February 25, 2020

Between his seven-year stint as spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations and his confirmation as President Trump's ambassador to Germany in 2018, new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell ran his own public relations firm, Capitol Media Partners. Now that he is temporarily in charge of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, his PR work for foreign interests — paid and, according to Grenell and his lawyer, voluntary — is under special scrutiny, The Washington Post reports.

"The law requires people who advocate in the United States on behalf of a foreign power to register and disclose their activities," the Post reports. "Grenell did not register, records show. Craig Engle, who said he has been Grenell's lawyer for several years, said he was not required to." Two lawyers who specialize in the relevant law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), told the Post that Grenell's work for a U.S. nonprofit funded almost entirely by Hungary's far-right nationalist government would, in other cases, have "drawn the attention of Justice Department investigators tasked with enforcing" FARA.

Engle told Responsible Statecraft that Grenell "knew that the Hungarian government was the sponsor" of the nonprofit, the Magyar Foundation, but didn't have to file under FARA. Outside experts disagree. Engle is also the Magyar Foundation's chief counsel.

Grenell also faces questions about his public advocacy for Moldova's former governing coalition and, in particular, Vladimir Plahotniuc, Moldova's richest man. In as series of 2016 op-eds, Grenell said Plahotniuc was being unfairly accused of corruption and bank fraud by a whistleblower. Plahotniuc fled Moldova in 2019 after his government fell, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last month that Plahotniuc is barred from entering the U.S. due to his "corrupt actions." Engle said Plahotniuc didn't pay Grenell, but one of Grenell's clients was the late GOP strategist Arthur Finkelstein, and Finkelstein hired Grenell to act as a media consultant for Plahotniuc, ProPublica reports.

"Undisclosed work for a foreign politician would ordinarily pose a problem for anyone applying for a security clearance or a job in a U.S. intelligence agency because it could make the person susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail, according to the official policy from the office that Trump tapped Grenell to lead," writes ProPublica's Isaac Arnsdorf. Engle told the Post that Finkelstein "had dozens of clients at a time and only he knew who they were." Peter Weber

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