Photographer: Yoan Valat/EPA

Singled Out by Trump, Qatar Hires Ashcroft’s Firm

  • Former Bush Attorney General Aschroft to lead effort
  • ‘Urgent need to commence work immediately’ given circumstances

The government of Qatar, blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terror in recent days by President Donald Trump, has hired the firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for services that could include lobbying, according to disclosures released by the Justice Department.

Qatar is paying Ashcroft’s firm $2.5 million to represent it in connection with its efforts to combat global terrorism and comply with U.S. money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulations, according to the four-page contract filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists for foreign clients to disclose information about their activities. In an appearance Friday with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Trump called Qatar a "funder of terrorism at a very high level."

To combat that image, Ashcroft promises to enlist former government leaders who held senior positions in the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the intelligence community. The contract also says that Ashcroft, who led the Justice Department from 2001 to 2005 under President George W. Bush, will lead the effort.

The contract doesn’t specify any U.S. legislation, executive orders or policy it will try to change, and the focus of the work will be a thorough regulatory review of Qatar’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. 

"Qatar intends to share both its current framework and the results of our work with key policy makers," said Michael Sullivan, a partner in the firm who will also be working on the project. "With that in mind we decided to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act since some of our work may be viewed as quasi-political in nature."

The contract cites the "urgent need to commence work immediately" which will be "a top priority" for the firm. In the wake of Trump’s trip to the Middle East, four U.S. Arab allies took steps to isolate Qatar over its ties to Iran and support of Islamist groups. Saudi Arabia, the United Arabic Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties to the nation Monday. In a series of tweets the same day, Trump congratulated the Saudis for their actions.

On Friday, shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations to ease their blockade of Qatar, Trump seemed to contradict his top diplomat. In a joint appearance in the Rose Garden with the Romanian head of state, Trump called the actions against Qatar “hard but necessary.”

Why Qatar Has So Angered Saudi Arabia

"Nations came to me and spoke to me about confronting Qatar," he said in prepared remarks. "I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding -- they have to end that funding -- and its extremist ideology."

Qatar’s population is smaller than Houston’s, but it has a sovereign wealth fund with stakes in global companies from Barclays Plc to Credit Suisse Group. It’s also a home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s central command in the region.

Aschroft’s firm promised to provide crisis response and management, program and system analysis, media outreach and advocacy, stressing Qatar’s efforts to combat global terror, according to the contract. As part of that effort, it plans "a comprehensive legal and government relations strategy," one that will communicate broadly and to "certain domestic agencies and leaders."

In addition to Ashcroft, six members of his firm registered as lobbyists for Qatar, including Christopher Peele, a former special trial attorney in the fraud section of the Justice Department, and Sullivan, a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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