Law firm’s Ukraine work, tied to Manafort, under scrutiny

The Justice Department is asking prominent law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom about a report it prepared for Paul J. Manafort that was used by allies of the Russia-backed former president of Ukraine.

WASHINGTON — Five years ago, Paul Manafort arranged for a prominent New York-based law firm to draft a report that was used by allies of his client, Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine, to justify the jailing of a political rival. The report is coming back to haunt the firm.

The Justice Department, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation, recently asked the firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, for information and documents related to its work on behalf of Yanukovych’s government, which crumbled after he fled to Russia under pressure.

The request comes at a time Manafort, his work for Yanukovych’s party and for Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs as well as the handling of payments for that work have become focal points in the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and connections between Russia, President Donald Trump and his associates.

It’s unclear if the Justice Department’s request to Skadden, as the firm is known, is part of Mueller’s inquiry. But the interest from prosecutors in what Skadden did for the Ukrainian government is one indication of the wide-ranging nature of the inquiries related to Manafort. It also highlights the risks associated with advising authoritarian governments overseas, a lucrative sideline among Washington lawyers, lobbyists and public-relations consultants.

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Manafort played a central role in the effort to shield Yanukovych from international condemnation, according to consultants involved in the effort. He devised the strategy and recruited lobbyists, lawyers and public-relations consultants from across the political spectrum, but left the day-to-day implementation of the campaign to others. Skadden’s report was one element of that strategy.

Its conclusions provided a counterpoint to international critics who said Yanukovych’s government had prosecuted and convicted the former Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, on corruption charges in 2011 for political reasons and without sufficient evidence.

That kind of international consulting by U.S. firms traditionally has…

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