Policy

Disgraced Lobbyist Abramoff Registers as Foreign Agent

Lawyer: Abramoff ‘is not on probation and is not the subject of any ongoing investigation’

After leaving Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. in 2006, Jack Abramoff, waits to leave the premises, after entering a plea agreement on three felony charges. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The conviction of Jack Abramoff, perhaps the most infamous modern K Street character, apparently wasn’t the end of the Justice Department’s interest in the former hot-shot lobbyist.

Abramoff, who was sentenced to prison in 2008 on federal corruption and other charges, recently filed a retroactive foreign agent lobbying registration for unpaid — and unsuccessful — work aimed at helping the Republic of Congo arrange a meeting with President Donald Trump, new DOJ filings showed.

A letter from Abramoff’s lawyers, Peter Zeidenberg and Matthew M. Nolan of Arent Fox, makes clear they don’t believe their client needed to file the registration but said they were complying with the Justice Department’s request to do so. Abramoff simultaneously terminated his work, they noted.

Zeidenberg said on Friday that his client “is not on probation and is not the subject of any ongoing investigation.” A Politico story in February about Abramoff’s trip to Africa, along with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., prompted the Justice Department’s inquiry and filing request, Zeidenberg said in an email.

The disclosure documents were filed under the 1938 law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Retroactive filings are not uncommon and are unlikely to result in legal action, but the law does carry criminal penalties.

The documents say Abramoff received calls in December from Costel Iancu of Bucharest, Romania, who was “attempting to obtain a contract to consult with the Republic of Congo.” Iancu hoped Abramoff could help arrange a meeting between Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the president of the Republic of Congo, and Donald Trump, then president-elect.

No such meeting occurred, according to the DOJ filings, which were first reported Thursday night by the Center for Public Integrity.

Abramoff did help facilitate communications between the African country and Rohrabacher, who later traveled to Brazzaville, the Congolese capital, and had a meeting with Sassou N’Guesso, the documents state. “Although Mr. Abramoff was in Brazzaville at the time, he did not participate in the meeting,” the filing added.

“Mr. Abramoff was not compensated for any of the above-described activities,” the DOJ documents said. “No future work for or on behalf of Mr. Costel or the Republic of Congo is contemplated.”

James Hickey, a lobbyist who recently launched a new group for K Streeters called the Government Relations Association, said: “The return of Jack Abramoff does not worry me.” 

“He knows he’s going to be closely watched —  by colleagues, the Justice Department and the media,” Hickey said. “I believe in redemption and forgiveness and wish him well.”   

Abramoff’s downfall was a wide-ranging scandal that stemmed from his multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns for American Indian clients and from a failed casino venture. The scandal captivated Washington, sparked an overhaul of federal lobbying laws in 2007 and led to 20 convictions or guilty pleas including from former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Since his 2010 prison release, Abramoff has become known as an activist for overhauls to lobbying and campaign finance laws. Abramoff and his downfall were depicted in the movie, “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as the disgraced ex-lobbyist. 

Abramoff tweeted in January his support for the Trump administration’s executive order restricting its former officials from doing foreign lobbying work, among other things. “Bravo!” Abramoff tweeted. “Obama all talk — Trump does the walk. #draintheswamp #MAGA.”

However, most government watchdogs say the Trump administration’s restrictions have done little to restrain K Street.

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