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The New Lord Tim Bell: Business as Usual on K Street

One of the murkiest details in Washington has to be the coziness that repressive governments around the world have with lobbyists on K Street. Heads of foreign governments, and even yes, war criminals, will use K Street’s influence to change U.S. policy.

On June 12th, the lobbying firm, Mercury, updated its FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) paperwork highlighting its work on behalf of the GNA (Government of National Accord) which is one of the factions seeking power in Libya. Some reporting indicates the firm received $2 million for their services. It is known that Mercury started representing the GNA on April 26, 2019, at a time when there was uncertainty regarding which faction would gain the support of the Trump administration. Would it be the GNA or the LNA (Libyan National Army) led by General Haftar.

One question that begs to be asked is how the GNA became involved with a prominent Washington lobbying firm? The answer can likely be attributed to Turkey and Qatar, who are both clients of the firm. Both Turkey and Qatar are heavily invested in Libya and a favorable outcome.

Another recent event leads one to wonder just how this relationship is. The timing of a recent visit to Tripoli by the head of AFRICOM to hold talks with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj along with the U.S. ambassador to Libya has to be scrutinized. After this visit calls were made to have all foreign troops leave Libya. The conflict in Libya has entered a new phase with no clear ending in sight.

This is not the first time that Mercury found itself at the epicenter of controversy here in the United States. During the 2016 presidential election, it was revealed that Paul Manafort was still on the payroll of Mercury handling projects in Ukraine at the same time he was working as a key advisor to Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican National Convention. He subsequently resigned his position with the Trump campaign. It should be noted that Manafort was convicted in Federal Court of crimes committed during his tenure working on the Ukrainian contract with Mercury.

Besides Turkey and Qatar, the firm has represented autocratic regimes such as Cameroon. The country has been the scene of an underreported but deadly conflict between the Francophone government and the Anglophone community in the southwestern part of the country since 2017. Mercury was contracted not by the government of Paul Biya but by a private company within Cameroon. Relations between the United States and Cameroon have since deteriorated.

Recent filings indicate that some new clients include the Zimbabwe government and the separatist movement in the Biafra region of Nigeria. The firm was also representing one of the political parties during the Guyana presidential election debacle. This firm has some skilled people who use their talents for some unsavory people around the world and charge a pretty penny for their efforts.

Access to Washington has been the dream of every opposition party or insurgent group for decades. It seems that if you have the right ally a situation can get resolved rather quickly. It would appear that Mercury is prepared to surround itself with some pretty dubious characters. Regardless, these reputations are duly and properly earned for a reason.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.