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Tony Podesta stepping down from lobbying giant amid Mueller probe

ANNA PALMER

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11-1-17

Podesta announced his decision during a firm-wide meeting Monday morning and is alerting clients of his impending departure.

Democratic power lobbyist Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group, is stepping down from the firm that bears his name after coming under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Podesta announced his decision during a firm-wide meeting Monday morning and is alerting clients of his impending departure.

 

Podesta’s decision to leave the firm came on the same day that former Donald Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted on multiple charges, including money laundering, operating as federal agents of the Ukrainian government, failing to disclose overseas bank accounts and making false statements to federal authorities. Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, according to court records.

The investigation into Podesta and his firm grew out of investigators’ examination of Manafort’s finances. Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

Podesta is handing over full operational and financial control of the firm to longtime firm CEO Kimberley Fritts, according to multiple sources with knowledge of Monday's meeting. Fritts and a senior group of the Podesta team will be launching a new firm in the next one or two days. Sources said the transition has been in the works for the past several months.

“[Tony] was very magnanimous and said, “This is an amazing group of people,” a source said of Podesta’s remarks. Podesta also told staff he “doesn’t intend to go quietly, or learn how to play golf.” He said he “needs to fight this as an individual, but doesn’t want the firm to fight it.,

Fritts also addressed the gathering, telling staff that she is “thrilled at this opportunity” and that, “This is not about me, this is about y’all.” Several other senior staff spoke about their excitement about the future of the firm. The meeting ended with a resounding ovation for Podesta.

Podesta Group did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Podesta has long been a larger than life figure on K Street, growing his business from a boutique firm into a massive lobbying and public relations operation. He is well known for his flashy dressing, vast art collection, generous campaign donations across all levels of Democratic politics and, of course, for his brother John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Podesta Group has struggled in the wake of the Mueller investigation. More than a dozen of its lobbying clients have cut ties with the firm this year, according to lobbying filings. Revenues have also declined: The firm brought in an estimated $4.8 million in the third quarter of 2017, down from $5.2 million in the second quarter of 2017 and from $6.1 million in the third quarter of 2016.