The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani speaks to the press with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on April 10, 2018. Trump initially backing the blockade and calling Qatar a “funder of terrorism at a very high level,” but later seemed to soften when he hosted Qatar’s leader at the White House. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Stuart Jolly is the latest figure in Trump’s orbit to profit from an intense Gulf State struggle to win influence in Washington.
By BEN SCHRECKINGER
02/23/2019 06:40 AM EST
A former national field director for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign registered as a foreign agent of Qatar late last year, the latest figure in Trump’s orbit to profit from a scramble by Gulf states to win favor in Washington.
Qatar’s hiring of the operative, Stuart Jolly, adds to the list of allies of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski that have forged ties to Qatar, a gas-rich nation currently under a blockade that Saudi Arabia and others imposed over allegations that the country was funding terrorism and too cozy with Iran, among other grievances. The dispute has set off an intense, and lucrative, struggle for influence in Washington. Both sides have dished out millions of dollars to lobbyists and public relations firms as they compete for favorable treatment from the Trump administration and Congress.Story Continued Below
Qatar’s government has already put Lewandowski’s former lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, on a $500,000 monthly retainer, and it has arranged interviews and travel for a Lewandowski friend, radio host John Fredericks, who sometimes broadcasts his show from the Capitol Hill row house known as the “Lewandowski Embassy.”
Doha hopes the U.S. government — which maintains a strategically vital airbase in the country — will pressure its neighbors to end the blockade. Jolly’s contract called for him to help Qatar arrange meetings with U.S. officials.
Jolly worked with Lewandowski at the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity before both men joined the Trump campaign. Jolly said his Qatar work was unrelated to his relationship with Lewandowski, who continues to have the president’s ear, despite alienating many figures in Trump’s inner circle and being fired from the campaign in June 2016.
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Lewandowski said he has not spoken to Jolly for three years. Lewandowski also told POLITICO that he had never personally dealt with Qatar or done work on its behalf. “Never been there. Never spoke to anyone there,” he wrote in a text message. Lewandowski reportedly left Avenue Strategies a few months before Qatar hired the firm.
Jolly’s work for Qatar’s Washington embassy came as a subcontractor to Gary Silversmith, a Washington lawyer. The scope of Silversmith’s contract was relatively modest: $50,000 a month for three months, beginning last October, according to disclosures. A majority of that money — $31,000 a month — was funneled to Jolly. His subcontractor work was first reported by the Middle East-focused outlet Al-Monitor.
The pair was hired to provide research and arrange meetings with U.S. government officials, according to their disclosures. They were examining the possibility of organizing a pro-Qatar grassroots movement in the U.S. but ended up doing very little work, they said.
“It really wasn’t much at all,” Jolly said.
“Frankly, they didn’t really need anything,” Silversmith said of his clients. “They never really asked me to do anything.”
Silversmith said he funneled the majority of his pay to Jolly because “I thought he’d be doing the majority of the work.” He added, “Maybe it wasn’t a good business decision on my part, but that’s OK.” In the first months of the administration, Jolly worked at Sonoran Policy Group, a lobbying firm founded by operative Robert Stryk, who helped Lewandowski shop an abortive $1.2 million book deal in 2017. Jolly left the firm in mid-2017.
Around the same time, in June 2017, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, cut off diplomatic relations with the tiny nation and imposed a blockade, angry not only over Qatar’s relationship with Iran, but also by critical coverage of their governments on Qatar’s Al Jazeera news network.
As relations between the Gulf states have deteriorated, they have showered money on those close to Trump in hopes of influencing his administration.
Elliott Broidy, who recently resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, lobbied against Qatar after landing a $200 million security contract from the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, received a $100,000 brokerage fee from a Qatari royal for a real estate deal in Florida. Qatar has also hired Brian Ballard, who has worked as a lobbyist for Trump and served as his campaign finance chairman for Florida, among other Trump world figures who have profited from the melee.
Trump and his top advisers have sent mixed signals on the Qatar blockade, with Trump initially backing the blockade and calling Qatar a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.” But Trump later seemed to soften when he hosted Qatar’s leader at the White House and praised him for his anti-terror work. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reportedly asked Saudi Arabia to end the blockade during a visit last year.
Both Silversmith and Sonoran Policy Group registered as agents of Kenya in 2017, though Silversmith said he did not know Jolly until they were introduced by a mutual contact last year.
Silversmith is a newcomer to the foreign influence game — the Kenya and Qatar engagements are his only Foreign Agents Registration Act filings. Silversmith’s law practice previously focused on torts and debt collection. In 2013, he added personal injury cases to his portfolio.
Silversmith is best known in Washington for his ownership of the USS Sequoia, which served as a presidential yacht from the Hoover administration until 1977. He bought the yacht in 2000 and restored it, earning a citation from the secretary of the Navy along the way. A decade later, the Russian conglomerate Gazprom reportedly expressed interest in buying the yacht, precipitating a high-profile legal fight that resulted in the ship’s ownership being transferred to a Washington investment group, FE Partners, for zero dollars in November 2016.
Silversmith — who attended a reception in New York with members of the Qatari royal family in September, during the United Nations general assembly — said he did not know why Qatar awarded him a contract. “They said they’re hiring various Washington lawyers to give them advice, and I said ‘OK,’” he said. “It was really very broad. it was just to give advice.”
Both Silversmith and Jolly said their work with Qatar has ended and they do not expect it to be renewed. A spokesman for the Qatari embassy did not respond to a request for comment.
“They don’t say very much,” said Silversmith, who added that he does not know why the embassy did not extend his contract. “They didn’t give us a reason.”
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