Foreign Affairs, Politics

The Swampiest Swamp in the History of Swamps

November 29, 2019
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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22: (AFP OUT) Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks during a meeting with President Donald Trump and state and local officials on school safety at The White House February 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

It turns out that the connections between President Donald Trump and Turkey are even stranger than we thought.

Consider the recent histories of two powerful Washington lobbying groups: Mercury and Ballard.

Brian Ballard is a heavyweight lobbyist who was featured Politico’s Playbook Power list in 2018, dubbed as “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington,” for his influence over the administration. He had been a major fundraiser for the Trump campaign and chairman of Trump’s campaign in Florida.

The government of Qatar is one of Ballard’s clients, and so was the government of Turkey until last month. Turkey alone paid roughly $2 million to Ballard’s firm over the last two years. The relationship between Turkey and Ballard ended after Turkey’s state-run bank Halkbank (which at the time had also been Ballard’s client) was indicted in federal court for evading U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions-evasion scheme had been spearheaded by Reza Zarrab, a Turkey-based gold trader who was born in Iran. Zarrab, of course, was later represented by Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal attorney.

The connections between Trump, Ballard, and Turkey go beyond Giuliani, though. In January, Brian Ballard hired Pam Bondi to be a member of his lobbying group.

You may remember Bondi because in 2016, she was briefly in the national news. In 2014, as the sitting attorney general in Florida, Bondi’s office had been investigating complaints against “Trump University.” Bondi personally solicited a campaign donation from Donald Trump. He wrote her PAC a check for $25,000. And a few days later—presto!—Bondi’s office announced that they were no longer pursuing the investigation against Trump University.

The entire affair was so corrupt-looking that ethics complaints were filed against Bondi with the Florida Commission on Ethics, the Florida Elections Commission, and the Florida Bar.

Fast forward to January 2019. After joining Ballard Partners, Bondi registered as a foreign agent for Qatar. And just last week, she left her lobbying position to join the White House as a member of Trump’s impeachment defense team.

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The other firm of note is Mercury Public Affairs, which is one of the three lobbying firms Paul Manafort used to boost the image of Russia. Two of Mercury’s other clients are the governments of Qatar and Turkey. Mercury’s managing director is Bryan Lanza, who joined Mercury in 2017. Before that, he was an adviser to Trump’s transition team. Before that, he worked for the Trump campaign.

And before that, he worked for Trump’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, when they were both at Citizens United SuperPAC.

Lanza is currently also a registered agent for the state-sponsored Turkish American Business Council (TAIK), a party involved in the aforementioned indictment with close with Erdogan. TAIK also has close ties with Jared Kushner, who runs America’s “backdoor” channel to the Turkish government.

“Drain the swamp.” lol

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri is a graduate student of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies. He grew up in Iran and left the country in 2011. He is currently seeking political asylum in the United States. Follow him @ShayKhatiri.