BY HAYES BROWN ON AUGUST 7, 2013 AT 1:45 PM | ThinkProgress CREDIT: AP
Two men were charged in a Chicago court on Tuesday for violating U.S. laws forbidding lobbying for Zimbabwe, and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling Obama transition team.
Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner stand accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in taking money from the Zimbabwean government to “provide consulting, public relations, and lobbying services” without informing the Treasury Department beforehand. In particular, the two allegedly attempted to sway the U.S. to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and other officials to the tune of $3.4 million in exchange for their efforts.
According to the criminal complaint, Israel and Turner told Mugabe, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono, and other Zimbabwean officials of “their association with many public officials who purportedly had close connections with then President Elect Barack Obama” while arranging the lobbying deal. The two spent months cultivating Illinois legislators — identified only as State Representative A and State Senator A — to come around to the Zimbabwean government’s thinking on the need for better relations between the U.S. and Zimbabwe.
State Senator A took a trip to Africa in November 2008, which included an hour long meeting with Mugabe and Turner, after which Turner said State Senator A “now understand[s] the issues and will convey back to the President Elect.” A letter that Turner provided to Gono “stated that State Senator A hoped that the election of President Obama would cause the U.S. to take ‘a new and fresh look’” at the sanctions the Bush administration had placed on the country.
State Representative A joined State Senator A in another trip to Zimbabwe the following month, the latter of whom later wrote to President-Elect Obama to thank him for purportedly giving him the opportunity to speak of his recent meeting with Mugabe. It was that opportunity, however, that seems to have led to the charges the two lobbyists currently face:
On or about December 15, 2008, a scheduler for President Elect Obama’s transition team sent an email to another member of the transition team stating that State Representative A “wants a phone call from [transition team officials] regarding a meeting he had last week in Zimbabwe. I am not sure who to pass this on to but it’s the second time they have called.” The transition team forwarded this email to the FBI based on its concerns that State Representative A had violated sanctions in his travels to Zimbabwe.
The sanctions in question were put in place following the Mugabe government’s collapsing the Zimbabwean economy and the subsequent crackdown on human rights seen from Harare. While traveling to Zimbabwe isn’t covered under the embargoes, the “prohibition applies to services performed in the United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located, on behalf of or for the benefit of a Zimbabwean whose property or interests in property are blocked.” That includes Mugabe and Gono, making Israel and Thomas’ dealings problematic to the Federal government.
Apparently unaware of this turn of events, Israel and Turner continued their efforts unabated. In particular, they convinced three U.S. Representatives — two from the Chicago-area, one from California — to invite Gono and Mugabe to meetings and forums in the United States and facilitate visas for Gomo to enter the country. An examination of a piece of legislation the affidavit lists the Chicago-area Congressmen as co-sponsoring reveals that the two are Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Danny Davis (D-IL). Both congressmen’s offices deny any wrongdoing in the case.
Obama has so far continued to extend the sanctions on Zimbabwe on a year-by-year basis, showing little of the supposed influence Israel and Thomas claimed over the president. Zimbabwe meanwhile recently concluded a presidential election in which Mugabe — who has been in office since 1980 — won a 7th term in a controversial vote. While many African states were quick to congratulate Mugabe, the opposition has deemed the poll unfair and the U.S. has called it “deeply flawed.” (HT: Ryan Reilly)