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Monday, July 16, 2018

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica

Last year, as the government of Bahrain violently suppressed an Arab Spring protest movement, an unlikely champion of the small Gulf nation emerged on Capitol Hill in Washington: Democratic Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa.

Faleomavaega, who has been a non-voting delegate in Congress since 1989 and is now the third-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, typically focuses on more local matters: the tuna industry, Pacific Islands affairs, and securing federal funding for American Samoa.

But this week he is taking a trip to Bahrain, his second in the past year, both paid for by the Bahraini government. It’s part of a year-long friendship the congressman has developed with the tiny Gulf nation.

Last March, just weeks into the crisis, Faleomavaega emerged seemingly out of nowhere — he has no history of commenting on Mideast affairs — to enter a 2,500-word statement into the Congressional Record that closely echoed the Bahraini government’s spin. “Bahrain is under attack,” he said, painting protesters as violent, Iran-backed vandals representing “the worst kind of seditious infiltration from a foreign enemy.” He praised the Crown Prince for supposedly meeting protesters’ demands for democratic reforms.

“Mr. Speaker,” Faleomavaega said. “I have to ask why the demonstrators returned to protesting again, even after all their demands were agreed to.”

Just days before, the government had torn down the iconic Pearl Monument at the center of the protests and Saudi Arabian tanks had rolled into Bahrain to back up the government crackdown.

So why is the delegate from American Samoa so interested in supporting Bahrain? Faleomavaega told ProPublica it’s because “Bahrain has been a key ally and supporter of U.S. security interests in this region of the world.” But there’s another connection: A lobbying firm run by a longtime friend and campaign contributor of Faleomavaega’s is working for the regime’s allies.