Or, at least, Abramoff was for several months during late 2016 and early 2017, as he attempted to schedule a meeting between Donald Trump and the controversial president of the Republic of Congo, according to Department of Justice records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
Abramoff, the documents detail, was aiding an Italian national hoping to earn a consulting contract with the Republic of Congo that, in part, sought to polish its image in the United States.
There’s no evidence that a meeting or phone call between Trump and Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso ever took place.
But the revelation that Abramoff formally registered as an agent working to advance the interests of a foreign government stands in stark contrast to the political reformist image Abramoff has cut for himself since he emerged from federal prison in 2010.
Abramoff this month filed his retroactive lobbying disclosures at the request of the Department of Justice and promptly terminated his association with the Italian national — Costel Iancu of the firm Global Scructures Group in Bucharest, Romania — and the Congolese government.
Abramoff, reached Wednesday evening, referred questions to his lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg of law firm Arent Fox.
Zeidenberg said he and Abramoff didn’t believe the filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act was necessary, but submitted the disclosures after the Department of Justice, which administers FARA, requested them.
Under FARA, a person working on behalf of a foreign government to influence the U.S. government must file disclosures within 10 days of agreeing to act as a foreign agent — and before doing anything to benefit a foreign government.
“We didn’t necessarily have a meeting of the minds as to what was required under the law,” Zeidenberg said. “We just decided to file this.”
In a letter to the Department of Justice that Zeidenberg provided to the Center for Public Integrity, Zeidenberg said Iancu “sought to assist the Republic of Congo in helping the Congo to, among other things, defeat the terrorist organization Boko Haram.”
Abramoff never had a written or oral agreement with either Iancu or the Congolese government, Zeidenberg said. Nor did Iancu.
Nevertheless, the colorful narrative detailed in the new Department of Justice documents shows Abramoff going to great lengths to secure a meeting with Trump for Sassou Nguesso, whose more than three-decade rule has been marred by accusations of corruption and nepotism.
Abramoff “flew to Palm Beach on his own initiative, and without any compensation” the filing says.
While there, Abramoff called Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., “to see if he could assist with setting up a meeting with President-Elect Trump since Rep. Rohrabacher has been a leader in Congress opposing radical Islam.”
Abramoff then drafted a letter for Rohrabacher, who once visited Abramoff in prison, to send to Sassou Nguesso.
“It looked like what I wanted to say,” Rohrabacher told Politico.
When the meeting between Trump and Sassou Nguesso “proved impossible to obtain,” Abramoff asked Rohrabacher to set up a call.
Rohrabacher was obliging, but the call never happened. Instead, Abramoff set up a call between Rohrabacher and Sassou Nguesso in which Rohrabacher said he was interested in leading a delegation to the Republic of Congo.
Politico reported that Rohrabacher made the trip in February.
According to the new Department of Justice disclosure, Abramoff was also in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital, at the time, though he didn’t participate in the meeting between Rohrabacher and Sassou Nguesso.
“It is Mr. Abramoff’s understanding that nothing of substance was ultimately agreed upon during the meeting,” according to the disclosure. No other meetings were scheduled, according to the disclosure.
Does Abramoff have any plans to do any additional lobbying?
“I don’t know,” Zeidenberg said.
In 2006, Abramoff pleaded guilty to felonies and his name became synonymous with corruption in the nation’s capital. The scandal spurred the passage of new lobbying laws and ethics rules.
After his 2010 release, Abramoff’s political reformer efforts included writing a book, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” and proposing a slate of lobbying and campaign finance reforms.