Feds have few tools to track foreign lobbying

Feds have few tools to track foreign lobbying

A federal disclosure law that has ensnared former aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requires the government to depend on people’s voluntary assistance and public information.

Claims in a Justice Department letter released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation Trump health official: Controversial drug pricing move is 'top priority' Environmental advocates should take another look at biofuels MORE (R-Iowa) on Monday raise new questions about how former Clinton associates Sidney Blumenthal and John Kornblum were able to avoid extra scrutiny as they advocated for foreign parties. 

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Neither men had ever registered with the Justice Department under a law meant to track foreign lobbying, the department said, while pointing at problems in the underlying law. 

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires people working on behalf of a foreign power to register with the government.

To decide whether someone is required to register, the department “depends on open-source information and voluntary compliance with requests for records and information,” the department said. The letter was dated May 21 and sent in response to an April note from Grassley, but was released on Monday.

Blumenthal is a longtime aide to Clinton who sent multiple emails to her about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Kornblum was named ambassador to Germany under former President Bill Clinton and more recently was working for a political party in the eastern European state of Georgia.

In the wake of new criticism about Clinton’s relationship with Blumenthal after he left office, Grassley appeared concerned that their actions were not being covered under the transparency law.

“At the very least, these individuals’ multiple reported transmittals to the Secretary of State on behalf of foreign entities are plainly the types of activities Congress intended to reach,” he wrote to the Justice Department in April.

The Justice Department is taking “appropriate steps to evaluate whether further action is warranted,” it said in the recent letter.

However, it does not have a great track record.

Of the approximately 130 letters of inquiry it has sent out over the last decade, only 38 were found to have an obligation to register, it said. It’s unclear how many of those chose not to hand over information requested by the government.