Federal Politics

Published — June 22, 2017

Trump appointee is a Saudi government lobbyist

President Donald Trump talks with Saudi King Salman as they pose for photos with leaders at the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Jordan's King Abdallah II stands at right. Evan Vucci/AP

Richard Hohlt earning six figures from kingdom bent on influencing Trump

This article was co-published by NBC News and Public Radio International.

Introduction

One of President Donald Trump’s newest appointees is a registered agent of Saudi Arabia earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on the kingdom’s behalf, according to U.S. Department of Justice records reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

Since January, the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry has paid longtime Republican lobbyist Richard Hohlt about $430,000 in exchange for “advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.”

Trump’s decision to appoint a registered foreign agent to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships clashes with the president’s vow to clean up Washington and limit the influence of special interests.

Trump singled out lobbyists for foreign governments for special criticism, saying they shouldn’t be permitted to contribute to political campaigns. Hohlt is himself a Trump donor, though his contributions came before he registered to represent Saudi Arabia.

“I will issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a FOREIGN GOVERNMENT! #DrainTheSwamp,” he tweeted in October.

Key advisory body

The commission is essentially a part-time advisory body responsible for making final recommendations to the president of candidates for the prestigious White House fellowships, which President Lyndon B. Johnson created in 1964.

The candidates are usually accomplished professionals with sterling resumes. Fellows are typically given jobs in the White House and federal agencies. Past White House fellows include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

Hohlt said he is one of 19 commissioners who met over a weekend this month to interview the fellowship candidates — the commission’s only formal duty annually.

Hohlt stresses he has never lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump since he became president in January.

“That is not my role,” Hohlt said.

What role, then, does he play?

According to Hohlt’s disclosures with the Department of Justice, he registered to lobby for Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry in October and “provides them with advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.” He disclosed no direct contacts with government officials on the Saudis’ behalf as of April 30, the date covered by the latest Department of Justice report.

Hohlt said he was largely brought in to offer advice on overarching strategy and how the legislative process works.

He did directly contact some congressional offices in late May and June regarding an arms sale, he said, and those contacts will be disclosed in his next disclosure report, as required.

Hohlt added that he’s working for the Saudis without a formal contract. If the Saudis asked him to lobby for something the Trump administration opposed, “I’d say I’m not going to work on it,” Hohlt said.

For example, he said, the administration was in favor of the arms deal.

Trump strikes deals with Saudis

Trump’s first foreign trip as president came in May, when he visited Saudi Arabia.

While there, Trump touted the “tremendous” deals he said he struck with the Saudis, including an expanded arms agreement valued at $100 billion. During elaborate ceremonies, the Saudis heaped plaudits. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir praised Trump and praised his “vision,” “strength” and “decisiveness.”

Hohlt said he disclosed his Saudi lobbying job to Trump officials during the vetting process before his appointment.

White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said she had “nothing to add” in response to questions from the Center for Public Integrity about Trump’s appointment of Hohlt, including whether the Trump administration was aware Hohlt worked as a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry.

Love referred the question of whether the administration was aware of Hohlt’s representation of the Saudis to the White House fellows office, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Upon taking office, Trump issued an executive order on ethics that included, among other things, a lifetime ban on executive branch appointees engaging in work that would require registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, among other restrictions on lobbyists.

The law, known as FARA, is the same law that mandates disclosure of Hohlt’s work for Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s executive order doesn’t apply to part-time appointees such as Hohlt. Nonetheless, some government ethics experts still say the appointment presents a jarring contrast with the president’s statements.

And despite Trump’s order, he has issued ethics waivers to lobbyists who have taken full-time positions with the administration, including, for example, Michael Catanzaro, a former energy company lobbyist who is now a special assistant to the president and adviser on energy policy. The waiver allows Catanzaro to participate in matters on which he lobbied.

Trump donor

Hohlt is a Trump donor. He contributed $2,700, to Trump’s campaign in August and $5,000 to Trump’s transition in September, the maximum amounts permitted. Those contributions came before he registered to represent Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry in October.

Nonetheless, “Appointing someone who is registered under FARA as doing work for Saudi Arabia does seem odd at a time when he’s made a very big deal about not having people leave the government and then do work where they have to register under FARA,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization.

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, said, “There is truth to the slogan that personnel is policy. And so he’s appointing this lobbyist for Saudi Arabia to a commission that then recommends people for important positions.”

Hohlt also lobbies for numerous corporate clients. This year, he’s been registered to lobby on behalf of oil giant Chevron, the Motion Picture Association of America and a division of tobacco giant Altria, among others.

Asked about any potential conflict of interest, Hohlt pointed to the extremely part-time nature of his fellowship commission appointment.

“I guess I’m an old-fashioned lobbyist,” Hohlt said. “I know how to separate lobbying and not lobbying.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.