Manafort registers as foreign agent

Paul Manafort is pictured. | AP Photo

Neither Paul Manafort nor the lobbying firms registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents working on behalf of the party at the time he was working on President Donald Trump’s campaign. | AP Photo

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, made more than $17 million working as a foreign agent of a Ukrainian political party, according to newly filed disclosure reports.

Trump forced Manafort to step down from his campaign last year after The Associated Press reported that Manafort and another Trump campaign official, Rick Gates, had secretly helped the Ukrainian Party of Regions steer money to two Washington lobbying firms through a nonprofit.

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Neither Manafort nor the lobbying firms registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents working on behalf of the party at the time. The lobbying firms belatedly filed reports in April detailed their lobbying on behalf of the nonprofit, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, back in 2012. A Manafort spokesman said at the time that Manafort planned to file similar paperwork.

Jason Maloni, a Manafort spokesman, did not say directly why Manafort didn’t file disclose his activities at the time. Failing to report under the Foreign Agent Registration Act is a felony, but the Justice Department rarely prosecutes violations.

Manafort “started this process in concert with FARA’s unit in September, before the outcome of the election and well before any formal investigation of election interference began,” Maloni said in a statement.

“Paul’s primary focus was always directed at domestic Ukrainian political campaign work, and that is reflected in today’s filing.”

In the new documents, Manafort says that he gave “strategic counsel and advice to members of the Party of Regions regarding their interaction with U.S. government officials and other Western influential persons to advance the goal of greater political and economic integration between the Ukraine and the West” while working for party from 2012 to 2014. He also advised the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, “which was also working for the same purpose.”

While Manafort described the Party of Regions as seeking closer ties with the West, the party is widely viewed as pro-Russian. Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president while Manafort was working in Ukraine and the leader of that party, fled the country in 2014 amid protests against his government’s close ties to Russian.

Manafort’s firm received a total of $17.1 million for his work on behalf of the party, including $12.1 million in 2012, $4.5 million in 2013 and $500,000 in early 2014 before Yanukovych fled the country.

Manafort helped elect the party’s candidates in national and regional elections, according to the filing. He was also a “source of information for the U.S. Embassy in Kiev regarding developing events in Ukraine.” In 2012, he emailed John Tefft, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, to advise him on the American statement on the Ukrainian elections.

In 2013, Manafort also met with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is considered Russia’s most reliable defender in Congress, as well as Paul Dobriansky, a former U.S. diplomat who’s now a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Nadia Diuk of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The filing leaves open the possibility that Manafort did more in Ukraine that he admits in the document.

“Please Note: The information contained in this filing, including but not limited to descriptions of activities giving rise to the Registrant’s present registration and/or contemporaneous financial receipts or disbursements, reflect only Registrant’s best recollection of relevant events and such records currently available, to the knowledge and belief of the Registrant, for review by the Registrant and his legal counsel,” the filing states. “The Registrant may amend and/or supplement such disclosures should additional, relevant information become available.”

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Emboldened industry lobbyists try to scale back Medicaid cuts

Hospitals, doctors and nursing homes have one last chance to shape a Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare they say will hurt millions of old, poor and sick Americans — and their own bottom lines.

After being on the sidelines for much of the repeal debate, the groups see an opening in the meltdown of the Senate health care bill. They’re particularly worried about the legislation’s proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, the country’s largest insurance program, which covers 74 million people.

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Medicaid “was established to prevent our country’s most vulnerable citizens from being left behind, and it’s truly become a lifeline for millions of Americans,” said Rick Pollack, CEO of the American Hospital Association, during a call with reporters on Tuesday. “Even Republican senators are sounding alarm bells over the harm these deep cuts would cause for vulnerable patients in their states.”

A coalition of the nation’s largest provider groups is airing ads across 12 states this week linking the Senate bill to worse care for millions, including children, the disabled and the elderly. Health care lobbyists are targeting shaky senators both in D.C. and in their home states, hammering home the idea that Medicaid cuts could skyrocket charity care and force hundreds of small and rural hospitals out of business. And on Monday, the trade group representing nearly 14,000 nursing homes broke its silence to deliver a scorching indictment of Senate Republicans’ bid to remake Medicaid.

“We genuinely believe that if the senators had any idea of the extent of the impact on each building in the country that they’d never be proposing this,” American Health Care Association President Mark Parkinson said. “If they adopt this bill, the future of long-term care as we know it will be very different.”

Insurers are taking a less combative stance, but they’re also warning that the cuts would have grave consequences. The Association for Community Affiliated Plans has released an ad criticizing the Senate plan that it says will run during MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. Last week, a group of 10 major Medicaid plans sent a letter to Senate leaders blasting the GOP repeal bill, arguing that it would cripple state budgets and hurt efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

“If the goal is to reform the Medicaid program and reduce costs, there are different ways of going about it than just taking a hatchet to the budget,” said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, one of the signatories to the letter.

The lobbying effort still pales in comparison to the scorched-earth tactics of the health insurance industry that derailed former President Bill Clinton’s proposed health care overhaul more than two decades ago. But the effort has been bolstered by the CBO’s projection that the bill would leave 15 million more Medicaid-eligible Americans uninsured over a decade, and cut federal payments to states by a quarter.

Soon after the CBO report was released, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) vowed to oppose the bill unless it was made more generous. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), whose state expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, previously came out against the legislation over its cuts to the program.

That leaves Senate Republican leaders in a bind: If they soften the Medicaid cuts to placate moderates, they’re likely to antagonize conservative hardliners. That dynamic is making it difficult to arrive at a compromise that can attract 50 votes.

Senate Republicans kept such disagreements out of the headlines for weeks by drafting their repeal plan behind closed doors, vowing that it would be superior to the House version. But as soon as the draft legislation became public, those fissures came into view — and health care lobbyists were waiting to exploit the divisions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bowed to that reality Tuesday in announcing that Republicans would continue to work on the bill and not hold a vote before the July 4 recess — a deadline that he’d previously indicated was non-negotiable.

“Legislation of this complexity almost always take longer than anybody would hope,” McConnell told reporters. “But we’re going to press on.”

The uncertainty is likely to further embolden industry lobbyists. Even before Tuesday’s announcement, they were expressing confidence that they could prevail on key expansion-state senators in Alaska, Arizona, West Virginia and Ohio.

“This is not fine wine,” said one lobbyist, describing the unhappiness with the bill among Republicans senators. “It does not get better with age.”

Hospital groups are working closely with expansion-state governors, including Ohio’s John Kasich, Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, to exert pressure on senators.

The CBO score projecting coverage losses and deficit savings gave the industry groups some sense of how much they can ask for.

“Having the Senate bill provides a level of clarity we didn’t have before,” said Tom Nickels, AHA’s executive vice president for government relations and public policy. Nickels described the industry as being in “purgatory” between hammering the House bill and trying to anticipate the Senate bill.

The Senate plan notably went further than the House bill in curbing future Medicaid spending. The upper chamber would have eventually limited Medicaid spending growth per beneficiary to the consumer price index, which is far below the current growth rate.

“No element of our health care system has come close to CPI cost growth, certainly in my lifetime,” said Ceci Connolly, CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. “That’s an unrealistic aspiration.”

That’s one area where Republicans might scale back the cuts. But it’s tough to see how they’re going to significantly reduce the CBO projection of 15 million fewer insured while continuing to scrap Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Already, Senate Republicans have given up on making radical changes to the individual market. Their plan calls for subsidies to be available to individuals with incomes up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, down from 400 percent under Obamacare.

That’s a far cry from seven years of campaign promises to completely dismantle the federal health care law. Despite the challenge forging consensus, Senate Republicans insist that they’ll eventually coalesce around a repeal package that fulfills that goal.

“You’re dealing with people’s lives with health care,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters Tuesday, after it was announced that the repeal vote would be delayed. “I’d rather do it right than do it fast. But obviously you can’t wait forever.”

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Delays stack up for Trump in filling ambassador posts

Woody Johnson is pictured. | AP Photo

The White House formally submitted the nomination of Woody Johnson, owner of the NFL’s Jets, to be ambassador to Britain to the Senate this week. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump said before he took office that he planned to choose New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a campaign supporter and old friend, as his ambassador to Britain. But it took until this week for the White House to formally submit Johnson’s nomination to the Senate.

So far, Trump has nominated 20 ambassadors, with six confirmed, including the ambassador to the United Nations, according to the American Foreign Service Association.

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By this point in their first terms, President Barack Obama had nominated 40 ambassadors with three confirmed excluding the U.N. ambassador, while President George W. Bush had nominated 27, with three confirmed, according to statistics compiled by the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service. The Trump administration is taking 77 days on average to confirm ambassadors to countries, while Obama nominees 26 days and Bush’s 11, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

The slow pace of selecting key American representatives abroad is hurting the U.S. diplomatically, as foreign leaders try to suss out the administration’s worldview and their place within it, according to interviews with more than a dozen foreign policy experts, current and former ambassadors, and sources familiar with the hiring process.

“Countries get miffed when they do not have an ambassador because they believe they’re seen as not important and that Washington does not respect them,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, an independent, non-profit association of former senior U.S. ambassadors and high-level government officials.

Although career foreign service officers hold the majority of the 188 ambassadorships available, Trump has yet to fill dozens of posts, including critical ones in places like Afghanistan and France, with Senate-confirmed ambassadors. That has left a charge d’affaires – essentially an acting ambassador – overseeing those embassies.

The dearth of ambassadors, coupled with the skeletal leadership at the State Department, means that foreign governments frequently are at a loss in their efforts to decode the Trump team’s ideology and policy moves.

“Because so much of State is unstaffed, in some ways that’s making the ambassadors even more important as a point of contact,” said one serving U.S. ambassador, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “The ambassadors are running into this even at multilateral gatherings, where officials from countries where they are not posted come to them and say, ‘I don’t know who to talk to in Washington. Can you help?’”

Countries with confirmed appointees include China; Israel; the Republic of Congo; Senegal; and New Zealand. The Senate also confirmed Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This week, former Sen. Scott Brown announced via Twitter that he’d arrived in New Zealand as its ambassador and posted a photo of him and his wife outside the residence.

A State Department official said: “The department is working closely with the White House,” and noted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that “there are other candidates at various stages in the process. We refer you to the White House for any questions regarding the selection and vetting process.”

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said that currently there are over 55 ambassadors going through the internal vetting and clearance process, which the Trump administration asks people to do before it announces its intent to nominate. A number of these picks have complex disclosure or financial forms given their years in the private sector, Walters added, and that can contribute to the delay.

The slowdown in ambassador picks under Trump stems from two key problems, said people familiar with the process: The White House’s hiring has input from too many senior staffers and factions as well as a lack of a deep bench of donors or finance types from the campaign.

The personnel process for selecting ambassadors as well as political appointees has been hampered for months by turf wars between the West Wing’s senior staff, Cabinet secretaries, and a president who insists on signing off on every hire – sometimes, with a lack of agreement among the principals on the best person for the job. The White House, not the State Department, has been controlling the ambassador selection process.

Trump has in multiple cases announced that he intends to nominate someone for an ambassadorship as opposed to just nominating that person. Sometimes word leaks out about a Trump pick long before he even announces his intent. Reports weeks ago indicated Trump had selected former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as his ambassador to Russia. But Huntsman has not yet been formally named.

Typically, roughly 30 percent of ambassadorships go to political appointees, who tend to be donors or key finance officials from the campaign. But Trump relied on a narrow circle of donors and advisers, many of whom have already joined his administration in other capacities—leaving a shorter queue of ready candidates for diplomatic posts.

“That was thin in this campaign,” said one Trump transition official. “That universe is much smaller under Trump than it would have been under Romney or Jeb Bush.”

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Pro-Trump group pulls ads criticizing Heller over Obamacare

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Sen. Dean Heller, R-N.V., in Washington, on Capitol Hill, at a hearing. For Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, writing a Republican-only health care bill that can pass the Senate boils down to this question: How do you solve a problem like Dean, Lisa, Patrick, Ted, Rand and Susan? (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

America First Policies began airing ads savaging Sen. Dean Heller for his planned ‘No’ vote. | AP Photo

A pro-Trump outside group will pull its ads assailing GOP Sen. Dean Heller over his opposition to the now stalled Obamacare repeal bill — a move that follows massive backlash from senior Republicans who called on the organization to stop attacking the Nevadan.

America First Policies had begun airing TV and radio ads on Tuesday savaging Heller for his planned ‘No’ vote, with spots charging that Heller had broken his “promise” to voters that he would dismantle Obamacare — a stunning attack on a member of the president’s own party and the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2018.

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But on Tuesday evening — just a few hours after the TV and radio ads went up and after Senate Republicans tossed plans to vote on the legislation this week — the group, which is staffed with several of the president’s top campaign aides, decided to stop running the ads, two senior Republicans familiar with the decision told POLITICO.

An America First Policies official said the decision followed Heller’s decision to appear at the White House with other Republicans on Tuesday, arguing that it was evidence that he was open to negotiating on the bill.

Since the group announced the offensive on Friday, it has come under fire from Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who privately fumed that the attack would make it harder to get Heller’s support. McConnell’s political team also reached out to the group, pleading with them to stop the commercials.

A number of senior Republicans, including former top officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also spoke out against the barrage, saying it would make Heller’s already difficult re-election even tougher.

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Sinclair VP donated to Gianforte after ‘body-slam’ incident

Greg Gianforte is pictured.

The donation of $1,000 came on May 25, the day Greg Gianforte was elected. | AP Photo

The vice president and director of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which has often been criticized for its conservative slant, donated to Rep. Greg Gianforte’s campaign the day after the Montana Republican was charged with assaulting a reporter.

The donation of $1,000 by Frederick G. Smith, a member of the family that owns the company, came on May 25, the day Gianforte was elected, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Smith also gave $1,000 to Gianforte’s campaign in March.

On May 24, Gianforte assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs as Jacobs attempted to ask Gianforte a question about the healthcare bill, breaking Jacobs’ glasses and sending him to the hospital for X-rays. Though Gianforte’s campaign initially decried Jacobs as a “liberal” reporter and placed some of the blame on him, Gianforte eventually apologized, pleaded guilty to the assault, and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists as part of an agreement under which Jacobs did not pursue a civil case. Gianforte was sentenced to community service and anger management classes, while being assessed a $385 fine.

Gianforte’s campaign received a flood of new donations the day after the incident, raising about $118,000 on May 25, more than double the amount he raised the day before.

Smith was not available for comment, but a Sinclair spokesperson said, “Campaign contributions made by our board members are personal to them and do not reflect company policy or support.”

Sinclair Broadcasting Group recently struck a $3.9 billion deal to obtain Tribune Media’s dozens of television stations, making Sinclair the largest owner of television stations in the country. For years, Sinclair has been pegged by critics as a company with conservative leanings. The Smith family has long been supporters of conservative causes, and the network has been known to send “must run” packages to its local affiliates, segments that sometimes come with a conservative political bent. Sinclair also recently hired Boris Epshteyn, formerly the White House director of surrogate operations, to be its chief political analyst.

POLITICO in December reported that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, told business executives the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair for better media coverage. Sinclair disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews that was offered to both candidates, though Clinton never sat down with the network.

Hadas Gold is a reporter at Politico.

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