The headline is no joke, but some people think it is. Most know better; however, there are always a few folks looking to game the system and, this time, it appears that a few law-breakers were caught.
If the U.S. imposes economic sanctions on a country, you would hope lawyers and lobbyists would think twice before representing that government. If you want to lobby or otherwise do business with sanctioned people, businesses, or organizations, there are numerous laws on the books that not only require securing permission from the U.S. government, mainly at the Treasury Department, but also laws requiring registration with the Congress and the Justice Department.
According to a Justice Department press release issued earlier this week, two Chicago men were caught providing help to the Zimbabwe regime of Robert Mugabe in exchange for millions:
Ben Israel and [Gregory] Turner attempted to persuade undisclosed federal and state government officials — including an Illinois state senator and two U.S. representatives from Chicago — to push for the lifting of the sanctions. The two reached a consulting agreement with Zimbabwe officials to be paid $3.4 million, authorities charged, but it was unclear whether they received any money.
Authorities said the discussions began in early November 2008 when Ben Israel and Turner told Zimbabwe officials that they knew many politicians with close ties to Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois who had just been elected to the White House. But their efforts over the next year failed as the president continued the sanctions first imposed under the previous Bush administration. None of the public officials was accused of wrongdoing.
This is a welcome action by the Justice Department. And there could be many more just like it. While I worked on Capitol Hill many years ago, there were many people doing the exact same thing as these fellows on behalf of other nations including state sponsor of terrorism Cuba.
I’m told by friends working in the House and Senate that individuals and groups still pop in every now and then on behalf of rogue regimes. It is one of several ways that sanctioned states very aggressively spread their lobbying tentacles throughout the U.S. government. Some staff have no idea of what is afoot with these sometimes elaborate influence peddling schemes.
Recently, I was told by a very senior Senate national security committee staffer that Russians included on the Magnitsky list are seeking counsel and lobbyists to be removed from a list of people found to have contributed to torturing and killing a Russian lawyer who exposed corruption in mother Russia.
There are all sorts of loopholes people claim are in place that allow for lobbying and related activities of sanctioned countries or persons; however, even a cursory reading of the Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act, will set them straight. Or should.
The list of sanctioned countries, persons, and entities are not state secrets either and can be easily found on the internet. The reason why people do not register for these international pariahs is because they do not want to get caught or be associated with them. It looks bad. Who wants to be outed lobbying or advising a dictator or alleged terrorist or drug smuggler?
Let’s hope that this prosecution receives a lot of media attention in this fair city. There are scores of unregistered agents in this town. While I doubt they will run to register, it may cool advocacy efforts on behalf of some really corrupt as well as dangerous people and regimes.