Saudi Arabia is again expanding its lobbying force as Capitol Hill considers a revision to a law that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the country.
Two additional firms are now working on Saudi Arabia’s behalf — Hohlt Group Global and Flywheel Government Solutions, which is operating through PR giant MSLGroup.
There are now 14 shops working for the country overall, including heavyweights like Podesta Group, BGR Group, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, King & Spalding and Squire Patton Boggs.
The latest disclosure forms, which were filed last week but just appeared in the Justice Department foreign lobbying database, show that Saudi Arabia's advocacy strategy is expanding beyond the Beltway.
While the Hohlt Group contract simply mentions “general communications and government relations counsel,” the Flywheel Government Solutions contract involves reaching out to governors and lieutenant governors nationwide.
The firm will “educate” top state officials on “the impacts and potential risks/threats that [the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act] JASTA poses on their states’ business and economic interests, member of the military and national security,” according to the contract, which is worth $25,000.
MSLGroup and Flywheel Government Solutions inked the agreement on Oct. 20. It is set to last one month, and will be renewed on a month-to-month basis for up to three months.
During that time, Flywheel will also “engage and align selected governors and lieutenant governors to take grasstops action, such as writing letters to their respective state’s congressional delegation, to appeal to Congress and repeal JASTA” and lend those officials’ credibility to write op-eds or make “public statements” in opposition of the law.
For Hohlt Group, there are no defined fees or duration of the contract, forms say. Saudi Arabia also recently added Dominique L. Russo, who advises the Saudi General investment Authority, disclosures show.
Both chambers of Congress voted on Sept. 28 to override a White House veto of the JASTA legislation, making it law.
President Obama warned that the legislation — which had been pressed through Capitol Hill as a way for the families of those killed or injured during the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts — would have adverse effects on the United States. It could open up Americans or the U.S. government to similar suits from foreign countries, the White House said.
The law allows U.S. citizens to sue countries for damages due to death or injury as a result of terrorism, if the sovereign nation financed or aided in the terrorist act. Plaintiffs have to prove the countries knew they were providing support.
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.
Following a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Oct. 20, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryTo address China's coal emissions, the US could use a little help from its friends Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Storms a growing danger for East Coast Israel, Jordan, UAE sign pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water MORE said that the two talked about how to “fix” JASTA.
“We discussed ways to try to fix this in a way that respects and honors the needs and rights of victims of 9/11 but at the same time does not expose American troops and American partners and American individuals who may be involved in another country to the potential of a lawsuit for those activities,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting.
“Sovereign immunity is a longstanding, well-upheld standard of law, and unfortunately this legislation — unintentionally, I think — puts it at great risk and thereby puts our country at great risk. So we’re talking about ways to try to address that,” he said.
There is also likely an effort underway in Congress to make changes to the law, which has been caught up in the politics of the impending elections on Nov. 8.
“We may have a better opportunity to soften this,” once the bill actually becomes law, said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after the veto override vote.
He said that once “people see the impact of this legislation,” in the form of a flood of lawsuits, Congress would “be in a much better situation” to make changes.
Corker spoke with al-Jubeir at the end of September, according to Bloomberg News. The senator said representatives from Saudi Arabia would be open to making tweaks to the law after the November elections.
Lawsuits against Saudi Arabia started in the days following JASTA's passage, according to CNN.