Top lobby firm works to remove Iranian group from terrorist list

One of Washington's top lobby firms is working to remove an Iranian group from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. 

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has registered to lobby on behalf of the Iranian American Community of Northern California to support removal of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) — otherwise known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran — from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, according to lobbying disclosure records released two weeks ago.

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Several prominent members of the firm are lobbying on the issue, such as former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.). Other members of the lobbying team include Hal Shapiro, a former senior adviser to President Clinton’s National Economic Council; John Gilliland, a former aide to ex-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.); and Sean D’Arcy, who was once counsel to the late Rep. Donald Pease (D-Ohio).

Shapiro said removing the MEK from the terrorist list could help the Obama administration in its dealings with the Iranian regime.

“This might give them another tool, another arrow in their quiver, to support a pro-democracy group in the country,” Shapiro told The Hill.

Having Akin Gump in its corner adds weight to the MEK’s cause here in Washington. The firm is consistently one of the top lobbying earners in town, pulling in $8.7 million in lobbying fees for this year’s first quarter.

The group has also found support from Washington heavyweights like former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Clinton UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who have said the MEK should be taken off the terrorist list. Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, and former Bush U.N. Ambassador John Bolton have also spoken in favor of the Iranian group.

“We feel like we are in very good company here,” Shapiro said. “There aren't many issues where you see Howard Dean and John Bolton agreeing.”

MEK supporters say the group was added to the terrorist organization list in 1997 by the Clinton administration in an effort to soften relations between the United States and Iran. According to the State Department, the group was founded in 1960s by college-educated Iranian Marxists who opposed the Shah of Iran and is credited with several terrorist attacks that killed Americans in the 1970s.

Supporters say the group today is not a terrorist organization and is dedicated to democracy. The MEK denies it was ever Marxist and that it had a role in the attacks that killed Americans, according to Ahmad Moein, executive director of the Iranian American Community of Northern California.

“Lifting the designation saves lives, weakens the Iranian regime by delegitimizing the repression of its main opponent, and serves the national security interest of the United States. America must be on the side of the people of Iran and their opposition movements and not on the side of Iran’s dictators,” Moein said.

Moein said his group is a non-profit organization made up of many “second generation Iranians” who want democracy and freedom in Iran. He said his group hired Akin Gump to help steer U.S. policy towards lifting the designation of the MEK as a terrorist group.

“The United States is at a crossroads to determine how to craft a policy that would answer all these questions and would replace the failed policy of the past.  That certainly requires a firm with access to Washington, and Akin Gump is certainly qualified to accomplish that,” Moein said.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress this year regarding the MEK. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has found 77 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle in support of his non-binding resolution that urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to remove the Iranian group from the terrorist organization list.

The lobbying registration follows other activity on K Street on the MEK issue. Earlier this year, the Iranian-American Community of North Texas hired law firm DiGenova & Toensing to lobby on the issue and has spent $60,000 on lobbying fees so far, according to lobbying disclosure records.

This story was updated on Monday, June 13.