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U.S. filing inadvertently identifies public relations executives, former politicians in Manafort case

June 18, 2018 at 10:24 AM

Paul Manafort exiting federal court in Washington in May (Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg)

(This file has been updated to include additional details of the court filing and comments from individuals whose names were disclosed in the inadvertent release.)

Court officials inadvertently released a court filing Wednesday that identified two European public relations executives allegedly approached to solicit false testimony to aid Paul Manafort and also revealed names of several senior former European politicians one executive suggested approaching about a secret lobbying campaign for Ukraine.

The filing in Washington by prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, was a clerical error, a court spokeswoman said. The filing was withdrawn within minutes by court officials and reposted with redactions, in keeping with a judge’s order from earlier in the day.

The filing identified the PR executives as former journalists Alan Friedman and Eckart Sager of FBC Media, or Factbased Communications Media, a London-based firm that has since gone into bankruptcy.

Friedman and Sager did not respond to requests for comment earlier this week when their firm was linked to Manafort in news accounts, and they did not respond to emails seeking comment Wednesday afternoon after the release.

Also included in the filing was a June 2012 memo from Friedman addressed to Manafort that named politicians Friedman sought to enlist as part of a “small chorus of high-level third-party endorsers and politically credible friends,” to help lobby for Ukraine.

It is not clear how many of the European politicians mentioned were ever approached and which, if any, were paid by Manafort to act as lobbyists. The list included politicians from Austria, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

The names released Wednesday had been withheld in a June 7 indictment charging Manafort and a Russian associate with two counts of obstructing justice for their alleged attempts to have witnesses give misleading testimony about the foreign lobbying.

Related: [Mueller accuses Paul Manafort of witness tampering]

Among the charges filed against Manafort in the Mueller probe is an accusation Manafort failed to register with the U.S. as a lobbyist for a foreign government. The overtures to the potential witnesses in the case allegedly involved attempts to have them say the lobbying effort was only in Europe, court filings show.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and faces federal trials in Alexandria in July and in Washington in September.

The former campaign manager for President Trump is accused of laundering more than $30 million over a decade of undisclosed lobbying for Ukraine, as well as tax and bank fraud charges. He faces an arraignment Friday in Washington on the counts of obstructing justice and also a hearing on whether his home detention should be revoked pending trials due to the witness tampering counts.

Prosecutors have alleged that Manafort funneled more than 2 million euros through four accounts in 2012 and 2013 to pay a group of politicians, called the “Hapsburg group.” The group included a former European chancellor and prime minister that in redacted filings is referred to as “Foreign Politician A,” who with others lobbied members of Congress, the executive branch and their staffs, prosecutors assert.

The obstruction of justice charges revolve around allegations that Manafort and his longtime manager in Kiev, Konstantin Kilimnik, 47, tried to influence two public-relations executives who were involved in lobbying work in 2012 on behalf of pro-Russian Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.

According to court filings, after Manafort was accused in February of secretly lobbying without registering as a lobbyist, he and Kilimnik repeatedly contacted the two executives to emphasize that their past work together did not involve American officials and therefore did not constitute lobbying in the United States.

Politicians considered for the “Hapsburg group” included former Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Italian ex-prime minister Romano Prodi, member of parliament Adolfo Urso, Belgian judge Jean-Paul Moerman, and the European Union’s chief diplomat for a decade before 2009, and Javier Solana, of Spain, according to the court filing accidentally posted.

The filing, which is part of prosecutors’ case, contains a June 2012 memo from Friedman to Manafort asserting that Gusenbauer had told Friedman he was willing to help organize the lobbying effort at an annual rate of 300,000 euros. Gusenbauer has been quoted in several news reports repeatedly saying that he was not aware that the effort was financed by Manafort or the Ukraine government.

Prodi said in a telephone interview he was never approached to lobby for Ukraine and did not know of Manafort’s involvement, but contracted with and was paid by Gusenbauer to attend a series of conferences and author op-ed articles promoting closer E.U.-Ukraine ties.

“No one’s ever asked me to do any lobbying, and I’ve consistently maintained the need for Ukraine’s rapprochement to Europe,” Prodi said, adding, “although this may just be my opinion, I deem that coherent with my previous task as President of the European Commission.”

Urso confirmed that he had been offered but did not agree to take part in “a working group promoted by the Ukrainian government,” calling it “incompatible with my role as an MP of the Italian Republic,” Urso said he did know that Manafort was involved.

Moerman in a telephone interview said that he had never been contacted by Manafort or his team.

“I do not know these people. I do not see why my name appears here. I do not know who Paul Manafort is,” said Moerman, a judge on the Belgian Constitutional Court. “I have nothing to do with this,” he said.

An aide to Solana declined to comment.

Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan and researchers Quentin Ariès and Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report from Brussels and Rome.

Read more:

Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort jailed awaiting trial after witness tampering charge

Senate intelligence aide charged in U.S. leak probe pleads not guilty in District federal court

Mueller asks judge for protective order for evidence in Russian trolling case

Pressure on Michael Cohen intensifies as Mueller stays focused on the Trump attorney


Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy Award nominee. Hsu has covered homeland security, immigration, Virginia politics and Congress.

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