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Manafort’s pro-Ukraine lobbying campaign reached Obama, Biden

A member of the so-called Hapsburg Group came with a foreign prime minister on May 16, 2013, to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Paul Manafort’s pro-Ukraine campaign reached the top of the White House, with one of the members of his lobbying effort meeting President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, according to new court documents released Friday.

A member of the so-called Hapsburg Group, which comprised former European politicians Manafort convened as part of his lobbying effort in support of Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych, came with a foreign prime minister on May 16, 2013, to meet with Obama and Biden, “as well as senior United States officials in the executive and legislative branches,” according to the court documents.

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Alan Friedman, a former journalist based in Europe who helped Manafort launch the group, told Manafort after the meeting that the member of the Hapsburg Group “delivered the message of not letting ‘Russians steal Ukraine from the West,’” prosecutors say.

Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, pleaded guilty Friday to two criminal charges from special counsel Robert Mueller to head off a potentially dramatic trial over allegations he violated laws on foreign lobbying. The court documents released Friday say Manafort failed to register as a foreign lobbyist, as required under U.S. law, or disclose a host of meetings, including the one involving Obama and Biden.

The lobbying effort that caught prosecutors’ attention tried to persuade the U.S. government to support Yanukovych, who was at the time under international fire for jailing a rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. U.S. lawmakers had condemned Yanukovych’s actions, and he would later flee Ukraine for Russia after his government’s security forces beat protesters in 2013.

Court documents and filings with the Justice Department previously revealed some of the members of Manafort’s Hapsburg Group and showed that they met with dozens of members of Congress, congressional staffers and Obama administration officials. But Friday brought the first indication that the campaign stretched to the top of the U.S. government.

The court documents don’t name the member of the Hapsburg Group or the prime minister, but Obama met on May 16, 2013, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish leader was accompanied by foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Hakan Fidan, head of Turkish intelligence.

The court documents also indicate that Manafort “orchestrated a scheme to have … ‘[O]bama jews’ put pressure on the administration” to persuade it to support Yanukovych.

As part of his effort, Manafort disseminated stories that said “a senior Cabinet official” who had previously criticized Yanukovych “was supporting anti-Semitism because the official backed Tymoshenko, who in turn had formed a political alliance with a Ukraine party that espoused anti-Semitic views,” the court documents state.

Manafort worked with a senior Israeli government official to provide a statement on the issue, prosecutors say, with the hope that the story would force the administration to “understand that ‘the Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing.’”

Paul Manafort and Jason Maloni

Although the senior Cabinet official is not named in the documents, prior to the 2012 elections, conservative media reported accusations of anti-Semitism against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because of a New York Times op-ed she co-wrote with Catherine Ashton, then high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy. The op-ed voiced concern about Ukraine’s political situation.

“We regret that the convictions of opposition leaders during trials that did not meet international standards are preventing them from standing in parliamentary elections,” Clinton and Ashton wrote. “The Ukrainian government needs to address these selective prosecutions, including the case of former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko and other former senior officials.”

Breitbart reported in October 2012 that “a Jewish leader, who asked to remain unnamed, says that Clinton’s New York Times op-ed ripping the current Ukrainian administration has ‘created a neo-Nazi Frankenstein by issuing a de facto endorsement of Mrs. Tymoshenko and her choices.’”

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