Former diplomat Richard G. Olson implicates retired US General John Allen in a lobby probe in Qatar
In a preliminary hearing in federal court in Washington, Olson’s defense attorney said he admitted the misdemeanor charge — anyone carries a sentence of up to a year in prison if convicted on Sept. 13 — and cooperated with federal prosecutors on the understanding that they it is also investigating and prosecuting criminal charges against retired four-star Marine General John G. Allen. The latter commanded US and NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring in 2013. In late 2017, he was appointed President of Washington’s influential Brookings Institution, which in 2013 agreed to donate $14.8 million to Qatar over four years.
The two men are the latest senior American officials to become embroiled in a long-running federal investigation into a bitter – and lucrative – struggle for influence in Washington between the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar and its regional rival, the United Arab Emirates. as Donald Trump prepared to take office and embark on new rounds of Middle East diplomacy.
Trump’s ally Thomas Barrack is accused of trying to lobby to help the UAE
In July 2021, billionaire Thomas J. Barrack, Jr., Trump’s longtime friend and chairman of the president’s inaugural committee, was criminally charged with obstructing justice and acting as an unregistered agent for the UAE; while American businessman Imaad Zuberi, a major political donor to both political parties, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in February 2020 after pleading guilty to tax evasion, foreign influence peddling and campaign finance violations.
In pleading papers, Olson acknowledged that he failed to disclose in the annual ethics forms that in January 2015 he received a first-class plane ticket from New Mexico to London and a stay at a luxury hotel valued at about $20,000 from a Pakistani-American businessman , who was not identified by the government but whose description matches Zuberi’s.
Olson admitted meeting with a Bahraini businessman who would offer him a one-year, $300,000 contract after he left the State Department.
In June 2017, Olson admitted in plea papers, he contacted an unnamed third person – who his defense identified as Allen – to help “provide assistance and advice to Qatar’s government officials with intent to influence them” during a blockade of Qatar by US policy UAE and its ally Saudi Arabia. Zuberi, Olson and “Person 3” traveled to Doha, where the latter couple met with various Qatari officials including its Emir, and then returned to meet with members of Congress in Washington.
In court filings and a May 27 hearing, Olson’s attorney, J. Michael Hannon, urged US prosecutors to say why Allen was not charged.
Exculpatory evidence on Allen could soften Olson’s sentence or invalidate his plea agreement, Hannon argued, saying a decision not to charge the general could mean prosecutors “induced” a guilty plea from the diplomat, who relied on government accounts who may be advised to be lenient Conviction for his cooperation.
“If in fact there is no trial of General John R. Allen [for allegedly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act]We believe this is important information for the conviction, just as we believe an incentive for the court to enter into this agreement is important,” Hannon told U.S. Judge G. Michael Harvey, who accepted Olson’s plea.
Prosecutor Evan Turgeon of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in the earlier hearing that any communications between Allen and US government officials about the Qatar trip did not excuse Olson, that Allen’s case remains open, and that Olson’s signed plea deal was not a promise of contained prosecutors recommending clemency in exchange for cooperation.
“We dispute the allegation that the government made a prosecutorial decision regarding anyone else,” Turgeon said.
He added: “Nothing to do with General Allen has any bearing on the false testimony made by the defendant on an Office of Government Ethics form in May 2016, and that was a full year before the involvement of General Allen on activities related to Qatar.”
Beau Phillips, a spokesman for Allen, declined to comment on the status of his investigation, but said in an emailed statement on Friday: “John Allen has voluntarily cooperated with the government investigation into this matter. John Allen’s only efforts regarding Qatar in 2017 were to protect the interests of the United States and military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no payment for his efforts.”
Phillips previously said Trump’s then-national security adviser, Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, “approved that [Qatar] trip and offered to help his staff prepare.”
Olson, who retired in November 2016, was described by then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry as “quite simply one of our most distinguished diplomats, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who has been on the front lines of our work in the Middle East, Africa and most recently in… Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
A criminal complaint against Olson was sealed in federal court March 22, and a settlement agreement signed by both sides in January was signed the following day. The case was moved to Washington for a plea and sentencing in April when it became public.
In indictment papers, the Justice Department said Olson was paid to lobby the Trump administration to lift the blockade against Qatar — which hosts a key US military Central Command forward operating base — and to strengthen ties between its Persian Gulf neighbors to enhance.
The department has not alleged that Olson or his associates violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires Americans to publicly register with the Attorney General if they are paid to promote U.S. policy to foreign governments, political parties, or politicians to influence. The once-near-dormant law, enacted in 1938 to thwart Nazi propaganda, has been invoked in more than two dozen state indictments since 2017 to combat foreign interference in U.S. politics, but prosecutions under this law can be difficult as they require evidence that violations were committed intentionally.
The law was a landmine for Trump allies, who are accused of covertly exploiting their insider access to influence US foreign policy and leverage to further their own business interests. Barrack, one of Trump’s closest aides on his way to the White House, pleaded not guilty last summer and was released on a $250 million bond released on charges of conspiring to secretly lobby the UAE, who had invested heavily in his investment firm Colony Capital.
In October 2020, Elliott Broidy, a Trump fundraiser and former Deputy Treasury Chairman of the Republican National Committee, who also received a $200 million security deal with the UAE, pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and assuming millions of dollars to secretly lobby the Trump administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.
And last month, the Justice Department sued hotel and casino magnate Steve Wynn to force the Republican mega-spender and RNC chief financial officer with Broidy to register as an agent of China. The department argued that Wynn, a former chief executive of Wynn Resorts, used his relationship with Trump and members of his administration to further Beijing’s interests in 2017.
Major RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy pleads guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent
Wynn’s lawyers said he never acted as a representative of the Chinese government and was not required to register under the law. Prosecutors alleged that Barrack spent two years from April 2016 to April 2018 trying to advance UAE interests through Trump’s campaign and presidency, trading his friendships and access to the President to his campaign, US government officials and the media to influence without revealing his true loyalties.
Zuberi has appealed his verdict. Zuberi, a prolific donor whose large gifts to Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and members of both parties’ Congress have given him elite political status, has claimed he has long been a US intelligence source for the US government, a factor his attorneys say may offset his criminal charges, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Prosecutors called the scale of Zuberi’s plan unprecedented, in which he urged foreigners and governments to hire him to lobby US officials, arranged illegal campaign contributions and cheated his taxes. Zuberi campaigned for the Bahraini citizen as well as the Sri Lankan, Turkish and Ukrainian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, prosecutors said.