On this week’s show, Peter and co-host Eric Eggers return to the topic of lobbying by powerful Americans on behalf of foreign governments and businesses. We’re talking about Americans who have been close to the center of power in Washington who then leave government service, go into the private sector, and cash in on their influence by working for foreign governments.
We’re not talking about spying – but about Americans who act as “agents of influence.” The law governing this kind of behavior, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), requires these individuals to register with the Department of Justice (DOJ) so their motivational cards are on the table.
It doesn’t always work as it should, and smart operators find ways around it, either by claiming they are working for a US affiliate of a foreign company or government instead of directly for foreigners, or by quietly “refiling” their paperwork after inquiries by the DOJ.
Enter former Marine Corps four-star Gen. John Allen, who left the military to become president of a well-established think-tank called the Brookings Institution. News reports show Allen has been receiving money from the government of Qatar, a wealthy Gulf State government whose reputation in the US is not good these days. He is but one of numerous former government officials under investigation by the DOJ for undeclared lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
Between 2017 and March 2022, DOJ handed out “at least ten guilty verdicts over FARA violations.” In addition, a 2016 DOJ IG audit “found that 62 percent of initial FARA registrations were late — some were filed nearly a year after the law requires — and, even after registering, just 44 percent of foreign agents filed subsequent disclosures on time.”
Some FARA investigations, since 2017, have involved high level officials, including Gen. Allen, former U.S. ambassador to Qatar (under President Obama) Richard G. Olson, President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his dealings in Ukraine and China; and former President Trump’s “first national-security advisor,” Michael Flynn and his association with Turkey.
Other high-level individuals who have retroactively submitted FARA documents include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, who worked with Georgia, and lobbyist Tony Podesta, who worked with “the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a think tank in Brussels.”
Peter raises the story of the Trump-connected lobbyist Paul Manafort, who failed to disclose his work with “no fewer than 10 foreign governments and political groups” in the 1980s, and also did not disclose his work with Ukraine in the 2000s.
Members of the U.S. government have also raised concerns and called for investigations into Rudy Giuliani and former Rep. David Rivera for possible FARA violations.
Peter Schweizer’s recent bestselling book, Red-Handed, detailed multiple former diplomats and trade officials’ connections and deals with China, inside and outside of office, that pose a risk to and work against the US. Some of these individuals include Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Gary Locke, and Max Baucus.
As Eric says, the Saudis are trying to “[launder] their reputation.”
Foreign governments lobby Washington for the same reasons domestic interests do — because they need something. But the layers of influence are like the levels of Dante’s Inferno, Peter tells Eric. First, there is goodwill, such as the Saudis sponsoring golf leagues or having the NBA say nice things about China. Then, as Peter says, “you go down to the next level of Dante’s Inferno and you’re talking about foreign governments that want certain basic favors from the US government… maybe they want a trade deal, or maybe they want the federal government to greenlight some technology program that’s going to lead to federal dollars,” he explains.
“The next level [below that] is for governments that have engaged in really nasty behavior — maybe sponsoring terrorism — and they are looking for ways to get sanctions or restrictions that have been placed on them by the US government removed. Those, I would argue, are the lowest levels.”
Citing the examples of former ambassadors to China Max Baucus and Gary Locke, who today represent Chinese firms by representing their US affiliates, Peter explains the game: “They’ll argue they are working for the US affiliates, not the foreign client. But these affiliates are simply puppets.”
Some may wonder whether the DOJ warns someone if they are under scrutiny for undisclosed work for foreign “principals,” as the FARA law calls them. It does not, though it may begin an investigation on its own or when notified that a particular individual might possibly be in violation of the law. Individuals doing lobbying work for a foreign principal may also ask the Justice department for an “advisory opinion” as to whether they should register.
The good news in all of this is that the DOJ looks more serious about enforcing FARA than they were before. The law is only good if you’re prepared to, as Peter says, “go after the big fish.” Their ongoing investigations of Allen and Hunter Biden will tell whether they really are committed to this work.
“Corruption has been globalized,” says Peter, and we at GAI have always advocated for greater disclosures. The Hunter Biden investigation shows that FARA should require disclosures by immediate family member of any foreign money they are receiving, especially when it can be easily tied back to an influence campaign targeted at their mother or father in government service.