Robert “Bud— McFarlane, a former Reagan official known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, has done an about-face by registering as a lobbyist for the government of Qatar after publicly denying that he needed to.
McFarlane filed documents with the Department of Justice on Nov. 9, nearly six months after signing a contract with the Qatari government. The agreement is dated May 14, but documents detailing McFarlane’s multimillion-dollar contract show the firm began working for Qatar in February.
The registration comes after the Washington Post reported in late September that McFarlane was in contact with top Obama administration officials on behalf of Sudan, a country the U.S. government has accused of genocide. McFarlane has said that his work for Qatar focuses on conflict resolution in Sudan’s Darfur region.
But in the Washington Post article, McFarlane disputed any suggestion of impropriety in his work on behalf of Qatar and said it was not necessary for him to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Qatar or Sudan. He has not registered on behalf of Sudan.
McFarlane declined to be interviewed for this article, but his firm provided a confidential letter he sent to the Department of Justice, along with the registration.
McFarlane wrote that previous work his firm, McFarlane Associates Inc., had done on behalf of the Qatari government was focused on the Darfur conflict and not the United States, but the Obama administration’s new Sudan policy could change that. Further, McFarlane wrote he was registering “out of an abundance of caution— because his firm will likely have more contact with U.S. government officials.
“Because [McFarlane Associates’] activities were focused solely on assisting the Darfuri tribes and did not involve an effort to affect the policy of the United States, [McFarlane Associates] has not heretofore registered under— the Foreign Agents Registration Act, McFarlane wrote.
McFarlane maintains in the letter that his firm is still not seeking to influence U.S. policy on Sudan.
“There is an increased likelihood that the new Sudan policy announced by President Obama [Barack] on Oct. 19, 2009 will result in [McFarlane Associates] having periodic interactions with the office of the Special Envoy and other organs of the U.S. government that potentially would constitute political activities’ within the meaning of FARA during the next few months,— he wrote.
The Obama administration unveiled its long-awaited Sudan policy, which maintains a focus on the Darfur conflict but also broadens the United States’ focus to include implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the country’s civil war.
The Embassy of Qatar did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Lobbyists or foreign agents are supposed to register within 10 days of coming to an agreement to represent a foreign principal and prior to doing any actual work for the country, according to Dan Pickard, a lawyer and FARA expert at Wiley Rein.
McFarlane’s lobbying contract for Qatar, filed with the Justice Department’s FARA unit, projected that the firm’s compensation would be $2.47 million. The agreement, which also includes the lobbyists’ travel expenses, runs through April.
McFarlane and two of his associates, Amanda Jane and Catherine Neuner, registered on Nov. 9 to work on behalf of the Arab country. The firm’s contract lists four senior advisers as working on behalf of Qatar, but it’s unclear who the fourth adviser is.
In addition to the $25,000 monthly retainer for each adviser, the budget also includes six business trips per year to the Middle East. All of the trips include travel to Doha, and two of the trips will include other destinations in the Middle East.
The firm’s contract with Qatar says that McFarlane’s mission is twofold: The firm is assisting Qatar in its “effort to broker a peaceful settlement between the Government of Sudan in Khartoum and the people of Darfur to include securing the assistance of respected U.S. third-parties towards this objective— and to facilitate “additional agreements between the Government of Sudan in Khartoum and all marginalized ethnic groups in Sudan and to secure the assistance of respected U.S. third-parties toward this objective.—
This is the first foreign country client McFarlane has registered with FARA. McFarlane is not registered to lobby for any corporate or other clients under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, according to Senate lobbying records.
A top foreign policy and national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, McFarlane was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in 1998 for withholding information from Congress. President George H.W. Bush later pardoned him.
Not everyone believes McFarlane’s intentions are on behalf of Qatar.
Jerry Fowler, head of the Save Darfur Coalition, believes that McFarlane is really representing the Sudanese government.
“It’s difficult to see how his representing the Sudanese government is promoting peace,— Fowler said. “Obviously this is an effort by the Sudanese government to try to influence the Obama administration as it was getting going and to cover up the influence.—