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Lobbyists for listed Iranian terror group face new scrutiny

Retired US politicians, generals, and officials have been lobbying on behalf of the Iranian group MEK, listed as a terrorist group by the State Department. 

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While ex-US officials are receiving money from the MEK, rather than providing it, the tolerance of the close work with the group has been a Washington oddity for some time. There's some "enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic around this (the MEK hates the current Iranian regime), and some of its advocates view it is a government in waiting for Iran (much as they viewed Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress a decade ago). But the group has limited support inside Iran, and the Green Movement views the MEK with as much suspicion as the Iranian government does.

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Now, a growing number of questions are being asked about the activism for the MEK.

A Washington Post article last week wonders if the officials could be prosecuted based on the Foreign Agent's Registration Act (FARA), which requires US citizens lobbying for foreign powers in the US to disclose their roles and officially register with the government. The article quotes David Cole, a scholar of constitutional law at Georgetown, as saying FARA should probably apply to the friends of the MEK. And continues:

Federal lobbying law defines a foreign “agent” as someone who acts “at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal, or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign principal.” It covers activities that include acting as a publicity agency or political consultant or representing the interests of the foreign group “before any agency or official of the government of the United States.”

“The only defense would be if you can claim that you’re doing it on your own, unpaid,” said a retired senior U.S. official and expert on lobbying law, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss hypothetical cases covered by the statute. “But if you’re getting money from the same group to make speeches, it’s pretty hard to make the case.”

There have been just the slightest stirrings of legal action recently. In June, NBC News cited unnamed sources alleging that "speaking firms representing ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton have received federal subpoenas as part of an expanding investigation into the source of payments to former top government officials who have publicly advocated removing" the MEK from the State terrorist list. "The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People's Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups."

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