Does America Really Need the Foreign Agents Registration Act?
What do President Obama’s White House counsel, President Trump’s national security adviser, and campaign chairman, and a finance chairman of the Republican National Committee under George W. Bush have in common with an Iranian-American political scientist who has been a frequent op-ed contributor to The New York Times?
All five of them have been ensnared by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That federal law, enacted in 1938 amid anxiety about German influence as World War II loomed, carries criminal penalties including prison time and fines for noncompliance.
Obama’s White House counsel, Gregory Craig, was charged in 2019 with making false statements about work that he and his law firm at the time did for Ukraine and a private Ukrainian individual. A judge dismissed one count and a jury acquitted him in 2019 of the other one.
Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing about his work for Turkey. Trump pardoned Flynn in December 2020.
Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was charged in 2017 with, among other things, failure to properly register as a foreign agent of Ukraine. Manafort, too, was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.
George W. Bush’s RNC finance chairman, Elliott Broidy, pleaded guilty in October 2020 to a count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act by advancing Chinese and Malaysian interests without properly disclosing the representation. Trump pardoned Broidy in January 2021.
And now Kaveh Afrasiabi, who has had more than a dozen letters and opinion pieces published in The New York Times, has been arrested and charged with being an unregistered foreign agent of Iran. Afrasiabi acknowledged to me that he had “received checks” from the Iranian U.N. mission’s bank account, but said he had done nothing illegal and did not believe the Foreign Agents Registration Act applied to his activities. The Department of Justice press release announcing the charges said he had been paid about $265,000 by the Iranian U.N. mission since 2007 and had been covered by its health insurance plan.
The law requires registration by agents of foreign principals if the agents engage in “political activities” for or in the interest of the foreign principal, or if the agents act within the United States as a “public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political
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