As reported by Censor.NET citing Politico, Manafort "secretly retained" several former senior European politicians to covertly promote Ukrainian interests in Washington. "Although the former politicians would appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions, in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine," according to a superseding indictment of Manafort filed by Mueller’s team.
The coterie of Europeans was known as the Hapsburg Group, Andrew Weissman, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, said at a hearing on Friday. The group was led by a "former European chancellor" and was paid more than 2 million euros in 2012 and 2013, according to the court filings.
The former chancellor isn’t named in the court filings, but appears to be Alfred Gusenbauer, who served as chancellor of Austria between 2007 and 2008. Gusenbauer and two lobbyists involved in Manafort’s lobbying campaign met with members of Congress and staffers in 2013, according to Justice Department disclosures retroactively filed last year by the lobbying firm Mercury.
Manafort called the Hapsburg Group’s lobbying effort "SUPER VIP" in an "EYES ONLY" memo cited in the new indictment. It would involve "a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine," he said.
The retroactively filed disclosures show that Gusenbauer met with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), House Foreign Affairs Committee staffers and others in Washington one week in 2013. He was accompanied by two Mercury lobbyists, Ed Kutler (who has since left the firm) and Mike McSherry. Kutler also accompanied Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister, to meetings with Royce and a staffer for House Majority Whip Eric Cantor months beforehand.
Gusenbauer and Prodi said their work was focused on bringing Ukraine and the European Union closer together and denied being paid by Yanukovych or Manafort.
"I was never involved in any activities for Mr. Yanukovych or the Party of Regions," Gusenbauer said in a statement to Austrian media on Saturday, referring to the former Ukrainian president's political party. "I pushed for the EU to seal an association agreement with the Ukraine at public events in Paris, Brussels and Berlin." (Such an agreement is often a first step toward applying for EU membership.)
Gusenbauer said he was paid for his efforts, but declined to say how much. He denied that was employed by Yanukovych or Manafort. He confirmed that he knew Manafort, however, having met him once in Washington and once in Europe. Those meetings were "only for coffee," Gusenbauer told the Austrian newspaper Presse am Sonntag.