Qatar, blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terror in recent days by U.S. President Donald Trump, hired former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s firm as its lobbyist, according to disclosures released by the Justice Department Friday. Qatar hired Ashcroft Law Firm, LLC for 90 days, agreeing to pay it $2.5 million to help the Persian Gulf nation comply with U.S. money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulations and to stress its efforts to combat global terrorism, according to disclosures filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That law requires lobbyists for foreign clients to disclose information about their activities.
In an appearance Friday with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Trump called Qatar a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.” To combat that image, Ashcroft promised to enlist former government leaders who held senior positions in the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the intelligence community. Their services would be paid for out of the $2.5 million fee, according to the four-page contract, which also says that Ashcroft, who served as attorney general from 2001 to 2005 under President George W. Bush, will lead the effort.
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Contacted after business hours, Ashcroft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The contract cites the “urgent need to commence work immediately” which will be “a top priority” for the firm. In the wake of Trump’s trip to the Middle East last month, four U.S. Arab allies took steps to isolate Qatar over its ties to Iran and support of Islamist groups. Saudi Arabia, the United Arabic Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties to the nation Monday. In a series of tweets the same day, Trump congratulated the Saudis for their actions.
Shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations to ease their blockade of Qatar on Friday, Trump seemed to contradict his top diplomat. In a joint appearance in the Rose Garden with the Romanian head of state, Trump called the actions against Qatar “hard but necessary.” “Nations came to me and spoke to me about confronting Qatar,” Trump said in prepared remarks. “I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding — they have to end that funding — and its extremist ideology.”
Qatar’s population is smaller than Houston’s, but it has a sovereign wealth fund with stakes in global companies from Barclays Plc to Credit Suisse Group. It’s also a home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s central command in the region. Aschroft’s firm promised to provide crisis response and management, program and system analysis, media outreach and advocacy, stressing Qatar’s efforts to combat global terror, according to the contract. As part of that effort, the firm plans “a comprehensive legal and government relations strategy,” one that will communicate broadly and to “certain domestic agencies and leaders.”
In addition to Ashcroft, six members of his firm registered as lobbyists for Qatar, including Christopher Peele, a former special trial attorney in the fraud section of the Justice Department, and Michael Sullivan, a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.