An interesting new twist in the ongoing debate over Qatari influence in American politics. Qatar is an Islamic state sponsor of terror with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the summer of 2018, congressman-turned-lobbyist Jim Moran was trying to recruit his former colleagues to put pressure on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Moran was doing so on behalf of one of his clients, the government of Qatar. And he had a pot of money, left over from years of donations to his reelection campaigns, that he could steer to his lobbying targets.
Throughout June and July, Moran, a “senior legislative advisor” at the firm McDermott Will & Emery, reached out to at least a dozen House and Senate members of both parties as part of the effort. He provided them with suggested text for the letter, which he hoped the legislators would send to the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. urging him to ease travel restrictions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
One of the congressmen Moran pitched was Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL). On June 15, 2018, Moran’s assistant emailed Crist’s chief of staff with a draft letter they hoped the congressman would send under his name. Moran’s staff even followed up with suggested edits.
Crist obliged. On June 20, he sent a letter to the Saudi ambassador that lifted huge portions verbatim from Moran’s suggested language.
A month later, Moran wrote a $1,000 check to Crist’s reelection campaign. But the money didn’t come from Moran personally. Instead, the former congressman used his campaign committee, which remains active to this day, more than four years after he left the House. It was the first time Moran, either personally or through his campaign committee, had contributed to Crist. Neither Moran nor Crist responded to requests for comment.
Zombie campaign committees are a bizarre and ongoing issue. But using them to aid lobbying for an enemy government is really something else.
According to Justice Department filings, Moran first reached out to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s (D-MD) office about the proposed letter on June 12. On the very same day, Moran donated $500 to Ruppersberger’s reelection campaign. The letter went out on Ruppersberger’s official congressional letterhead on July 10, 2018, and the entire missive was copied nearly verbatim—with just some minor rearranging of its structure—from Moran’s suggested text.
Like Crist, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) had never received a contribution from Moran or his campaign committee until Moran started shopping around his Saudi ambassador letter. Moran for Congress donated $1,000 to Menendez on June 20, 2018, a few weeks before his chief of staff got an email with suggested text for the letter. Menendez doesn’t appear to have sent one.
All of this is a snapshot in a larger influence operation.