(Tribune News Service) — A well-known Alabama businessman worked to arrange a meeting between President Donald Trump and the prime minister of Lebanon earlier this year, federal records show.
Will Brooke, a former Republican congressional candidate and retired executive for the investment firm Harbert Management, had to register as an agent of the Lebanese government in order to advocate for the meeting – even though he was never paid for his efforts. He’s the only person in Alabama who’s registered as an active agent of a foreign government, according to federal records.
“I checked with expert legal counsel and was told I had to register, whether or not I was a volunteer,” Brooke said Thursday.
Passed into law in the 1930s – in response to concerns about both Nazi and Communist propagandist campaigns in the US — the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires US citizens to register with the federal government if they attempt to influence public policy on behalf of a foreign government, political party or business.
The law, rarely the focus of public attention, came into the spotlight earlier this month with the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is accused of failing to inform the government about his activities on behalf of a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine. In the wake of that indictment, The Star searched for Alabamians who are also registered foreign agents.
Only six names are registered in the state over the past 40 years, and most involve mundane business transactions.
Scott Nelson, a lawyer for the Washington DC international law firm K&L Gates, said the requirements to register under the law are “very broad,” and can include everything from lobbying public officials to simply agreeing to “generate goodwill for a foreign government.”
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The publishing company EBSCO registered in 1977 in order to sell subscriptions to publications printed in Russia and Eastern Europe.
The Birmingham law firm Hand Arendall entered into agreements in the 1990s to represent European aviation companies – including an attempt to market the Panavia Tornado, a British-made jet fighter that was never adopted by the US.
In 2005, another Birmingham law firm, Maynard Cooper & Gale, registered to represent a political party run by Sanjar Umarov, then a jailed political dissident in Uzbekistan. Umarov was freed in 2009 and moved to the US.
All of those companies are now listed as inactive foreign agents – and there was no active agent here until Brooke registered in May.
“The registrant will contact the Office of the President of the United States on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister of Lebanon regarding a possible introduction for the purpose of direct communications between their respective offices,” Brooke’s paperwork reads.‘A man of good faith’
Brooke told The Star he encountered officials from the Lebanese government while on a mission trip to Lebanon with a church group, and agreed to speak to the Trump administration on behalf of prime minister Saad Hariri. No money changed hands as a result of the agreement, he said.
“I believe Mr. Hariri to be a man of good faith and a moderate,” Brooke said this week.
After years of strife between religious groups, Lebanon now has a constitution that requires recognition of all three of the country’s biggest religious groups – Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians, at the top levels of government. Hariri is Sunni.
Hariri did have a meeting with Trump in July.
“Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” Trump said in a press conference after the meeting. The president’s comments generated a small stir at the time because Hezbollah – a Shia political party and militia that ison the U.S. list of terrorist organizations – also holdsseats in the Lebanese parliament.
Brooke said he doesn’t know whether he had any influence on the administration’s decision to hold that meeting.
Still, Brooke does have pull in Republican political circles.He was a key witness in the corruption trial of former state House Speaker Mike Hubbard. While Hubbard was speaker, Brooke invested $150,000 in Hubbard’s failing print shop, Craftmaster. Hubbard also asked Brooke for career advice, and for help getting a job. Emails revealed at the trial showed Hubbard simultaneously seeking career help and promising to secure funding for a nonprofit Brooke’s wife had campaigned for.
Hubbard was convicted on 12 felony ethics counts in June 2016.
Brooke also made a failed run for US House of Representatives in 2014. He’s probably best known for a TV ad in which hefired a rifle at a printed copy of the Affordable Care Act.
Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, has seen his own political trouble in recent days. On Nov. 4, according to accounts in the press,Hariri announced his resignation as prime minister, blaming pressure from and a possible assassination plot by Hezbollah and Iran. In an unusual move, he made that announcement not on Lebanese soil, but in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The resignation has led some in Lebanon to speculate that Hariri’s move was forced by the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia and Iran are rivals in the region. Aninternal crackdown by the Saudis earlier this month has landed nearly a dozen princes in detention, according to accounts in the press.Registrations, prosecutions few
Nelson, the international law attorney, said there are about 500 registered foreign agents in the country. Federal rules allow many representatives of foreign businesses – such as the automobile and aircraft companies that do business in Alabama – to register as lobbyists instead. Prosecutions under the act are rare, he said.
“A US Department of Justice audit last year concluded that over half of initial FARA registrations were late and that about half of all registrants had filed at least one subsequent report late,” Nelson wrote in an email to The Star.
Before the Manafort indictment, perhaps the most famous late-filer was Billy Carter, the brother of President Jimmy Carter. Billy Carter’s paid work on behalf of the Libyan government led to Senate hearings and became an election-year albatross for the Carter administration.
Billy Carter is among Alabama’s past registered foreign agents. He didn’t register until July 1980.
By that time, Carter was working as a publicist for a mobile home company in Haleyville.©2017 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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