Prominent Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta has stepped down from his firm amid controversy surrounding his previous work with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who special counsel Robert Mueller's team indicted for several federal crimes.
On Oct. 30, Podesta announced during a meeting with his Podesta Group that he would step down and cede all control to CEO Kimberley Fritts. A source familiar with the meeting disclosed to Politico that Podesta said he "needs to fight this as an individual, but doesn't want the firm to fight it."
Earlier that day, Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates surrendered themselves to the FBI after Mueller's federal grand jury indicted them on 12 counts. Both Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Mueller investigation, which is probing whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election, has alleged that both Manafort and Gates illegally lobbied on behalf of the pro-Russian Party of Regions government in Ukraine.
The indictment alleged that Manafort funneled at least $18 million in payments from the Party of Regions through offshore accounts and that Gates also transferred $3 million.
"As part of the scheme, MANAFORT and GATES repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants, and legal counsel, among others," the indictment states, according to The Washington Post.
The indictment also alleged that two U.S. firms worked with Manafort and Gates in a lobbying effort to boost Americans' view of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his political party between 2012 and 2014. The document redacted the firms' names but they are reportedly the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs.
In 2012, the Podesta Group registered that it was working with the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, asserting in its filing with the U.S. Department of Justice that the group was not affiliated with any government. The indictment alleged that the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs knew this was not the case and that they were working for the "Government of Ukraine, Yanukovych and the Party of Regions,” with Manafort and Gates as intermediaries.
"Company A and Company B were paid for their services not by their nominal client, the Centre, but solely through off-shore accounts associated with the MANAFORT-GATES entities..." the indictment reads, according to The Washington Post.
A source familiar with the Mueller investigation asserted Podesta and Manafort were in close collaboration between 2012 and 2014.
"Manafort and Tony were inseparable and driving the same train," the source told The Daily Beast.
Podesta has not been charged with any crimes. The lobbyist is a prominent donor to Democrats and is the brother of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.