For years, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was a lonely voice in Congress, advocating to legalize pot and return Alaska to Russia.
Now that he’s out of Congress after losing his seat in the 2018 midterms, it’s time to convert that accumulated clout into cash.
Rohrabacher — along with top aide Paul Behrends — opened a lobbying firm this year called R & B Strategies, with the company taking on a Kuwaiti client in a bid to free a Russian national imprisoned in the gulf state as its first representation.
Rohrabacher first suggested to the Wall Street Journal that he was planning on founding a political consulting firm in December 2018. TPM has now confirmed that Rohrabacher followed through on that plan, registering the firm in New Mexico with a northern Virginia address.
Though the former congressman is linked to the firm, R & B adviser Bill Jarrell told TPM that Rohrabacher has not yet done any lobbying on the firm’s behalf. Federal law requires that members of Congress wait at least a year before lobbying the chamber, though they can consult on political strategy.
Behrends (the B in R & B Strategies) previously worked for the House Foreign Affairs Committee before he was fired by then-chair Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) in part for failing to disclose a 2016 trip to Moscow with Rohrabacher. Behrends, a former lobbyist for Blackwater, was hired to join Rohrabacher’s personal staff after the firing.
Jarrell, a former Tom Delay staffer who worked as Rohrabacher’s transition director for his departure from Congress, told TPM that “the firm was never a plan.”
“Congressman Rohrabacher winning was the plan,” Jarrell, who is now a strategic advisor to R & B, added.
The firm’s only client so far is law firm Crowell & Moring.
But according to the registration form, filed in April 2019, the representation is being paid for by KGL Investment, the affiliate of a Kuwaiti logistics firm that has won billions of dollars in contracts from the U.S. military to supply American bases and military forces operating in the Middle East. The somewhat cryptic stated purpose on the form is “defense contacts on human rights.”
The representation focuses on the case of KGL Investment’s longtime director Masha Lazareva, who was thrown in Kuwaiti prison for more than a year on charges of embezzling $496 million. Lazareva denies the accusation, and KGL Investment sided with her in the case.
The Russian national was released in June amid pressure from the Russian government, and from a dream team of faded star lobbyists and notables. Aside from R&B Strategies, those calling for Lazareva’s release — and the end to litigation associated with it — include the brother of George W. Bush, Neil Bush; former FBI director Louis Freeh; and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. All have been pushing the U.S. government to insist on resolving the Lazareva issue.
The Daily Caller has run a series of bizarre stories on the matter, framing Lazareva’s incarceration as that of a “Christian businesswoman” trapped in the Middle East.
“My dad, who organized the coalition to liberate Kuwait, was proud till his last day that Kuwait was an honorable, respected member of a group of civilized nations,” the Daily Caller quoted Neil Bush as saying. “The last thing we want is for Kuwait to have a blemish on their otherwise good standing.”
He reportedly added that “the company that’s being harassed, to put it mildly, has provided great service to the U.S. Defense Department over many years.”
KGL Investment insists that its the victim of a smear campaign by another regional recipient of U.S. government defense contracts — a company called Agility.
An ongoing lawsuit between Agility and KGL Investment’s affiliated company, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport, revealed that KGL may have violated U.S. sanctions against Iran, according to the Project on Government Oversight. An attorney for KGL admitted in a December 2017 deposition that the company had built a “ghost structure” in order to conceal a joint venture it was running with a sanctioned Iranian partner.
Weeks after the filing, the KGL won another $1.38 billion logistics contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter in January 2018 demanding that the Department of Defense Inspector General investigate the allegations, with a view towards determining if the company’s actions “warrant its debarment and suspension from any U.S. contracting.”
Jarrell emphasized to TPM that R & B’s work for KGL Investment is solely focused on securing Lazareva’s “release, knowing that Kuwait is a foreign country, and that Congressman Rohrabacher could have nothing to do with any of that.”