WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors have obtained records that John R. Allen, a retired four-star Marine general who commanded all US forces in Afghanistan and now heads a prestigious think tank in Washington, secretly lobbied for the government of Qatar, and lied to investigators about it. Turn around and try to withhold evidence required by a federal subpoena, according to Court documents.
The court records are the latest evidence of a broad investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI into the influence that wealthy Arab states such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wield in Washington.
General Allen’s records were filed in April in Federal District Court in Central California in an application for a warrant to search General Allen’s electronic communications.
Other filings in the case appear to remain sealed, and the public release of the order’s application may have been accidental. The application provides evidence that General Allen joined the secret pressure plan alongside Richard J. Olson, the former US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and Imad Al-Zubayri Business Manager with contacts in the Middle East.
Mr. Al-Zubayri is serving a prison sentence To breach foreign lobbyists, campaign finance, and tax laws, as well as to obstruct the course of justice. Mr. Olson agreed to plead guilty to participating in Qatari lobbying efforts in violation of a ban on such activity during the first year after leaving diplomatic service.
General Allen’s spokesman, Bo Phillips, said in a statement: “John Allen voluntarily cooperated with the Government’s investigation into this matter. John Allen’s efforts in relation to Qatar in 2017 were to protect the interests of the United States and military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no fee for his efforts.”
Court documents were I mentioned earlier on Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Federal law requires anyone lobbying for a foreign government to register with the Department of Justice. In recent years, the department has cracked down on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. There is no record of General Allen recording lobbying for Qatar.
Federal prosecutors have indicated a special interest in potential abuses involving the Persian Gulf states, which have developed close relationships with business and political figures in the United States. Last month, the Department of Justice filed a new indictment in an ongoing case against Thomas J. Barack Jr., a friend and unofficial advisor to President Donald J. Trump, for acting on behalf of the United Arab Emirates to guide US foreign policy during the Trump administration.
The plan described in documents about General Allen unfolded at the start of the Trump administration five years ago, after he left the military and before he became president of the Brookings Institution think tank. Qatar has been frantically trying to fend off a campaign of pressure and economic blockade by its rivals in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Rumors of a possible Saudi ground invasion swirled, Mr. Trump appeared to back the Saudis and Emiratis, and both sides in the conflict were spending heavily to win support in Washington.
According to the report, Mr. Al-Zubayri “viewed the diplomatic crisis as a business opportunity” and began plotting to sell lobbying services to Qatar. Call Mr. Olson, who recently left the government. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Olson in turn brought General Allen.
“If we can do that, we’ll have a radius,” Mr. Zubairy wrote to Mr. Olson in a WhatsApp message cited in the recording about their proposed plan with General Allen.
The court document provides a detailed account of several weeks in June 2017 when General Allen was recruited by Mr. Olson and Mr. Zubairy to meet with senior Qatari and US officials to defuse the Gulf crisis – and how General Allen saw the potential for funds to be made involved.
The document states that he agreed to travel to Doha, the Qatari capital, at Mr Zubairy’s expense and negotiated a payment of $20,000, which he referred to as his “speaker’s fee”. The document quotes one letter from General Allen outlining his goal of making more money in the future – “working towards a fuller arrangement for a long-term relationship.”
Other messages cited in the document show that General Allen pursued other business with Qatar-affiliated companies, one of which could have provided him in commission in excess of $1 million. The document said the FBI had not determined whether he had received the money.
During this period, General Allen met several times with US officials, including members of Congress and H.R. McMaster, a retired three-star general who was National Security Adviser in the White House at the time. But the document, citing an interview with General McMaster by federal agents, stated that General Allen never told General McMaster that he was being paid for his work.
The document also described General Allen’s efforts to obstruct the investigation by lying to federal agents who asked him about his lobbying efforts during an interview last August, and withholding documents that showed his financial interest in his interactions with Qatari officials.
“Allen’s production was devoid of any documents revealing his financial interest in the diplomatic crisis, and almost devoid of any documents showing the involvement of Zuberi and Olson,” the search warrant read.
General Allen is a former deputy commander of US Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and a large base in Qatar.
His time in central command helped him strengthen ties with senior Qatari leaders, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of the country. In 2011, he was awarded the 4th star and commanded all US and NATO forces in Afghanistan until 2013.
In 2016, a year before his lobbying effort for Qatar began, General Allen was an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and that year he spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
He took over as president of the Brookings Institution in November 2017.
Brookings once had a big campus in Doha. The campus was set up years before General Allen became head of the think tank. In September, according to websiteThe Brookings Institution has ended its association with the Doha Institute, now called the Middle East Council on Global Affairs.
Contemporary notes by Mr. Olson in a June 2017 conference call show that Mr. Zuberi agreed to pay the group’s travel expenses and speaking fees to General Allen, but emphasized the need for confidentiality.
The filing indicates that General Allen sought other payment methods as well. An Israeli security company, Fifth Dimension, agreed to pay him $10,000 a month plus a 1.5 percent commission on any new business he generates, and he sought credit to persuade Qatar to sign a $72 million contract with the company that same weekend. Trip – potentially earning him over $1 million in fees.
And he wrote to the company in an email quoted in the filing that his endorsement “is likely to complement decision making.”
General Allen was also a board member of Texas-based artificial intelligence firm SparkCognition, and apparently tried to sell a $30 million contract for its services to Qatar as well. “The note is in their hands,” General Allen wrote to the CEO shortly after returning from his visit.
General Allen appears to have acknowledged that he was in fact working as a subcontractor in the lobbying effort, most notably after the emir of Qatar and other senior officials insisted that Mr. Zubairy be excluded from a meeting with the former general and ex-ambassador.
“You should have stepped in and said no, you have to stay,” Mr. Zubairy said in a WhatsApp message to the ambassador, adding, “Does General Allen know where he is or his position?”
In an email for adjustments, General Allen, according to court documents, thanked Mr. Zubairy for his “stewardship” and regretted his dismissal. “I think there are a lot of opportunities,” he added.
Mark Mazzetti reports in Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick in New York. Seamus Hughes Contribute to the preparation of reports.