(By Paul Roderick Gregory at forbes.com) K Street lobbyists are the symbol of Washington influence-peddling as they push government for favors, subsidies, exemptions, and other special treatment for their clients. Their customers include, in addition to domestic clients, foreign governments, oligarchs, fugitive speculators, and a rogue’s gallery of questionable figures. Washington lobbyists trade on their access to power. Many are former administration officials or members of Congress. If Trump fulfills his promise to “drain the swamp,” these influence peddlers would have nothing to sell. They are under attack.
The media has focused not on K Street but on the Russian ties of President Donald Trump’s associates. They list the reprehensible Kremlin-associated figures for whom members of his inner circle worked, the most notorious being Viktor Yanukovich, the deposed president of Ukraine, and fugitive oligarch, Dymtro Firtash. But both of these “repulsive” figures were also advised by Democratic top dogs, who likely earned large multiples of what the “small fry” Trump associates took home.
In pushing its Manchurian-candidate-Trump narrative, the media fail to mention the much deeper ties of Democratic lobbyists to Russia. Don’t worry, the media seems to say: Even though they are representing Russia, the lobbyists are good upstanding citizens, not like the Trump people. They can be trusted with such delicate matters.
The media targeted former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for consulting for deposed Ukrainian president’s (Yanukovich’s) Party of the Regions. He also worked for billionaire oligarch, Firtash, who stands accused of skimming billions in the Ukraine gas trade in league with Russian oligarchs. The media also singled out Trump’s former national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, for attending a dinner with Putin and appearing on Russia’s foreign propaganda network RT. Trump’s own Russian ties were the subject of intense media coverage of an unverified opposition-research reportpurportedly prepared by an ex-British spy, who remains in hiding. It seems no enterprising reporter has tried to find him.
The media’s focus on Trump’s Russian connections ignores the much more extensive and lucrative business relationships of top Democrats with Kremlin-associated oligarchs and companies. Thanks to the Panama Papers, we know that the Podesta Group (founded by John Podesta’s brother, Tony) lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. “Sberbank is the Kremlin, they don’t do anything major without Putin’s go-ahead, and they don’t tell him ‘no’ either,” explained a retired senior U.S. intelligence official. According to a Reuters report, Tony Podesta was “among the high-profile lobbyists registered to represent organizations backing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.” Among these was the European Center, which paid Podesta $900,000 for his lobbying.
That’s not all: The busy Podesta Group also represented Uranium One, a uranium company acquired by the Russian government which received approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department to mine for uranium in the U.S. and gave Russia twenty percent control of US uranium. The New York Times reported Uranium One’s chairman, Frank Guistra, made significant donations to the Clinton Foundation, and Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 for one speech from a Russian investment bank that has “links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.” Notably, Frank Giustra, the Clinton Foundation’s largest and most controversial donor, does not appear anywhere in Clinton’s “non-private” emails. It is possible that the emails of such key donors were automatically scrubbed to protect the Clinton Foundation.
Let’s not leave out fugitive Ukrainian oligarch, Dymtro Firtash. He is represented by Democratic heavyweight lawyer, Lanny Davis, who accused Trump of “inviting Putin to commit espionage” (Trump’s quip: If Putin has Hillary’s emails, release them) but denies all wrongdoing by Hillary.
That’s still not all: Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) read Kremlin propaganda into the Congressional Record, referring to Ukrainian militia as “repulsive Neo Nazis” in denying Ukrainian forces ManPad weapons. Conyers floor speech was surely a notable success of some Kremlin lobbyist.
Lobbying for Russia is a bi-partisan activity. Gazprombank GPB, a subsidiary of Russia’s third largest bank, Gazprombank, is represented by former Sen. John Breaux, (D., La.), and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), as main lobbyists on “banking laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions.” The Breaux-Lott client is currently in the Treasury Department list of Russian firms prohibited from debt financing with U.S. banks.
In his February 16 press conference, President Trump declared in response to the intensifying media drumbeat on his Russian connections: “I haven’t done anything for Russia.” K-Street lobbyists, on the other hand, have done a lot to help Russia. They greased the skids for a strategic deal (that required the Secretary of State’s approval) that multiplied the Kremlin’s command of world uranium supplies. They likely prevented the shipment of strategic weapons needed by Ukraine to repulse well-armed pro-Russian forces. A fugitive billionaire who robbed the Ukrainian people of billions is represented by one of the establishment’s most connected lawyers.
Gazprombank GPB hired Breux and Lott to gain repeal of sanctions. That’s perfectly fine in Washington; they are playing according established “swamp rules” in their tailored suits and fine D.C. restaurants. General Flynn lost his job when the subject of sanctions was mentioned by the Russian ambassador in their telephone conversation, but that’s the way the media and Washington play.
No wonder that Trump’s’ “drain the swamp” and anti-media messages resonate so well with mainstream America.