Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Saudi paid for US lobbying against terror lawsuit law

AP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates  /  AP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

A US flag flies on the US Capitol in Washington on Sept. 6 last year.

Photo: AP

A Saudi Arabia-funded lobbying campaign involving US military veterans that targeted a new law allowing families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US to sue the Middle Eastern country in US courts saw some organizers disclose their activities late or vaguely, stymieing public knowledge of the scale of foreign influence in the campaign.

The chief lobbyist for the Saudi embassy in Washington said it encouraged its subcontractors to be as transparent as possible.

However, the campaign and the allegations surrounding it show what can happen when the often-murky world of lobbying intersects with emotive US issues like patriotism, protecting troops and the memory of the attacks.

It also highlights how US federal laws governing disclosures of foreign influence in politics are only as strong as they are enforced.

“If the purpose of the statute is to make a public record about how foreign sovereigns are spending money to influence US policy, it’s not clear how the [US] Justice Department’s relatively lax enforcement of the statue furthers that goal,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor and national security law expert at the University of Texas.

The US Congress voted overwhelmingly for the law in September last year, overriding a veto by then-US president Barack Obama.

The law gives victims’ families the right to sue any foreign country found to support a terrorist attack that kills Americans on US soil.

Its critics say that the law opens US troops, diplomats and contractors to lawsuits that otherwise could not be filed under the terms of sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine usually protecting governments and its employees in court.

The veterans’ lobbying effort began within a month after the vote. Soon, about 70 new subcontractors would be hired by Qorvis MSLGroup, a Washington-based lobbying and public-relations firm that represents Saudi Arabia, according to Department of Justice filings examined by The Associated Press.

Veterans who spoke to lawmakers had their flights and accommodation paid for with Saudi money distributed by the subcontractors, according to the filings.

Saudi involvement was first reported by The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, and later explored by the Web site, which challenges the US’ “war on terror.”

One lobbyist involved, Jason Jones of Oregon, Wisconsin, told reporters on a conference call that he organized with other veterans that all involved clearly were told that Saudi money funded the effort.

However, David Casler and brothers Dan and Tim Cord, two other veterans, said their first inkling that Saudi money funded the trip was when Jones told the assembled group in Washington that they should speak for themselves and “not the king of Saudi Arabia.”

They later spoke out on social media over their concerns.

“It was very evident that they weren’t forthcoming; they weren’t telling us the whole truth,” said Casler, a former US Marine sergeant. “They flat-out lied to us on the first day with the statement: ‘This is not paid for by the Saudi Arabian government.’”

A parallel veteran effort involved with Qorvis MSLGroup was run by Scott Wheeler, a resident of Lake Elsinore, California, who runs a political action committee called The National Republican Trust.

Wheeler’s firm, called the Capitol Media Group, reported receiving US$365,000 from the Saudi embassy in three payments corresponding to visits by veterans to Washington.

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