Former European leaders struggle to explain themselves after Mueller claims Paul Manafort paid them to lobby for Ukraine

  • President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was charged on Friday with paying European leaders to lobby of behalf of Ukraine, special counsel Robert Mueller alleged.
  • The leaders in question, who include former leaders of Austria and Italy, have denied any wrongdoing.
  • The leaders were allegedly part of a lobbying group called the Hapsburg Group.


Following special counsel Robert Mueller's newest indictment on Friday of President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, two former European leaders were shocked to find their names mentioned in the indictment documents, claiming they'd done nothing wrong, according to the New York Times

According to Mueller's indictment, two European politicians were secretly paid around €2 million by Manafort in order to "take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States," the Times reported. This money was paid during a period when former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was inching closer to Europe on several issues. He eventually changed course however, and was ousted in a pro-Western revolution in Ukraine in 2014.

Paul Manafort indicted in Russia probe:

23 PHOTOS
Paul Manafort indicted in Russia probe
See Gallery
Paul Manafort indicted in Russia probe
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Kevin Downing (C), attorney for President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort (L) leaves U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned on twelve federal charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort (L) leaves U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned on twelve federal charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort uses a sun visor to block the view of photographers as departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 2: Ex Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, center, departs U.S. District Court with his attorney Kevin Downing, left, on November, 02, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, walks out of the U.S. Courthouse after a bond hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Manafort, 68, an international political consultant, was accused along with his right-hand man, Rick Gates, of lying to U.S. authorities about their work in Ukraine, laundering millions of dollars, and hiding offshore accounts. Both pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Former Donald Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse on Thursday November 02, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort faces several charges. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his wife Kathleen arrive at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a bail hearing November 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: Kevin Downing, attorney of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arrives at a U.S. District Court House November 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are scheduled to be back in court for a bond hearing this morning after they pleaded not guilty on October 30 to charges in a 12-count indictment, ranging from money laundering to acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, right, arrives to the U.S. Courthouse for a bond hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Manafort, 68, an international political consultant, was accused along with his right-hand man, Rick Gates, of lying to U.S. authorities about their work in Ukraine, laundering millions of dollars, and hiding offshore accounts. Both pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 6: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse after a court hearing on the terms of his bail and house arrest on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Court Building for a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and former business partner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: Kevin Downing, who is an attorney for Paul Manafort exits the William B. Bryant Annex United States Courthouse after Manfort was indicted on several charges on Monday October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gets into his car after leaving federal court, October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for US President Donald Trump, leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House after being charged October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of conspiracy and money laundering after the Justice Department unveiled the first indictments in the probe into Russian election interference. Manafort, 68, and business partner Rick Gates, 45, both entered not guilty pleas in a Washington court after being read charges that they hid millions of dollars they earned working for former Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow political party. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, right, exits the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The federal investigation into whether President Trump's campaign colluded with Russia took a major turn Monday as authorities charged three people a former campaign chief, his business associate and an ex-policy adviser -- with crimes including money laundering, lying to the FBI and conspiracy. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The group of politicians who were allegedly paid by Manafort were known as the Hapsburg Group, a reference to the famous Austrian imperial dynasty.

Although the indictment documents did not name the leaders, the former Prime Minister of Italy Romano Prodi stated in an interview on Saturday that he and former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer were the leaders mentioned. 

But Prodi said he was not aware that the funds Gusenbauer had paid him had come from Manafort, and were part of "normal private relations I had with him," and was "not any money from external sources."

"I tell you I have never been paid from any lobby group in America," Prodi added.

According to the Times, Prodi and Gusenbauer had both long believed that closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union were a good thing.

"I always had the point of view that it was important to move Ukraine closer to Europe," Gusenbauer told the BBC in a statement. "It would have been extremely positive if Ukraine could have agreed" to closer ties, he said. "I was talking to E.U. and U.S. politicians to make that point clear... I stopped this activity when I had the impression that Ukraine was moving in the wrong direction."

A trans-Atlantic charade

Mueller's documents claim that the group had strategized to "appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine," according to the Times.

Gusenbauer did admit that he had been paid for working on behalf of Ukraine, but did not divulge by whom. According to filings made by Mercury Public Affairs, a political strategy group contracted by Manafort, the former chancellor had met with several members of Congress in 2013 to lobby for Ukraine.

The Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm formerly run by the brother of the former chairman of the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign John Podesta, also reportedly "arranged meetings and media opportunities" for a group of visiting European leaders working on the Ukraine issue that included Prodi and Gusenbauer. Prodi however has denied membership in this group, and stated that Gusenbauer headed it.

Last year, Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates had been indicted on 12 charges related to money laundering, tax fraud, failure to register as foreign agents, and conspiracy against the United States.

But on Thursday, Gates and Manafort were handed a superseding indictment that replaced the original 12 charges with a fresh set of 35 charges related to tax and bank fraud. Mueller's indictment document alleges that Gates and Manafort set up offshore bank accounts that they then failed to disclose to the proper authorities, and laundered over $75 million through these accounts. Friday's indictment was placed on top of these existing charges.

NOW WATCH: Henry Blodget: Will arming teachers with guns help stop school shootings?

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Democrats release their declassified rebuttal memo — here are the key points, how it compares to the Nunes memo, and what matters

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.