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FBI Ties Chicago Representatives to Zimbabwe Lobbying

Two Democratic lawmakers from Illinois worked to help lift economic sanctions against Zimbabwe after being targeted by an illegal $3.4 million lobbying scheme, according to FBI testimony unsealed in federal court.

Reps. Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush, both of the Chicago area, were identified by Chicago media as “U.S. Representative A” and “U.S. Representative B” in the case, given that they were the only Illinois Democrats to have sponsored a failed 2010 resolution to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe cited in court documents.

Two other Chicagoians, Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner, are charged with accepting millions in illegal payments from Zimbabwe officials to lobby U.S. lawmakers to remove sanctions against the African nation. Such sanctions have been in place for almost a decade due to long-time President Robert Mugabe’s record of abuses of power.

Davis and Rush were not named in the affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Steven D. Noldin, dated July 16.

According to the affidavit, U.S. Representative A sent a letter on official Congressional letterhead to Mugabe in August 2009 requesting a meeting, saying that he had been briefed by Ben Israel, “who continues to ‘inform and sensitive African American Leadership on not only the plight of the people of Zimbabwe, but on the economic and political direction of the African Continent.’”

On Oct. 17, 2009, U.S. Representative A wrote a letter to Mugabe thanking him for “the most positive and productive meeting in New York” and confirming the best dates to travel to Zimbabwe for a follow-up.

“Know that I am fully committed to working toward the removal of the sanctions placed upon Zimbabwe,” the letter said.

U.S. Representative B, meanwhile, was part of an official U.S. congressional delegation to Africa in August 2009, and his involvement was shared with Zimbabwe officials.

Both U.S. Representatives A and B are identified in the affidavit as lawmakers who represent districts in Chicago, but it was not immediately clear from the testimony which lawmaker corresponded with which letter.

According to an official statement provided to CQ Roll Call, it appeared that Rush aligned himself with Representative B.

“I had been scheduled to travel to Africa as part of an official delegation in 2009. If my itinerary had been shared with anyone connected with Zimbabwe or Zimbabwe officials, I had no knowledge of it,” said Rush in the statement emailed to CQ Roll Call by his press secretary. “Zimbabwe was not on my itinerary which included the following countries: Ghana, South Africa, Angola, Liberia, and an overnight stay in Morroco. Due to sudden illness I did not travel with the delegation. This is the first I’ve heard of this. I have not been questioned and I am not a cooperating witness. Also, I have not been notified by the U.S. Department of Justice that I am representative B. I have not retained private counsel and see no need to do so at this time.”

Davis’ spokesman Ira Cohen told CQ Roll Call that the congressman has either retained, or will retain, legal counsel in preparation for whatever next steps might need to be taken in connection with the allegations.