DOJ investigating one-time Trump campaign adviser over alleged ties to Qatar: report

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether one-time Trump campaign adviser and lobbyist Barry Bennett set up an advocacy group without disclosing its ties to Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Bennett, who was an unpaid adviser, reportedly launched a group called Yemen Crisis Watch in 2017 in an attempt to embarrass Qatar’s rivals — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — amid their brutal military campaign in Yemen that led to widespread famine and poverty.

Bennett did not disclose his ties to Yemen Crisis Watch, or register the group under foreign lobbying laws, despite receiving $250,000 from the Embassy of Qatar “for use in supporting the relief of humanitarian suffering in Yemen,” according to a Justice Department filing. 

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Yemen Crisis Watch would be required to register with the Justice Department if it received funding from Qatar.

The group ran ads on social media and wrote opinion pieces published by the Washington Examiner highlighting atrocities in Yemen, and then Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer spoke at a congressional briefing on behalf of the group, the Journal reported.

The Justice Department declined to comment. The Embassy of Qatar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Qatar paid Bennett’s lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, a total of $3 million from July 2017 to July 2018 in a push to make inroads with former President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE.

Bennett launched Avenue Strategies shortly after the 2016 election and quickly drew clients seeking access to the Trump administration. His firm’s revenue peaked in 2020, bringing in nearly $1 million, according to money-in-politics watchdog OpenSecrets.

Bennett shut down the firm in February as he and other lobbyists who advertised their ties to former President Trump lost clients following his election loss.

The Justice Department has increasingly enforced foreign influence transparency laws in recent years, starting with the 2018 indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ investigating one-time Trump campaign adviser over alleged ties to Qatar: report Foreign lobbyists donated over M during 2020 election: report Former Mueller prosecutor representing Donoghue in congressional probes: report MORE over his unregistered foreign influence campaign.

Last month, federal prosecutors indicted Tom Barrack, chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, on charges that he secretly worked to influence Trump’s campaign and administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.