Major Dem Lobbyist A Mueller Target For Work Connected To Manafort

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Tony Podesta is John Podesta's brother, Clinton's campaign manager during the 2016 presidential election.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has shifted the focus of the ongoing investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 USA presidential election to Tony Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm Podesta Group, NBC News reported, citing sources.

Now, after probing his efforts on behalf of Ukraine and a Ukrainian political party, investigators have turned to the Podesta Group, a Democratic firm that joined in a PR effort overseen by Manafort to burnish the nation's image, NBC News reported.

After reporting during the 2016 campaign revealed more details of Manafort's work for the pro-Russia Ukrainian party, Party of Regions, and its leader Viktor Yanukovych, who has since been ousted from Ukraine, the Podesta Group hired an outside law firm to look at the work it did for the Manafort-connected non-profit. Tony Podesta's group worked on the campaign, but now Mr. Mueller's team is looking at possible criminal activity through violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, NBC News said. However, its representatives have said they originally believed that ECFMU was not controlled or financed by a foreign government or political party, and that it is why the firm initially filed their work under the much looser Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Manafort has been the focus of an aggressive probe from the Mueller team that has included an early morning raid at his Virginia home in July. Manafort has registered as a foreign agent for work carried out on behalf of a pro-Russian party in Ukraine. Yanukovych fled to Russian Federation in 2014 following mass protests that erupted after he obstructed the country's attempts to join the European Union. Manafort's firm also filed a FARA registration after media reports in June disclosed its work in Ukraine from 2012 through 2014.

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If found guilty of a deliberate failure to file the necessary forms, Podesta could be facing a felony charge - and up to five years in prison.

Manafort has emerged as one of the key players in Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

In August, Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas to six public relations firms-including the Podesta Group-that were involved in the ECMU campaign, NBC News reported.

"In all of our client engagements, the Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance with disclosure regulations at all times - and we did so in this case", a spokesperson for the group told NBC News.