WASHINGTON (AP) — Two well-connected political consultants provided false information about lobbying on behalf of a wealthy Gulf state during the war. Trump card administration, according to Justice Department court records unsealed Tuesday.
Charging documents filed in federal court in Washington allege that Barry Bennett, an adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, led a secret and lucrative lobbying campaign designed to advance the interests of a foreign nation, including discrediting a rival nation.
The country for which the work was performed was not mentioned in the documents, but it matches the description of Qatar, which in 2017 paid Bennett's firm $2.1 million for lobbying work and was identified in a 2020 Justice Department subpoena that was previously obtained by The Associated Press. . The press requested records relating to Bennett's external lobbying.
Federal prosecutors filed two criminal charges against Bennett in a charging document known as an information, which is typically filed only with the defendant's consent and generally indicates that the parties have reached a resolution. Prosecutors said the case will be dismissed after he complies with the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement, including paying a $100,000 fine.
The Justice Department also reached a similar agreement with Douglas Watts, a New Jersey political consultant who prosecutors say worked alongside Bennett and failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The law, passed in 1938 to expose Nazi propaganda in the United States, requires people to disclose to the Department of Justice when they advocate, lobby or conduct public relations work in the United States on behalf of a foreign government or political entity.
Bennett's attorney did not immediately respond to messages sent to his law firm. Justin Dillon, Watts' attorney, declined to comment Tuesday evening. The email to the Qatari embassy was not immediately returned.
According to the Department of Justice, Bennett signed a contract in 2017 for his company, Avenue Strategies, to do lobbying work on behalf of the Qatari embassy. He also registered with the Department of Justice that year to lobby for the embassy.
But as part of that strategy, prosecutors said he was secretly running another company called Yemen Crisis Watch that was running a public relations campaign to discredit one of Qatar's unnamed rivals – with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE involved in military operations. In Yemen, it sparked criticism from Qatar's critics. He says it contributed to a humanitarian crisis – and improved Qatar's standing with the US government.
Those efforts included lobbying Congress and Trump, as well as a social media campaign, publishing opinion pieces in newspapers, and producing a television documentary, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors said Yemen Crisis Monitor urged the public to contact lawmakers and urge them to “stop supporting” interference in Yemen by Qatar’s unnamed rival.
Both Robert Schuller, a prominent televangelist, and former Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer have aided Crisis Watch's efforts in Yemen, according to previous reporting from the Wall Street Journal and Topeka Capital Journal. Neither man has been accused of any wrongdoing and messages sent to them were not immediately responded to.
Prosecutors say Bennett Consulting did not disclose in its FARA filings the creation of the Yemen Crisis Monitoring Organization, and that Watts made false statements during interviews with the FBI about his knowledge of the company's formation and activities.
The case is among severalTentacles by federal law enforcement officials in connection with Qatar's aggressive influence campaign during the Trump administration, when it was the target of a blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries.
Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia.
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