Senators Push DOJ On FARA Compliance Of Brookings Institution

Government and Politics

August 18, 2022

Senators Push DOJ On FARA Compliance Of Brookings Institution

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), along with committee members John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) are calling on the Justice Department to detail steps being taken to ensure that the Brookings Institution and other think tanks tied to foreign governments and enterprises comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). In a letter to DOJ, the senators outline a multi-million-dollar relationship between Brookings and Qatar. FARA is a content-neutral transparency statute that requires the disclosure of work to influence U.S. policy or public opinion on behalf of a foreign government, political party or principal.

“FARA is an important statute that was designed not to prohibit activity but rather to require individuals to register with the DOJ if they are acting as an agent of a foreign government or enterprise to influence U.S. policy or public opinion.  This helps ensure transparency and accountability in the public policy arena,” the senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In 2007, Brookings partnered with the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch the Brookings Doha Center, making the center a foreign principal under FARA. The Qatari government donated an initial $5 million to launch the center, and made future funding contingent on a review of the center’s agenda for programs it developed. The arrangement made Brookings an agent of a foreign principal under FARA.

The center’s activities also appear to be aimed at influencing U.S. government policy and public opinion. The Doha Center held annual meetings of the U.S. Islamic World Forum with U.S. officials in attendance, and produced research, press statements and educational programming that can influence both policy and opinion.

“Based on the available evidence and the plain text of the agreement between the Brookings Institution and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, it is clear that a foreign principal had significant control over the Center and the Center itself was a foreign principal, the State of Qatar provided the Center with millions of dollars in financial support, and the Center most likely engaged in activity that it either intended or believed would influence the U.S. Government and public for the benefit of the foreign principal. 

The Senators are seeking details on whether the Justice Department has taken any action to assess Brookings’ compliance with FARA and whether Brookings sought an advisory opinion from the department on its responsibilities and that of its affiliates under the statute.

Though FARA has been law for decades, it’s rarely been enforced. Grassley is the author of the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act, a bill to beef up Justice Department tools to improve FARA enforcement. The bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support when Sen. Grassley first introduced it during the Trump administration, but no Democrat has agreed to cosponsor the same proposal since President Biden took office.

As then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley raised concerns about lax FARA enforcement in 2015 regarding lobbying work by former Clinton administration officials for a Georgian political party, and again in 2016 regarding a Russian effort to overturn U.S. sanctions. Grassley also raised concerns about work for Ukrainians by Paul Manafort and the Podesta Group. Grassley later held a hearing on the issue where Paul Manafort was subpoenaed to testify. Manafort was later indicted for FARA violations. More recently, Grassley questioned whether foreign state-owned media organizations and foreign business arrangements involving members of the Biden family complied with FARA.

Full text of the senators’ letter to Garland