an effort to obstruct justice by tampering with potential witness testimony.

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