Lawyer accused of illegally lobbying for Sudan grabs Justice’s attention

The Justice Department is scrutinizing a lawyer for the U.S.-sanctioned Sudanese government who has drawn controversy for representing the regime in Washington.

Bart Fisher, who has been hired to provide legal services to Sudan, had a phone conversation with a Justice official and received a letter from the head of Justice's Foreign Agents Registration Unit, according to new Justice records.

The Treasury Department took fire from lawmakers in both parties after it came to light that Fisher was granted a license to represent Sudan from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Several on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), have said Fisher's license should be revoked, given the African country's history of alleged war crimes. 

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Wolf has accused Fisher of illegally lobbying for an indicted war criminal, Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

In an interview with The Hill, Fisher downplayed the look-in from Justice, saying it’s simply a matter of botched paperwork.

“If you don't sign a paper, you get a call. That's all,” Fisher said.

Fisher didn't sign a short-form registration, a mistake he is now in the process of correcting. 

Justice also asked for his articles of incorporation — which must be filed when someone registers as a foreign agent — but Fisher said that provision was not applicable to him since he has not incorporated.

A Justice official also talked with Fisher about a letter he wrote Wolf regarding sanctions against Sudan.

“Mr. Fisher sent a letter to Rep. Wolf but did not consider it informational materials. Mr. Fisher told me that he wasn’t trying to lobby Rep. Wolf with the letter and that he did not do it at the direction of the Sudan government. However, Mr. Fisher wrote the letter to Rep. Wolf in response to personal comments Rep. Wolf made of Mr. Fisher at Congress,” read unsigned notes of a Justice official regarding a phone conversation with Fisher.

Under his OFAC license, Fisher is not allowed to lobby for Sudan.

Fisher said the Justice official he talked to was Alex Mudd. Fisher said he also emailed Mudd a copy of his OFAC license in response to a letter from Heather Hunt, who heads up Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Unit, according to Justice records.

A Justice spokesman declined to comment.

In an interview with The Hill, Wolf said administration officials need to pay more attention to Fisher’s work for Sudan.

“I don't have a lot of confidence in this Justice Department,” Wolf said.

“By the very nature of the fact, the guy's lobbying,” Wolf said. “Who's the guy going to talk to, to lift the sanctions? Congress and the administration.”

Fisher emphasized that his license doesn’t permit him to engage in public relations or lobbying.

“It was a highly circumscribed license,” Fisher said.

David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a Dec. 16 letter to Wolf that his department didn’t authorize lobbying on behalf of Sudan, since the regulations only allow the country to secure legal representation in the United States. 

An international trade and investment lawyer, Fisher signed the $20,000-per-month agreement on Nov. 1 with Sudan to help end U.S. sanctions against the country and have it scrubbed from the State Department’s list of state terrorism sponsors, according to Justice records. Since then, his hire has become controversial, and Wolf and others on Capitol Hill have criticized Fisher’s license repeatedly.  

Sudan once harbored Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and has been plagued for years with civil war, leading to allegations of genocide. America first imposed economic sanctions on Sudan in 1997, and they have been extended annually, most recently by President Obama in November. 

Wolf said he would continue to hammer away at Fisher and the Obama administration when Congress returns to session.

“We're going to stay after this thing,” Wolf said, promising floor speeches and Congressional Record statements about the license. “I'm going to continue to speak out about this.”

Fisher said he didn’t mind the attention from Justice.

“Anyone with this assignment would be under scrutiny from two regulatory agencies — OFAC and Justice. That's their job,” Fisher said. “I don't think it's harassment.”

This story was updated on Jan. 10 to clarify what interactions have taken place between Justice Department officials and Bart Fisher.