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In what could mark a sea change in the enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, for the first time in more than 30 years the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit seeking to compel an individual – the former Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Stephen A. Wynn − to register as a foreign agent.
Broadly speaking, FARA is a disclosure regime that requires individuals to register with the Attorney General if, on behalf of foreign clients, they lobby US government officials or seek to influence the US public.
The DOJ alleges that in 2017, former RNC Vice President of Finance Elliott Broidy acted as an agent for former People’s Republic of China Vice Minister of Public Security Sun Lijun, as well as than the PRC itself. , hired Mr. Wynn to help pressure President Trump and his administration to expel a billionaire Chinese businessman, Guo Wengui, from the United States. After leaving China in 2014, Mr. Guo was accused by the PRC government of various forms of corruption, as well as kidnapping and rape. Mr. Guo applied for asylum in the United States in 2017 and lives in Manhattan. In 2020, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate FARA for his role in the PRC’s influence campaign.
The DOJ complaint probably came as no surprise to Mr. Wynn. The Justice Department only brought the action after advising Mr Wynn three times that he needed to register as a foreign agent. According to the complaint, in a letter dated April 13, 2022, the DOJ informed him that he had 30 days to register.
The action continues the DOJ’s recent and aggressive enforcement of FARA, including the indictment last year of a senior Trump campaign adviser, Thomas Barrack, for alleged efforts on behalf of the UAE to influence campaign and subsequently the Trump administration, to take pro-UAE foreign policy positions. The DOJ’s efforts have not been without setbacks, including the 2019 acquittal of Greg Craig, President Obama’s former White House attorney, who was accused of failing to register as a foreign agent for the work he and his law firm have done on behalf of Ukraine. Despite this loss, the complaint shows that the DOJ will not hesitate to use the legal system, barring criminal prosecution, to force individuals to comply with FARA when it deems registration necessary.
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