Embattled Kuwaiti defense contractor building foreign influence operation with firms tied to Mueller probe

It appears the controversy over the letters is the motivation behind the foreign influence campaign and lobbying contracts.

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SOURCEOpen Secrets

A Kuwaiti defense contractor that plead guilty to stealing U.S. government funds is assembling a team of lobbyists and foreign influence operatives from high-profile, and sometimes controversial, firms.

Agility Public Warehousing recently inked contracts with three firms to represent its interests through lobbying and foreign influence campaigns, the first time the Kuwaiti defense contractor has been listed as a foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. All of the firms have connections to people indicted or convicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which made headlines for a fine exceeding $4.6 million for failing to disclose its role in former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s controversial influence campaigns in Ukraine, was the first firm to register as a foreign agent of Agility.

Within days, Agility inked two more contracts: one with law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and another with SGR LLC, a firm subpoenaed by Mueller over its role in covert influence operations orchestrated by former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn later admitted making false statements related to secretly acting as a foreign agent in a Turkish influence campaign.

Despite years of controversy surrounding defense contracts and legal battles, these are Agility’s first appearances as a foreign principal in FARA filings, which are made available through OpenSecrets’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The Kuwaiti contractor agreed to pay a $95 million fine and gave up $249 million in payments for military contracts after pleading guilty in 2017 to defrauding the federal government. It continued to be awarded lucrative government contracts as the case proceeded, however. 

More recently, Agility faced defamation allegations over a pair of letters the contractor’s employees sent to U.S. government agencies under the pseudonym “Scott Wilson” accusing a rival contractor of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled in July that the letters could not serve as a basis for defamation claims because they were expressions of opinion protected by the First Amendment even though the truthfulness of the accusations has been brought into serious question. 

The letters accused a rival government contractor of violating U.S. sanctions over its ties to an Iranian shipping company. After the company filed a lawsuit against Agility and “John Doe,” Agility admitted that its employees wrote the Wilson letters, acting within the scope of their employment. 

It appears the controversy over the letters is the motivation behind the foreign influence campaign and lobbying contracts.

SGR will provide government and public relations services to Agility, “including outreach to media and government officials, in connection with potential litigation regarding defamation allegations,” according to its registration materials. Services will also include “advice on lobbying and public relations issues related to the representation, and lobbying,” according to Quinn Emmanuel. Both Skadden and Quinn Emmanuel have preexisting relationships providing legal services to Agility. 

SGR inked a $30,000-per-month deal with Agility, but the cost of Skadden and Quinn Emmanuel’s lobbying and foreign influence campaigns for Agility isn’t clear. 

In its registration materials, Skadden says the firm has “received legal fees and reimbursement from Agility solely in connection with legal services” and it has “not yet received any compensation in connection with the activities prompting this registration.” Quinn Emmanuel’s services agreement provides some details on the firm’s billing structure, but little information on the financial arrangement or cost of public relations and lobbying services to be provided to Agility. 

SGR and Quinn Emmanuel also registered separately as foreign agents of Bader El-Jeaan, a senior partner with Kuwait-based law firm Meysan Partners. He serves as an outside counsel for Agility. Quinn Emmanuel is providing joint legal representation to El-Jeaan and Agility, according to the firm’s FARA records. 

Although Skadden and SGR are Agility’s first two foreign agents disclosed to the Justice Department, the defense contractor has previously paid other firms to lobby based on filings under the domestic-focused Lobbying Disclosure Act

Agility’s influence operations are bolstered by Venable LLP, a firm it paid $70,000 in the first half of this year, according to filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The firm reported lobbying on “government contracting and related issues” as well as the National Defense Authorization Act.

In the past, the Kuwaiti government has also helped facilitate some of the influence operations for Agility, which originated as a Kuwait state-owned entity. 

In a 2009 letter, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene with the Justice Department and help nix a criminal fraud case against Agility “in consideration of the special relations between our two friendly countries.”

Kuwait’s government has donated between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, some of the foreign donations to the foundation that raised issues for then-candidate Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential campaign.

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