More details on Manafort’s ‘Hapsburg group’

 In Politics

With Daniel Lippman and Garrett Ross

MORE DETAILS ON MANAFORT’S ‘HAPSBURG GROUP’: We reported earlier this month that a document released as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation shed new light on the former European politicians Paul Manafort considered recruiting as part of the “Hapsburg group.” Mueller has accused Manafort of violating foreign lobbying law by orchestrating the group’s lobbying efforts in the U.S. without registering as a foreign agent. The document, a 2012 memo written by former journalist Alan Friedman and addressed to Manafort, identified eight politicians that Friedman and Alfred Gusenbauer, a former Austrian chancellor, proposed recruiting to lobby.

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— Only one of those politicians responded to requests for comment from POLITICO at the time. But we heard from another one, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president, late last week. He said he’d never heard of the Hapsburg group. Kwaśniewski said he met Manafort for the first time on Oct. 23, 2012, “during the international conference in Berlin, so the attached documents from September 2012 are completely unclear to me,” he wrote in an email, referring to the memo in which Friedman proposed recruiting him. Kwaśniewski said he traveled to the U.S. a few months later. On Feb. 1, 2013, he “had a series of meetings in Congress, Senate and State Department about Ukraine, but I cannot find my notes from these meetings and after so many years I do not recall who I was meeting with,” he wrote.

— In a follow-up email, Kwaśniewski wrote that he didn’t recall who had arranged those meetings, but that it wasn’t Manafort. “I have never worked for Mr. Manafort,” he wrote. “I was acting as a Former President of Poland, engaged in the Ukrainian matters since 1991. … The main subject of the meetings was the situation in Ukraine and the relations between Ukraine and the West.”

Good afternoon, and welcome to PI. It’s not easy keeping up with the intrigue on K Street. Help us out by sharing a tip or two: [email protected] and [email protected] You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @marianne_levine.

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HAGIN’S FORMER BUSINESS PARTNER HAS A WHITE HOUSE IN: When Joe Hagin, one of President Donald Trump’s top aides, planned the president’s first foreign trip last year, Steve Atkiss went to Saudi Arabia, too. Atkiss, one of Hagin’s former partners at the Command Group, a security and intelligence firm, served as the White House’s volunteer logistics lead. “Hagin’s partnership with Atkiss since joining the Trump White House has drawn attention in the tight-knit community of presidential trip planners,” POLITICO’s Josh Meyer and Andrew Restuccia report. “Last month, some complained when Hagin’s former business partner was tapped for an even more high-profile and sensitive assignment than planning the Saudi trip — working as his on-site deputy in orchestrating the historic nuclear summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.”

“It’s common for the White House to farm out the intensive planning known as ‘advance’ work to outsiders, who like Atkiss often work as volunteers. … But by tapping Atkiss, 41, for such sensitive and influential positions, Hagin may be helping him gain an edge in drumming up business for Command by affording him easy access to foreign governments and private individuals who could help the firm win future security and consulting contracts, current and former U.S. officials told POLITICO.” Full story.

COMPANIES WINNING TARIFF WAIVERS DON’T HAVE LOBBYISTS: The Commerce Department announced last week that seven companies received exclusions from the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs: Schick Manufacturing Inc., Nachi America Inc., Hankev International, Zapp Precision Wire, U.S. Leakless Inc., Woodings Industrial Corporation and PolyVision Corporation. None of the companies retain lobbyists, according to disclosure filings. That’s not unusual. “This is an administrative or a regulatory process, so some companies will do it themselves, some companies would hire a lawyer to help them fill out the paperwork,” said Paul Nathanson, a spokesman for the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users. But he predicted that “you’ll likely see an uptick in lobbying activity if you see many exclusion requests rejected by the Commerce Department.”

NATURAL GAS COALITION LAUNCHES: A new coalition to promote the natural gas industry launched today. The members of the so-called Global Natural Gas Coalition include the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America; American Petroleum Institute; the American Gas Association; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Global Energy Institute; the American Chemistry Council; the National Association of Manufacturers; and the Laborers’ International Union of North America. In an interview with PI, Don Santa, chief executive of INGAA, said the coalition’s main objective is to be “a unified voice in term of the benefits of natural gas” both domestically and internationally. Today’s launch coincides with the World Gas Conference this week.

THINK TANK OF THE ‘RADICAL CENTER’ SEARCHES FOR IDENTITY IN TRUMP’S WASHINGTON: Rachel Cohen has a detailed piece in Washingtonian examining the travails of the think tank New America. “Founded at the height of the Nasdaq boom, New America was meant to be an antidote to other Washington think tanks — a young, nimble provocateur that would dispense with convention and birth fresh ideas. Nearly two decades later, the organization, which now employs more than 250 people, is casting about for relevance in a hyper-partisan era, according to interviews with more than three dozen current and former staffers, many of whom wanted anonymity for fear of retribution in the tight-knit DC policymaking community. In a way, it’s a symbol of an entire Washington industry — policymaking — that’s under pressure to fund itself without making ideological or ethical sacrifices.” Full story.

IF YOU MISSED IT THIS WEEKEND:Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, discussed hiring a friend of a lobbyist family that owned a condominium he was renting for $50 a night, newly released emails suggest,” The New York TimesLisa Friedman and Hiroko Tabuchi report. The potential hire “was discussed in emails between Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, and [J. Steven] Hart, who was chairman of the Washington lobbying firm Williams & Jensen and whose wife, Vicki Hart, rented the condo to Mr. Pruitt. Other subjects discussed during and after Mr. Pruitt rented Ms. Hart’s condo included refrigerant chemicals, which was raised on behalf of Coca-Cola, and the Paris Agreement — the global climate pact to address climate change — discussed on behalf of the global bank HSBC.”

— “The emails also show that Mr. Hart suggested other potential hires to the E.P.A., including one person who he emphasized was a Republican and an African-American, on behalf of an executive of the philanthropic arm of the pork giant Smithfield Foods.” Full story.

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