Libyan rebels hire Washington’s No. 1 lobby firm for 'advice and assistance'

Washington’s No. 1 lobbying firm is going to work for the Libyan rebels who are fighting to unseat Moammar Gadhafi.

Patton Boggs, perennially the top-earning K Street firm, is lobbying for the rebels to be accepted as the “legitimate government of the sovereign nation of Libya,” according to documents filed this week with the Justice Department. 

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The firm signed a contract with the Interim Transitional National Council of Libya to provide “advice and assistance on U.S.-Libya bilateral relations,” according to the documents. 

Patton Boggs signed the agreement with Ali Suleiman Aujali, the Council’s representative to the United States. Aujali resigned as ambassador to Libya after Gadhafi tried to quell the uprising and started to advocate for the opposition group, which is based in Benghazi, Libya. 

Other than formal recognition, the Transitional National Council also wants access to the frozen funds from Gadhafi’s regime that are being held by the United States.

Patton Boggs has been handling legal issues for the council and will continue to do so, outside counsel David Tafuri told The Hill.

"We care about the cause,” Tafuri said. “We want the Transitional National Council to succeed on behalf of all the Libyan people.

“We are proud that they selected us in assisting them and we hope that we can continue being effective for them,” he said.

Libya has been in turmoil since February 2011, when the uprising against Gadhafi began. NATO joined the conflict nearly 100 days ago, in late March, with a stated mission to “protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack.”

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., a partner at the firm who is one of Washington’s top lobbyists, will be leading the Libya account.

“I will be primarily responsible for overseeing the work done on behalf of the Council and will supervise the lawyers and other professionals who may work on this project,” Boggs wrote in a letter on May 20 to Aujali that was filed with the Justice Department.

Patton Boggs will receive a fee not to exceed $50,000 per month under the contract, though the firm says the fees might not be paid at first.

Tafuri wasn’t sure how long Patton Boggs had been working with the group, but he told The Hill the firm has completed some pro-bono work already. It would depend on their situation as to whether the firm gets paid at all, the outside counsel said.

“We understand that at this time the Council may not have sufficient funds to pay our fees for these important services,” Boggs wrote in the letter to Aujali. “We will charge the Council on an hourly basis for our work, according to our customary hourly billable rates. … [and] will not seek payment for these funds and costs until the Council obtains sufficient funds to pay for them.”

Two lobbyists at Patton Boggs, Stephen McHale and Vincent Frillici, have filed so far to lobby on behalf of the council. Frillici previously served as the director of operations at NATO for the 50th Anniversary Host Committee and was deputy director of finance operations for the Democratic National Convention in 1996. McHale served as the first deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and helped merge the administration into the Homeland Security Department.

Robert Kapla, who has represented foreign governments in the past, and Matthew Oresman, formerly a law clerk within the State Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee, will also work for the council, Tafuri said.

Tafuri will also be working for the client as outside counsel. He is a former State Department Rule of Law Coordinator in Iraq and aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In April, the rebels also enlisted The Harbour Group on a pro-bono basis to work on their behalf in Washington. The well-connected PR firm is working towards gaining recognition from the U.S., unfreezing assets for the council’s use and encouraging foreign aid, Justice records show.

Patton Boggs has been working closely with The Harbour Group, which continues to handle public relations for the opposition government.

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The Obama administration has not approved formal recognition of the Transitional Council but has allowed the group to open a Washington office.

Other governments, including Italy, Britain, France and Qatar, have granted recognition to the rebels.

The recognition of the Libyan council as a legitimate government is a decision for the executive branch to make, Tafuri told The Hill. But Patton Boggs is working with the United States government to accomplish that goal.

Announcing recognition of the Libyan council would cut Gadhafi off from any legal legitimacy, allow the rebels access to funding to help the Libyan people and announce to the international community that only the rebels have the right to “transfer the country’s natural resources,” Tafuri wrote in a Washington Post editorial.