Tony Podesta likely left his own lobbying firm on Monday because special counsel Robert Mueller found something that could draw the Washington power player into the Trump-Russia investigation.
How minor or major that issue is has yet to be determined.
But Podesta's resignation from his own firm jolted the Beltway, and threatened to extend Mueller's investigation into the Democrats' sphere.
For now, the Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign has snagged only Republicans, albeit on financial and perjury charges. President Donald Trump's former campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted on 12 charges on Monday, including financial crimes and failure to register as agents of the Ukrainian government.
Mueller also snagged former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on lying to the FBI, to which he pleaded guilty earlier this month.
It would have been a completely bad day for Trump had Podesta not resigned that same day, because Podesta is not just any Democrat. He is the brother of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman. He is also the founder of the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm that averages more than $5 million every quarter, according to Politico.
NBC News reported that Manafort's firm paid the Podesta Group $2 million for work in Ukraine, or connected with Ukraine, but it is not known what kind of work was done, and whether it involved lobbying in Washington, D.C., or political consulting work in-country, or something else.
Tony Podesta's resignation is an indication that Mueller's strongest case in the whole Russia investigation might be finance-related, and also related to an obscure law known as FARA.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act became law in 1938. It is "a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities," according to the Justice Department's website.
But since 1966, according to Manafort's attorney, only one person has been successfully prosecuted under FARA. Still, Mueller is obviously looking for anything that gives him advantage over persons of interest. He dusted off FARA and aimed it at Manafort and Gates. But Podesta may also be a target.
Republicans have long complained that Tony Podesta had ties to pro-Russian elements in Ukraine. In fact, the Podesta Group was lobbying for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine.
That center is connected with the Party of Regions, the Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised, according to Politico. The Podesta Group said it didn't know the think tank was tied to a political party, and filed paperwork to that effect with the Justice Department, in April. But the media have mostly yawned at Podesta's connection to Russians — until Monday.
Two things appear to have sped up Tony Podesta's resignation.
One, it appears Podesta realizes Mueller and the media can no longer ignore FARA violations, which have largely been ignored for decades. Lobbyists generally don't think much of FARA violations, but that all changed Monday.
"In my view it would be unlikely for similarly high-profile matters to be ignored by [the Justice Department] for much longer," attorney Joshua Rosenstein, a FARA expert at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, told the Washington Examiner. "I would imagine that this will lead to more aggressive enforcement across the board, including against [former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn and Russian-controlled media outlets, if the facts bear the charges."
Two, money was a factor. Politico reports that since the Russia investigation began, revenues at Podesta Group have steadily dropped. The Podesta Group will likely change its name and be run by the executives Podesta left behind, according to Politico.
Still, there is no indication that Podesta will be targeted by Mueller. And on Monday, Podesta began shooting back at his critics. Podesta's lawyers threatened to sue Tucker Carlson of Fox News for reporting on Friday that Mueller's investigation was mostly now focused on Manafort, Gates and Podesta, with the president out of scope.
The Podesta Group did not respond to a message left by LifeZette.
Last Modified: November 2, 2017, 10:16 am