Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight

Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight
© Getty

Saudi Arabia has hired two new lobby firms as it fights legislation that would allow victims of the 9/11 attacks to file lawsuits against the country.

Glover Park Group and Squire Patton Boggs are now working for the Saudi government, according to new disclosure forms. Both contracts were inked earlier this week.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Saudi government is adding Washington firepower amid the battle over legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to sue any other country for terrorist attacks. The bill passed both chambers of Congress unanimously.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 hailed from Saudi Arabia. Critics have long suspected that the kingdom’s government may have either directly or indirectly supported the attacks, something the Saudis vehemently deny.

On Friday afternoon, President Obama vetoed the bill, saying that it would weaken immunity laws for sovereign governments, lead to a deluge of lawsuits and put longstanding foreign policy relationships at risk.

The House and Senate appears to have the two-thirds votes needed to override the veto, however.

Neither of the Saudi contracts with K Street into specifics of what issues lobbyists will be engaging on with lawmakers.

At Squire Patton Boggs, Global Managing Partner Ed Newberry will be leading the team, which includes former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), as well as Jack Deschauer, the co-head of the aerospace, defense and government services practice at the firm. 

On Monday, Squire Patton Boggs signed with the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court, an arm of the Saudi government, for one year — at a rate of $100,000 per month plus expenses. 

Newberry has been with the firm since 1991. Lott, who runs the firm’s lobby shop with Breaux, is a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill. Deschauer is the former top Senate lobbyist for the Pentagon.

Forms submitted to the Justice Department say Squire Patton Boggs will be “providing legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy on foreign policy and related issues in the U.S. government.”

“We are delighted to resume our work for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and for the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court,” Newberry said in a statement. 

“The Kingdom is an important ally of the United States and we are honored to support the important bilateral relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States," he said.

The firm formerly worked for the Saudi government, through Qorvis/MSLGroup, beginning in 2002. That contract was terminated in 2015. Squire Patton also represented the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Kingdom of Southern Arabia from 2012 to 2015.

Glover Park Group, meanwhile, recently signed with the Saudi government through its embassy in Washington.

The firm “will provide communications and government relations counsel and support to the foreign principal in connection with general foreign policy and related matters, as well as legislative, public policy and media-related activities of interest,” the registration forms say. 

Some of the contract terms with Glover Park Group, including the duration of the contract and payment amount, are still being negotiated, the disclosure says.

“As requested, registrant will undertake specific advocacy assignments with regard to legislative, public policy or public affairs matters,” it says. 

Lobbyists will be reaching out to U.S. government officials — including members of Congress and their staffs — media organizations and “other individuals involved in legislative, public policy or public affairs matters, and/or in other activities of interest to the foreign principal, including the Middle East regional security, counter-terrorism, and related issues,” the disclosure forms say.

The names on the contract at Glover Park Group are Brett O’Brien, who leads the international affairs team; Joel Johnson, a former Clinton White House aide; and Alex Mistri, a former official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The Senate passed the legislation, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), in May, and the House followed suit on Sept. 9.

Members of the House and Senate are now starting a movement to undo Obama's veto

“Now that we have received the veto message from the president, the Senate will consider it as soon as practicable in this work period,” said David Popp, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTop GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal Senators move to rein in Trump with new ISIS war bill Warren: McConnell 'finally said hello to me' MORE (R-Ky.). 

New York Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerGOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill McConnell: CBO analysis for House bill will repeat 'things we already know' Congress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding MORE (D) vowed that Congress would overturn the action "swiftly and soundly," and calling the veto a "difficult decision."

"I believe both parties will come together next week to make JASTA the law of the land," Schumer said in a statement. "If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable. The families of the victims of 9/11 deserve their day in court, and justice for those families shouldn’t be thrown overboard because of diplomatic concerns.” 

Earlier on Friday, some in the House were already pushing for an override.

“Who do we care more about, the Saudi king or the 9/11 families?” said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) in a statement on Friday morning. “Congress should stand strong and support the families of 9/11 victims. It has been a painful 15 years for these families — they’ve waited long enough for justice.”

Saudi Arabia earlier this year threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets should the measure become law.

The country has seven additional firms working on its behalf: PR Giant MSLGroup, Republican ad shop Targeted Victory, law and lobby firms DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells and heavyweight K Street shops BGR Group and Podesta Group.

Last year, the Saudis spent more than $9.4 million on advocacy and other services from firms in the United States.

— This post was updated at 4:55 p.m.