Special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment in May to investigate Russia's interference in the American presidential election and potential collusion with Donald Trump's campaign may already have achieved an unintended consequence -- "draining the swamp" of lobbyists working on behalf of foreign interests. The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman calls this phenomenon "the Mueller effect."
According to The Post, Mueller's probe has so far resulted in a massive uptick of individuals and firms who work for foreign interests to either file or amend foreign agent registrations. The report even claims that there are more people registering as foreign agents now than in the same amount of time over each of the last 20 years.
Mueller seems to have already claimed his first victim: Tony Podesta, whose lobbying firm was shuttered following revelations that he worked for Ukranian interests close to Russia -- and for Trump's now-indicted campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Mueller's 12-count indictment of Manafort alleges that the former Trump campaign chairman hired The Podesta Group along with another lobbying firm to work on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukranian party under the guise of representing Ukraine's government.
Joe Sandler, an ethics and lobbying lawyer who specializes in Foreign Agents Registration Act compliance told the Post that in the aftermath of the Podesta revelation at the end of October, "my colleagues are being contacted by waves of clients concerned about this." As the report notes, failure to register under FARA is a felony and can result in a five-year sentence.
Since Mueller's appointment and subsequent interest on suspected foreign agents like Manafort and Michael Flynn, Thomas J. Pulak, a partner at the King & Spalding international law firm, said more people have contacted him asking if they have to register under FARA than in the previous administration.
"I think it all goes back to Mueller — this is of acute concern after Manafort and Podesta — and my sense is that it’s going to continue that way for some time,” Spulak told the Post. “If there’s a new normal for foreign agents, it’s going to be to pay a lot more attention to it."