mike pence

How Foreign Money Helps Mike Pence And Nikki Haley Pay Their Bills

Concerns about foreign governments seeking influence over U.S. foreign policy are seemingly in headlines every day.

President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, earned millions in fees from Chinese partners between 2013 and 2018; Brookings Institution President Ret. Gen. John R. Allen resigned after being accused of secretly lobbying for Qatar (no criminal charges were brought); and a cloud of suspicion that Donald Trump was influenced by foreign interests in Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, among other countries, hung over his presidency, even after the Mueller investigation failed to provide conclusive evidence that Trump’s campaign criminally conspired with Russian officials in the 2016 election campaign.

But some of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary field appear to have few if any concerns about collecting six-or seven-figure paydays from foreign sources, according to a review of the candidates’ financial disclosures.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump tops both the polls and as recipient of foreign money, taking between $2 million and $10 million from his companies in the United Arab Emirates, over $5 million from his company in Oman, among other foreign payments totaling well in excess of $25 million and potentially exceeding $50 million. He also received at least $2 million in speaking fees at events connected to the Unification Church, a South Korean evangelical congregation with politically far-right leanings that also owns the conservative Washington Times. Former Vice President Mike Pence also collected $550,000 in speaking fees from a group founded by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon – who founded the Unification Church.

Pence’s biggest foreign payments came from groups associated with Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). This Iranian militant group spent time on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations from 1997 to 2012 due to its role in the killing of six Americans in Iran in the 1970s and an attempted attack against the Iranian mission to the UN in 1992.

Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, the group fell out with the Islamic Republic and fled to Iraq, from which it fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s army during the Iran-Iraq war.

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Human Rights Watch and the Rand Corporation reported on human rights abuses conducted by the MEK against its own members. The MEK had become increasingly insular, focused on the aggrandizement of its late-leader Masoud Rajavi and his wife, Maryam Rajavi, leading outside observers, including the Rand Corporation, to characterize it as a “cult.”

Since its delisting as a terrorist organization in 2012 the group worked to rehabilitate its image by featuring high-profile politicians at its conventions, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile, and former defense official and WestExec and Center for a New American Security co-founder Michèle Flournoy, seeking to frame themselves as a legitimate dissident group and a viable political force in Iran if the Islamic Republic undergoes regime change.

Those appearances were often incentivized by lucrative speaker fees, a trend underscored in the former vice president’s finances. Pence has received $430,000 from three groups affiliated with the MEK.

Former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley reported between $50,000 and $100,000 from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a New York-based pressure group that opposed the legal sale of medical supplies to Iran early in the COVID-19 pandemic and regularly calls for for heightened sanctions against Iran and against diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

It’s possible those donations are linked to foreign governments as UANI and its affiliated organizations have a number of links to Gulf monarchies. Emails that appear to have originated from the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, exposed a UANI advisory board member soliciting “support” from the UAE. In another email, Republican Party fundraiser and Saudi lobbyist Norm Coleman provided the tax status of UANI’s umbrella group to Otaiba — suggesting a donation from the UAE was forthcoming — and offered to answer any questions from the ambassador.

Haley also collected between $100,000 and $1,000,000 each from Canadian Friends of the Jerusalem College of Technology, Barclays Capital Asia, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Pence and Haley’s financial disclosures show a clear trend: foreign-linked groups with an interest in a hawkish U.S. role in the Middle East and regime change in Iran have taken a particular interest in funneling payments to these two candidates. Whether these were one-off payments for speaking appearances or down payments on influencing U.S. foreign policy remains to be clarified.

Reprinted with permission from Responsible Statecraft

Saudi Lobbyist Norm Coleman Oversees GOP Congressional Warchest

Saudi Lobbyist Norm Coleman Oversees GOP Congressional Warchest

Last year, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, one of the Republican Party’s biggest fundraisers, had a request for 30 Republican congressional staffers. Coleman had helped many of their bosses’ campaignsin his role atop an organization that raised and spent over $165 million in the 2020 election cycle.

“At this time,” wrote Coleman, “the Kingdom would appreciate if your Member of Congress would publicly welcome this step and call out the Houthis for their continuous obstruction of the political process.” He was promoting a Saudi ceasefire initiative in Yemen that the Houthi rebels ultimately rejected. The rebels demanded that any such agreement would require the Saudis to fully lift the blockade of Yemen, which had contributed to more than 370,000 deaths.

His ask — “on behalf of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia” — wasn’t an isolated request. Coleman wrote over 1,000 emails to House and Senate staffers in 2021 and 2022 as part of his paid work for Saudi Arabia. Coleman and several of his law firm colleagues are registered as foreign agents of the Kingdom. The emails, as well as the details of the $175,000 per month contract between Saudi Arabia and Hogan Lovells, Coleman's law firm, are all contained in filings submitted to the Justice Department. The contract is part of the Saudi government’s robust lobbying operation that saw the kingdom spend $21 million last year to gain influence in Washington, according to public filings.

Coleman enjoys a unique position of influence over congressional Republicans. He helped found the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, where he serves as chair of the board, according to a current biography on his law firm profile. Coleman also serves as chair of the American Action Network, a tax-exempt “social welfare group” — an IRS designation that allows political advocacy and requires no disclosure of funding. In other words, it’s a dark-money group.

In addition to sharing office space and staff, American Action Network and the Congressional Leadership Fund have deep financial ties. AAN, an IRS-designated 501(c)(4) group, has described the CLF as its “sister super PAC” in promotional material. The arrangement — a dark-money-to-PAC pipeline — is a common one, allowing the tax-exempt group to funnel dark money into the explicitly political coffers of the PAC.

AAN contributed approximately $30 million of CLF’s $165 million war chest in the 2020 cycle. That pattern has repeated itself in election cycle after election cycle. Since 2011, over $94 million in AAN dark money — overseen by a registered agent for Saudi Arabia — has flowed into the coffers of CLF and, from there, into ads and other support for Republican congressional candidates.

An AAN spokesperson said that its fundraising was all domestic. “Unequivocally, we have never solicited or accepted any foreign funds,” said Calvin Moore, the spokesperson. “I will also add that Senator Coleman is a valued member of our board but is not involved in fundraising for the organization.” (Coleman, Hogan Lovells, and CLF did not respond to requests for comment.)

An expert on campaign finance transparency was troubled by the movement of funds from a dark-money group into a super PAC. “That exchange of dark money has been a long-standing thing,” said Anna Massoglia, editorial and investigations manager at OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics.

Massoglia noted that foreigners aren’t allowed to interfere in elections or donate directly to campaigns, and said, “The fact you have a foreign agent for Saudi Arabia involved in groups influencing U.S. elections is just a step removed from those more direct roles that are explicitly barred.”

As Coleman worked lucrative lobbying contracts for Riyadh, AAN produced favorable messaging about Saudi Arabia. The group, and its related American Action Forum, where Coleman is listed as “of counsel,” have singled out Saudi Arabia for praise. In a 2015 blogpost on AAN’s website, under the banner of “Note from Norm,” Coleman promoted Saudi Arabia, alongside China and Indonesia, as models of “moderate Islam” and enemies of the Islamic State. And a 2016 post on the AAF website praised economic reforms proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Reformed Saudi Economy Could be Good for Oil Markets,” declared the headline.

Coleman’s dual roles as chair of an organization that funds election ads as well as lobbyist puts him in an influential position. Many congressional Republicans, especially those in close races, were assisted in their elections by CLF and subsequently were lobbied directly by Coleman on behalf of Saudi Arabia. While there’s no evidence that Saudi money — or any other foreign money — has been routed through AAN and CLF into ads supporting Republican candidates, GOP members of both the House and Senate form consistent voting blocs in support of Saudi interests.

Last September, the House voted on an amendment introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) calling for the U.S. to end virtually all aid to Saudi’s war in Yemen. Only 11 House Republicans voted in favor of the amendment and 196 opposed it.

A similar amendment that same month, introduced by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), included slightly softer language, calling for a suspension of support for Saudi air force units involved in airstrikes on Yemeni civilians but with several broad exceptions. On the Republican side, only 7 members of the House voted for the amendment and 203 opposed it.

And a Senate vote in December on a resolution introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), declaring a toothless “congressional disapproval” for weapons sales to Saudi Arabia saw only two “yea” votes from Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Paul himself.

Coleman and his employer, Hogan Lovells, are explicit about their role in helping to generate congressional support for Saudi Arabia’s interests.

Coleman and other Hogan Lovells employees working on the Saudi account engage in “specific advocacy assignments with regard to US Government officials, Members of Congress and their staffs, representatives of media organizations and/or other individuals involved in legislative, regulatory, public policy or public affairs matters, and/or in other activities of interest to the foreign principal,” reads a March disclosure by Hogan Lovells to the Justice Department.

Coleman is even clearer about his own role and opinions in interviews, two of them given in the wake of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside a Saudi consulate. Days after the murder, Coleman was one of the few American public figures willing to go on cable news to defend Saudi Arabia.

In an interview on CNN, he was asked if he would keep working for Saudi Arabia. When pressed, Coleman responded, “Let’s make sure we don’t undermine a strategic relationship that’s important to the security of the United States.” In November 2018, a month after the murder, Coleman, faced with pointed questions from a local CBS reporter, said he did not advise Saudi officials but rather worked with members of Congress to ensure Saudi interests were addressed, specifically citing the Saudi interest in containing Iran’s influence.

Others see Coleman’s role as far more problematic.

“The infiltration of Saudi money and influence into our government via lobbyists like Norm Coleman isn’t just scandalous and shameful; it’s downright dangerous to our national security and the survival of our democracy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, a group founded by Khashoggi to advocate for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. “Coleman is an agent for the Saudi government, representing Saudi government interests, while he’s literally steering money to selected Republican candidates. That should disturb every American, Republican or Democrat.”

Other officials may not be able to follow Coleman’s own path from Congress to foreign agent. A bipartisan group of House members introduced new legislation, “Fighting Foreign Influence Act.”

The act would impose a lifetime ban on senior military officers, presidents, vice presidents, senior executive branch officials, and members of Congress from ever lobbying for a foreign principal.

So far, growing awareness about the role of foreign governments and their agents inside the United States appears to have had little impact on Coleman’s dual role as a Saudi foreign agent and Republican fundraiser. The Congressional Leadership Fund is already well into another election cycle, having raised over $171 million to support Republican candidates in the November midterms. More than $33 million of that came in 23 transactions from the Coleman-chaired dark-money group, the American Action Network. The origin of those funds remains a mystery.

Reprinted with permission from Responsible Statecraft (co-published with The Intercept).

Will Adelson's Widow Become A GOP Kingmaker Too?

Will Adelson's Widow Become A GOP Kingmaker Too?

Reprinted with permission from ResponsibleStatecraft

It's big news when a political party's biggest funder announces, after a period of mourning for the death of their spouse, that they will be continuing their role as the go-to funder for congressional and presidential candidates in 2022 and 2024. You also might expect a discussion of how that donor expects to influence U.S. politics with their campaign donations. You'd be wrong.

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'Squid Game' Invites Americans To Binge On More Human Korea

'Squid Game' Invites Americans To Binge On More Human Korea

Reprinted with permission from Responsible Statecraft

The Treasury Department's nine-page "2021 Sanctions Review" released on Monday makes vague recommendations for "calibrating sanctions to mitigate unintended economic, political, and humanitarian impact." Unfortunately, it offers few tangible policy suggestions on how to end the high humanitarian
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Norman Roule

Ex-CIA Official Breaks With Iran Hawks Over Covid-19 Aid To Iran

Norman Roule, a senior adviser to the anti-Iran group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which led a multi-year effort pressuring pharmaceutical and medical supply companies to cease legal trade with Iran even during the COVID-19 pandemic, appears to be distancing himself from UANI's work, effectively whitewashing his own role at the organization. "The international community should do everything it can to enable the Iranian people to obtain access to medical supplies and equipment," said Roule in a recent article in the Nation.

While hawks in Washington are calling for more sanctions on Iran amid the COVID-19 crisis, the Nation published a fascinating scoop last week showing that U.S. military intelligence is deeply concerned about the public health implications of U.S. sanctions on Iran's ability to combat COVID-19. A leaked intelligence brief specifically cited the risk of COVID-19 infections, originating in Iran, to U.S. troops based in Qatar.

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Donald Trump, Xi Jin Ping

Trump’s Most Influential Backers Drive Conflicting China Policies

Over the past three months, the Trump administration has swung between applauding China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, playing to a xenophobic audience by amplifying the labels "China Virus" or "Wuhan Virus," and pushing U.S. diplomats to accuse Beijing of engaging in a "cover up" and spreading disinformation about the virus's origins, all before returning to praise Chinese President Xi Jinping for his leadership during the crisis.

That discordant message is consistent with the sharply contrasting postures toward China held by several of Trump's most influential supporters. Some fund efforts to use the coronavirus to advance a confrontational agenda against China, while others with lucrative business interests in China and close ties to Beijing's political elite have a more nuanced approach.

Hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, who contributed $15.5 million to groups supporting Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, plus undisclosed sums to finance the pro-Trump Breitbart news outlet, consistently funded groups that blame Beijing for many of the world's — and the U.S.'s — problems, including the coronavirus.

Secure America Now (SAN) — a group that ran a series of mock travel ads for France, Germany, and the U.S. propagating the Islamophobic theme that Muslims were overrunning the West — received $2 million from Robert Mercer in 2016, nearly one-quarter of the group's budget that year.

SAN recently ran Facebook ads that feature fearmongering and bellicose statements like, "Put the Chinese Communist Party on blast," and "Don't let our prescription drugs be held hostage by China."

Emails from the group to its followers include statements like, "For months now, the Communist government in China has done nothing but lie and try to shift the blame for the global coronavirus pandemic," "China is directly responsible for the scale of this global pandemic," and "Right now, as the coronavirus wreaks havoc in our communities, it's absolutely critical to spread one simple message: CHINA LIED AND PEOPLE DIED."

Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon recently claimed on a SAN podcast "the devastation, not just human lives which has been horrible, but the devastation economically, the devastation on capital markets will literally take us 10 years, it will take us a decade to go through the carnage that the Chinese Communist Party visited on the rest of the free world."

Breitbart, of which the Mercers are part owners, amplifies similar messages, promoting the "trending" topic "Communist China," alongside various coronavirus related topics, at the top of its homepage. Articles in the website's "Communist China" section include: "Jeff Landry: 'If You Want to Lay Blame' for Coronavirus, 'Point Fingers at China'," "Nolte: Chinese Propaganda Quotes Hillary, Chris Cuomo, Richard Engel to Rip Trump;" "Cruz: 'Plausible' Coronavirus Came from a Lab in China;" and "West 'Reaping the Whirlwind' for Policy of Kowtowing to China."

Robert Mercer's daughter, Rebekah Mercer, serves on the board of the Gatestone Institute and the family's foundation provided at least $250,000 the group, led by former national security adviser John Bolton, which promotes fake news stories advancing anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

Over the past two months that focus on promoting false stories about a Muslim takeover of Europe and the U.S. was supplemented by a steady flow of strikingly anti-China articles. Recent Gatestone articles include: "China Using Coronavirus for Further Deceit;" "The West Needs to Wake Up to China's Duplicity;" "The Vatican Surrenders to China;" "China's Real Disease: Not Coronavirus;" and "Tibet: The Pointless Pursuit of Dialogue with China."

While the Mercers support groups and media outlets attempting to use the coronavirus to promote anti-China sentiments, other key Trump supporters have spent years investing in close ties with China's leadership and cultivating lucrative business opportunities in China and Macau, a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Trump and the GOP's biggest financial supporter in the 2016 and 2018 political cycles, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, tie their nearly $30 billion fortune to Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a publicly traded company that owns and operates casinos in the U.S., Singapore, and Macau.

Adelson, who serves as CEO of Sands, derives two-thirds of his company's revenue from gamblers in Macau, a gaming market that necessitates close ties with political elites in Beijing, especially as Sands' gaming license is up for renewal in 2022.

Sheldon Adelson has a history of using his ties to U.S. politicians to shape U.S. foreign policy towards China to benefit his gambling empire. In 2001, Adelson reportedly curried favor with the Chinese leadership and helped secure his initial casino license in Macau by persuading Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), then the House majority whip, to halt a bipartisan resolution calling for the U.S. to oppose Beijing's Olympics bid due to China's problematic human rights record.

Adelson appears to have only deepened his ties with Beijing since. In 2015, Sands appointed Wilfred Wong the new CEO and President of Sands China, a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands.

Sands China's press announcement of Wong's appointment emphasized his ties to political leadership in Beijing. It said:

"Mr. Wong also served in many positions appointed by the Central People's Government: as a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee; member of the Preliminary Working Committee and subsequently the Preparatory Committee responsible for establishing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Mr Wong was also elected a member of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China for 15 years from 1997 to 2012."

Adelson himself was also quoted in the press release, saying, "Wilfred has a unique combination of private and public sector experience we think will be invaluable to the company at this point in our history."

In November, Sands China "led a delegation to Beijing Nov. 19 for a week-long professionalism training session, attended by 20 of Sands China's senior management team members," according to a Sands China press release, highlighting how Sands China's leadership was educated in Beijing's policies and urged to incorporate the central government's agenda into their work for Sands China.

"We hope the team members who participated gained a more comprehensive understanding of the central government's policies, such as the new implementation of the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle, the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and its National Economic Strategy, so that they can seize the opportunities brought about by these key national developments, thereby enhancing their overall competence," said Wong in the press release.

Adelson, for his part, warned Trump about the economic and political dangers of an escalating trade war with China in September. Adelson received personal thanks from Trump during remarks delivered at the signing of a "phase one" trade deal with China in January.

Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm, also received thanks. "Steve has done a great job and very good relationship with China and very good relationship with us," Trump said.

Schwarzman, sometimes known as Trump's "China whisperer," didn't contribute to Trump's 2016 campaign but the two Manhattanites have a social relationship going back over 40 years, and Blackstone's $312 million loan to Kushner Co.'s, a company owned by the family of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, "around the time of the Republican National Convention," according to The Washington Post, firmly plants him in Trump's orbit.

In late March, Politico reported that Schwarzman was one of the key voices urging Trump to maintain a good relationship with China and to help preserve the two countries' economic relationship. Blackstone and Schwarzman enjoy lucrative business ties to China's political elite. In 2007, a Chinese government-controlled investment fund took a 9.9 percent stake in Blackstone for $3 billion. Schwarzman boasted to Bloomberg News that the deal was so large, he was told "[t]he premier himself must approve" it.

The Chinese eventually sold their shares in Blackstone, but Schwarzman maintained close ties to Beijing, including giving $117 million to the Beijing campus of Tsinghua University and raised more than $400 million to endow a masters program named after him.

At the program's September 2016 inauguration, Schwarzman delivered remarks in which he praised U.S. and Chinese leadership (including Secretary of State John Kerry, then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi), joked about his reputation as the "unofficial Chinese ambassador to the U.S.," and offered his view of how Chinese-U.S. relations can grow.

"I'm told that there is a Chinese proverb that encapsulates the transformative power of education," said Schwarzman. "If you want one year of prosperity, then grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, then grow trees. But if you want 100 years of prosperity, then you grow people."

As Trump swings between blaming China for the growing COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. and uncritically praising Beijing's early handling of the virus's initial outbreak in Wuhan, the people with regular access to the president are offering their views on how the administration should respond to the pandemic and how much blame to place on China. Based on their many years of advocacy, political engagement, and business interests, the Mercers, the Adelsons, and Schwarzman are, no doubt, offering sharply conflicting advice about how Trump should respond to COVID-19's Chinese origins.

Acting DNI Grenell Worked Secretly For Hungary’s Far-Right Regime

Acting DNI Grenell Worked Secretly For Hungary’s Far-Right Regime

Reprinted with permission from Responsible Statecraft.

President Trump’s newly installed acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, knowingly provided public relations services directed at U.S. media on behalf of a project funded by Hungary’s far-right government, according to an investigation published byResponsible Statecraft. While working for Hungary, Grenell didn’t register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which is a requirement applying to individuals and entities operating inside the U.S. as an “agent” of a “foreign principal.”

Grenell’s appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, which was announced last week, was met with widespread ridicule and disbelief. 

“President Trump selected an unqualified loyalist as his top spy,” said  International Institute for Strategic Studies senior fellow Jonathan Stevenson in a New York Times op-ed

“Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity,” the Washington Post editorial board said. “He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations – like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.”

Craig Engle, Grenell’s attorney, told Responsible Statecraft that Grenell “knew that the Hungarian government was the sponsor” of work he undertook, but claimed that Grenell’s activities did not require him to file under FARA.

According to the Justice Department, activities requiring registration as an “agent” to a “foreign principal” includes engaging in “acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal.”

Last Friday, ProPublica reported that Grenell took undisclosed payments for advocacy work on behalf of Vladimir Plahotniuc, a Moldovan politician who was later accused of corruption. Engle told ProPublica that Grenell was not required to file under the FARA because “he was not working at the direction of a foreign power.”

Grenell’s history as a Twitter troll and political operative is well documented, but his work for foreign entities and governments has largely gone unreported. 

In 2009, Grenell founded Capitol Media Partners (CMP), a public relations firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC. 

Grenell and CMP’s’ work for the Magyar Foundation of North America, a group that describes itself as “promoting Magyar heritage, history, and pride through educational, social and cultural programs,” was detailed following a freedom of information request filed with the Hungarian government by a Hungarian investigative reporting outlet.

That outlet, Atlatszo, reported in 2018 that Magyar was funded by Hungary’s right-wing nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Magyar’s attorney, who also happens to be Craig Engle, confirmed to Responsible Statecraft in an email that the group employed Grenell, saying:

“Your question about the Magyar Foundation was referred to me  (I was its legal counsel).

“Ric was the media relations consultant to Magyar. The Foundation engaged in a series of academic and cultural and fine arts – and several religious-themed – programs. The Foundation sought out Ric to help us get coverage of these events, especially with the press that covered foreign affairs. Ric wasn’t listed on any FARA report since the Foundation did not engage in FARA-related activity. (That was done in a separate contract by a lobbyist).”

The Magyar Foundation’s work included funding two academics at Pepperdine University to study Hungary and U.S.-Hungary relations, building a database of Hungarian-Americans, conducting promotion of Hungary with a “Win a Trip to Hungary contest,” and conducting social media campaigns, according to descriptions of a three-year, $7 million grant to the Magyar Foundation from the government of Hungary obtained by Atlatszo.

The Magyar Foundation contracted “public relations” work to Grenell’s CMP. The Magyar Foundation’s 2017 financial disclosures show CMP received $103,750.

Engle told Responsible Statecraft in a separate email that he couldn’t comment on a 2013 archived version of CMP’s website that lists a map of Somalia and Zaland, “a subsidiary of Ariana Afghanistan Television,” as “clients,” but he confirmed that Grenell knew he was doing work for Magyar on behalf of the Hungarian government.” Engle wrote:

“Eli – your email with questions was forwarded to me (I am Rics (sic) lawyer and am familiar with his work).

“I can’t answer your questions about Zalan and Somalia, but I can answer the question about the Magyar Foundation of North America. Ric was a consultant to the foundation to help it get press attendance at its cultural and academic events across the country. Yes, Ric knew that the Hungarian government was the sponsor [emphasis added]. Ric has not filled under FARA because his work doesn’t qualify as registerable (sic) activity. (Hungary’s FARA related work was performed by a lobbyist under a separate contract).”

Documents acquired by Atlatszo’s freedom of information request to Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reveals more about what the Hungarian government paid Magyar and Grenell to do, tasks that appear very similar to the Justice Department’s definition of “acts within the United States as a public relations counsel” on behalf of a foreign principal, requiring FARA registration.

A grant report from the Magyar Foundation to the Hungarian government describes how the organization worked toward “our goals of enhancing relations between Hungary and America by promoting Hungarian culture and contributions and engaging Hungarian Americans in our mission.”

In the grant report, Magyar promoted its influence with U.S. politicians and policymakers saying it “boasts over 175 years of experience and long-standing established professional relationships with American opinion leaders, academics, elected and government officials, and the media.”

And the report to the Hungarian government directly referenced that Magyar hired Grenell’s firm.

“The Foundation hired Capitol Media Partners, an international communications and public affairs firm to liaison to the foreign press to promote our events in Washington, D.C.,” Magyar reported.

The foundation spelled out CMP’s role in directing media to the Hungarian government-funded project, writing, “[Magyar Foundation], through both in-house communications staff and expert communications consultants, Capitol Media Partners and Justin Wilson, contacted over 50 media outlets to promote [Magyar Foundation] events and secure national media attendance,” for an event held at the National Press Club.

The report’s emphasis on influencing U.S. media and gaining access to U.S. politicians offers a clear indication that Magyar was marketing influence and access in Washington to Hungary’s government.

CMP’s website never listed the Magyar Foundation as a client and the client list section of the website is now removed.

An archived version from 2018 of Grenell’s personal website said, “Grenell has worked with clients based in the U.S. as well as Iran, Kazakhstan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, China, Australia, Timor-Leste, and throughout Europe.” Grenell’s website has also been removed.

Grenell’s Executive Branch Public Financial Disclosure Report, filed in 2017, reveals another foreign client, the Prague Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit based in Prague that “promote[s] freedom of the press and encourage[s] independent journalism.”

CMP and Grenell did not provide clarification to Responsible Statecraft regarding their other foreign clients, what that work entailed, and whether that work required the company and/or Grenell to file under FARA.

Responsible Statecraft is a publication of analysis, opinion, and news that seeks to promote a positive vision of U.S. foreign policy based on diplomatic engagement and military restraint. It is a project of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

The $259 Million Incentive For Trump To Bomb Iran

The $259 Million Incentive For Trump To Bomb Iran

Reprinted with permission from LobeLog.

On Thursday, the United States came perilously close to a military confrontation with Iran after it downed a U.S. drone that may or may not have entered the country’s air space. President Donald Trump reportedly ordered a retaliatory military strike on Iran but called it off, according to Trump’s own tweets on Friday morning, because a general told him that “150 people” might die in the strike.

Much analysis of Trump’s slide toward war with Iran has focused on his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who, reportedly requested options from the Pentagon to deploy as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East and hit Iran with 500 missiles per day. Bolton is the loudest voice inside the White House pushing for a military escalation to the administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, is staking out the position that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force allows the administration to take military action against Iran without congressional approval, an unusual and broadly criticized interpretation of congressional oversight.

Yet, there’s another omnipresent influence on Trump: $259 million given by some of the GOP’s top supporters to boost his campaign in 2016 and support Republican congressional and senate campaigns in 2016 and 2018.

Those funds  came from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, donors who have made no secret, both through public statements and funding think tanks that support military action against Iran, of their desire for the United States to destroy the Islamic Republic.

Adelson, who alongside his wife Miriam are the biggest donors to Trump and the GOP, contributed $205 million to Republicans in the past two political cycles and reportedly sent $35 million to the Future 45 Super PAC that supported Trump’s presidential bid. His role as the biggest funder of Republican House and Senate campaigns makes him a vital ally for Trump—who relied on Adelson’s campaign donations to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate and curb Republican losses in the House in the 2018 midterm election—and any Republican seeking national office.

Adelson publicly suggested using nuclear weapons against Iran and pushed for Trump to replace then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster with Bolton, partly due to the former’s perceived unwillingness to take a harder line on Iran. In 2017, the Zionist Organization of America, which receives much of its funding from the Adelsons, led a public campaign against McMaster, accusing him of being “opposed to President Trump’s basic policy positions on Israel, Iran, and Islamist terror.”

In 2015, Trump mocked his primary opponent, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for seeking Adelson’s financial support, warning that Adelson expects a degree of control over candidates in exchange for campaign contributions. Trump tweeted:

Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!

And Adelson isn’t alone.

Billionaire Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus is the second largest contributor to Trump’s campaign, providing $7 million. He also champions John Bolton, contributing $530,000 to John Bolton’s super PAC over its lifetime. And he’s a major contributor to GOP campaigns, contributing over $13 million to Trump’s presidential campaign and GOP congressional campaigns in 2016 and nearly $8 million to GOP midterm efforts in 2018.

Marcus, like Adelson, makes no qualms about his views on Iran, which he characterized as “the devil” in a 2015 Fox Business interview.

Unlike Adelson and Marcus, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer was a “never Trump” conservative until Trump won the election. Then he donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Singer is far more careful with his words than Marcus and Singer, but his money supports some of the most hawkish think tank experts and politicians in Washington.

Singer, alongside Marcus and Adelson, has contributed generously to the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose experts have spent the past decade regularly promoting policies to pressure Iran economically and militarily, including most recently Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach.

According to donor rolls of FDD’s biggest supporters by the end of 2011, a year that saw a sharp rise in tensions and rumors of war by Israel against Iran, Adelson contributed $1.5 million, Paul Singer contributed $3.6 million, and Bernard Marcus, who sits on FDD’s board, contributed $10.7 million.

(FDD says that Adelson is no longer a contributor, but Marcus continues to give generously, contributing $3.63 million in 2017, over a quarter of FDD’s contributions that year.)

Employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, were the second largest source of funds for the 2014 candidacy of the Senate’s most outspoken Iran hawk, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who urged Trump to conduct a “retaliatory strike” against Iran for purportedly attacking two commercial tankers last week.

Singer donated $26 million to Republicans in the 2016 election and $6.4 million to the GOP’s midterm campaigns.

The billionaire Iran hawks—the Adelsons, Singer, and Marcus—made combined donations of over $259 million to GOP politicians in the past two cycles, making them some of the Republican Party’s most important donors. That quarter-billion-dollars doesn’t include contributions to dark money 501c4 groups and donations to 501c3 nonprofits, such as think tanks like FDD.

News coverage of Trump’s slide toward war frames the discussion as a competition between his better instincts and a national security advisor and secretary of state who, to varying degrees, favor military action.

But the $259 million that helped elect Trump and Trump-friendly Republicans must loom large over the president.

As Trump evaluates his options with Iran and turns his attention to the 2020 election, he knows he’ll need to rely on the Adelsons, Singer, and Marcus to boost his campaign, maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, and attempt a take-back of the House.

These donors have made their policy preferences on Iran plainly known. They surely expect a return on their investment in Trump’s GOP.

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.

Dershowitz Received $120K From Anti-Muslim Group

Dershowitz Received $120K From Anti-Muslim Group

Reprinted with permission from Lobelog.


Former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz spent the first two years of the Trump administration defending the president against the possible threat of impeachment, attacking critics of the White House, supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial nomination to the Supreme Court, and lambasting the Iran nuclear deal. He even went so far as accusing Harvard law students who protested Kavanaugh’s confirmation of practicing “a new form of McCarthyism that is quickly descending on university campuses.”

On cable news, Dershowitz has emerged as a go-to Trump-defender and critic of the left wing of the Democratic Party, all while self-identifying as a “liberal Democrat.” Over the summer, Dershowitz loudly complained about being shunned by Martha’s Vineyard’s largely liberal residents.

But Dershowitz’s shift to the right, and the frequent defense of the Trump administration, has coincided with a lucrative source of income for the retired professor.

Dershowitz’s work for the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim Gatestone Institute paid him $120,000 in 2017, making him one of the group’s highest paid contractors, according to tax disclosures reviewed by LobeLog.

gatestone contractors

National Security Advisor John Bolton, who served as the group’s chairman until joining the administration, received $130,000, and Gatestone’s accounting firm, Eisenramper LLP, received $156,319.

Dershowitz sits on the organization’s board and, as its tax returns reveal, enjoyed the lucrative benefits of association with a group partially funded by billionaire Trump megadonors, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who contributed at least $250,000 to the group between 2014 and 2016.

Gatestone, under Bolton and Dershowitz’s leadership, produced a steady of flow of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, falsehoods about refugees, and xenophobic warnings about the “Islamization” of Europe. During one week in March, The Intercept’s Lee Fang closely reviewed articles published by Gatestone and found:

Just this week, the Gatestone Institute published stories claiming that the “mostly Muslim male migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East” in Germany are fueling a “migrant rape crisis” and that “Muslim mass-rape gangs” are transforming the United Kingdom into “an Islamist Colony.”


The website routinely portrays Muslim migrants and refugees as an existential threat to Europe and the United States, claiming that immigrants bring “highly infectious diseases,” genital mutilation practices, and terror to any nation that accepts them. The site spent years sharply criticizing the Obama administration for having a “traditional Muslim bias” against Christians.

According to a review of Gatestone output by NBC News conducted in April, the group warned of a “jihadist takeover” of Europe leading to a “Great White Death,” and published thinly sourced stories claiming “Germany Confiscating Homes to Use for Migrants,” and that immigrants, including Somalis, were turning Sweden into the “Rape Capital of the West.”

Also under Bolton and Dershowitz’s leadership, the group forged ties with Rebel Media, a Toronto-based online media outlet with a history of bigotry and anti-Semitism.

In March 2017, Rebel contributor Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s organization that promotes violence, published a video defending Holocaust deniers and repeating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) took note of both McInness and his Rebel colleague Jack Posobiec in its report “From Alt Right to Alt Lite: Naming the Hate,” writing:

[Posobiec] has enthusiastically promoted a range of lies, including the Pizzagate hoax, and attempted to discredit anti-Trump activists by planting an inflammatory “Rape Melania” sign at a protest event. He frequently tweets anti-Muslim sentiments, and has harassed former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin with anti-Muslim slurs online and in person, tweeting, “I screamed ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ at Huma Abedin.” […] Posobiec was until recently the Washington correspondent for right-wing Rebel Media.

Yesterday, Huffington Post reported that Jeffrey Clark, a 30-year-old man arrested after saying that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims “deserved exactly what happened to them and so much worse” and because his relatives worried he might engage in violence, worked for Posobiec at The Rebel.

Huffington Post wrote:

Laura Sennett, an anti-fascist researcher who works with One People’s Project, spoke with Jeffrey Clark a few weeks after he and his brother were spotted in Bloomingdale with Posobiec, who by then had been fired from Rebel under mysterious circumstances after plagiarizing Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the Unite the Right rally.


“[Clark] told me that Jack Posobiec hired him and his brother to follow him with a camera to take video of his investigation of Seth Rich,” Sennett told HuffPost. “Not sure if it was a documentary or a news story, but [Posobiec] was doing some kind of reporting for Rebel Media. I asked him if Posobiec was aware of his Nazi beliefs. He told me that Posobiec absolutely was and had told Jeff that he was sympathetic to those beliefs.”

In 2016, Gatestone collaborated with The Rebel to produce 12 cross-branded videos featuring anti-Muslim advocates including Daniel Pipes and Geert Wilders. Topics included “the dangers of the Islamization of the West and the growing influence of Sharia law” and “Will Europeans succumb to Islamization, or will they rise to fight radical Islam and hold onto Western values?”

I flagged Gatestone’s partnership with The Rebel, and Dershowitz’s capacity as a board member of Gatestone, in a tweet last night, writing:

Posobiec, working for Rebel Media, allegedly hired a neo-Nazi and said he was “sympathetic to those beliefs.” Rebel co-produced 12 anti-Muslim videos with the Mercer funded, and Alan Dershowitz and John Bolton advised, Gatestone Institute.

This morning Dershowitz tweeted back, “I did not advise. I was simply interviewed. I stand by what I said.”

In a follow-up email exchange about his advisory role at Gatestone and his $120,000 compensation, he explained: “I know nothing about Rebel Media. Gatestone pays me my usual speaker and writing fees.” (Indeed, Dershowitz appears to have produced 46 articles and spoken twice at Gatestone events in 2017, working out to an average payment of $2,500 for each written product and speaking engagement.)

When asked to clarify his non-sequitur statement that he was “simply interviewed,” Dershowitz responded, “I’m interviews [sic] dozens of times a year for videos.”

In addition to his paid work for Gatestone, Dershowitz also engaged in occasional paid legal work for Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, and his corporation, Las Vegas Sands, from 2001 until March 2016.


Dershowitz tweeted today:

I had no knowledge of Mercer/Rebel. I spoke/wrote 4 Gatestone as many good ppl did/do (Lieberman). I’ve never expressed anti-Muslim views.I speak/write for many liberal orgs. I’ll cont to speak 4 Gatestone.I’ll not be deterred by lies/guilt by assoc

It’s difficult to understand how Dershowitz had “no knowledge” of Rebekah Mercer’s involvement at Gatestone while serving alongside her on the group’s board.

Gatestone promptly scrubbed its website of any mention of its board members after LobeLog reached out to it on April 11 for comment about the addition of Rebekah Mercer’s name. But an archived version of the website captured by Archive.org on April 9 shows Mercer’s name. A March 25 capture shows the list without her name, suggesting that she was added to the board at some point between March 25 and April 9.

gatestone board


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On Twitter, Flynn Follows Racists, Conspiracists, And Islamophobes

On Twitter, Flynn Follows Racists, Conspiracists, And Islamophobes

Reprinted with permission from LobeLog. 

National Security Adviser-designate Michael T. Flynn has come under increasing fire. The retired general’s personal Twitter account and his son’s promotion of Twitter-based conspiracy theories about the Washington, D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong are prompting renewed scrutiny of President-elect Trump’s pick for the top national security position in the White House.

A LobeLog review reveals that the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency follows Twitter accounts with profiles promoting white supremacy, anti-Muslim conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about President Obama’s birthplace, and conspiracies about Comet, a fake news story. The latter ultimately led to the dismissal of Flynn’s son from the Trump transition team due to his promotion of unsubstantiated claims that the Washington pizzeria was the site of a child sex slave ring.

Retired General Barry McCaffrey spoke out on Thursday, drawing close to rescinding his support of Flynn’s expected appointment as national security adviser, saying that Flynn’s activities on Twitter “border on being demented” and “deserve further scrutiny.”

Flynn has spoken openly about his high regard for the news he gets from Twitter and his preference for social media-based news sources over the mainstream media. At a Young America’s Foundation event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on November 14, Flynn said [emphasis added]:

Now the media isn’t reporting this but this is being reported on social media, so I’m gonna spend a little bit of time talking about social media because there’s so much power in social media for your generation. For your generation. So it’s being reported now and it’s flying around on social media that [Trump] also won the popular vote in a big way. Probably somewhere close to, we’re looking at 70 maybe to 90 thousand overall. But it could even go higher.

Watch him:

As of the latest count, Clinton leads Trump by nearly 2.7 million votes.

But Flynn’s choice of what he follows on Twitter reveals raises serious questions about where the next national security adviser gets news about current events.

Flynn follows 2,212 other Twitter accounts, people whose Tweets presumably show up on his Twitter feed when he wants to catch up on social media-based news and analysis.

A search of the profiles of the accounts followed by Flynn reveals:

  • Over a dozen accounts with profiles containing anti-Muslim statements or urging a ban on the Islamic religion.
  • Five accounts with profiles containing anti-Sharia statements.
  • Four accounts with profiles containing “#PizzaGate.”
  • Four accounts with profiles referencing Counter-Jihad.
  • Three accounts with profiles containing “rapefugees.”
  • Two accounts with profiles containing “#WhiteGenocide.”

Flynn also follows an account with a profile containing language suspiciously close to that used by white supremacists.

@Not2White’s profile reads:

Far Right, white vet and proud of it. I refuse to apologize for being white. Veteran. BLM is a racist terrorist group! #AllLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter

And another account, @jackiejankwh, whose profile reads:

Barack Obama is an Islamic Terrorist. He was not born in America. He will kill many Americans in Sacramento, CA in 2017. BE VIGILANT/AWARE IN SACRAMENTO! ARM UP

Flynn follows Pamela Geller, a prominent anti-Muslim activist and conspiracy theorist who tried to block the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan and claimed that Obama is working to “appease his Islamic overlords.” The Anti-Defamation League denounced her in a 2013 report.

“Geller routinely attacks organizations that oppose her agenda and views, often employing inappropriate Holocaust terminology and imagery to deride mainstream Jewish civil rights organizations,” ADL said. “Geller, who is herself Jewish, frequently uses the terms ‘Nazi,’ ‘Jewicidal’ and ‘neo-kapo’ to demonize these organizations.”

Flynn also follows notorious anti-Muslim advocate Frank Gaffney, whose research Donald Trump cited to justify a proposal to ban immigration from Muslim countries. In 2008, Gaffney questioned whether Obama “is a natural born citizen of the United States, a prerequisite pursuant to the U.S. constitution,” asserting that “there is evidence Mr. Obama was born in Kenya rather than, as he claims, Hawaii.”

He also repeatedly promoted the theory that Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, was a Muslim Brotherhood operative, and, in a 2010 column for Breitbart.com, claimed that the Missile Defense Agency logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent star with the Obama campaign logo.” He attributed the new logo to a “worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam.”

The Missile Defense Agency logo was, in fact not new, having been developed prior to Obama’s election to the presidency.

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.

IMAGE: Retired General Michael Flynn speaking at Young America’s Foundation conference at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on November 12, 2016.