John Venners, a Washington D.C. based public relations man who aided an influence effort to ease international economic sanctions against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, made $40,000 in campaign contributions since 2004 to the Republican House and Senate Campaign Committees, according to public records.
Venners was a partner in the influence venture on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s regime with William Timmons, a Washington lobbyist who was tapped by John McCain to play a leading role in his presidential transition team, according to federal court records and pubic investigative reports by the United Nations.
As I first wrote in this story posted at the Huffington Post, Timmons played a central role over a five year period in the lobbying campaign on behalf of Saddam’s regime to ease sanctions against Iraq shortly after the end of the first Gulf War.
Timmons declined to comment for that article as well as for this one. Venners did not respond to messages seeking comment at his office, or that of his wife, a Washington political consultant.
Samir Vincent, an Iraqi born American citizen who Timmons and Venners worked closely with on the influence campaign, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in January 2005 that he acted as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Tongsun Park, a second lobbyist who Timmons and Venners also worked closely with, was convicted by a federal jury in July 2006 on charges that he too violated the Foreign Agent Registration
During the same period beginning in 1992, when Timmons and Venners worked closely with Vincent and Park on the lobbying campaign, they were also attempting to negotiate a contract with the Iraqi government to purchase and resell Iraqi oil. The four men stood to share at least $45 million if the business deal went through. In the end, the arrangement failed because the sanctions were not lifted.
Federal campaign finance records, some of which are available online, show that between 2004 and 2008, Venners made some $40,000 in campaign contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which raise money to finance, respectively, Republican Senate and House candidates. Between 2006 and 2008, Venners made more than $16,000 in additional campaign contributions to individual campaigns of House and Senate Republicans, according to public records. He contributed during the same period to a single Democrat during that period, Sen. Max Baucus, of Montana, whom he gave $1,000.
On its website, the NRSC says of itself: “The National Republican Senatorial Committee is the only political committee solely dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate, and re-taking the majority in 2008.
“The NRSC provides invaluable support and assistance to current and prospective Republican U.S. Senate candidates in the areas of budget planning, election law compliance, fundraising, communications tools and messaging, research and strategy.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee does much the same thing for Republican House candidates.
Timmons and Venners were cooperating witnesses in the federal investigations of Vincent and Park and were never charged by prosecutors with wrongdoing. And information made public during the case indicated that Vincent and Park often engaged in illegal activity–such as acting as middlemen on behalf of the Iraqi regime to pay millions of dollars in bribes to U.N. officials to ease economic sanctions against Iraq–was done without Timmons and Venners knowing what Vincent and Park were up to.
But other evidence made public during the trial demonstrated that Timmons knew that he and Vincent were working closely with top aides to Saddam Hussein in the lobbying campaign to ease or lift economic sanctions against the Iraqi regime.
Testimony and records made public during Park’s criminal trial detail that virtually everything Timmons did while working on the lobbying campaign was within days conveyed by Vincent to either one or both of Saddam Hussein’s top aides, Tariq Aziz and Nizar Hamdoon. Vincent also testified that he almost always relayed input from the Iraqi aides back to Timmons.
Talking points that Timmons produced for the lobbyists to help ease the sanctions, for example, were reviewed ahead of time by Aziz, Vincent testified in court. Proposals that Timmons himself circulated to U.S. officials as part of the effort were written with the assistance of the Iraqi officials, and were also sent ahead of time with Timmons’ approval to Aziz, other records show.
Timmons’ activities occurred in the years following the first Gulf War, when Washington considered Iraq to be a rogue enemy state and a sponsor of terrorism. His dealings on behalf of the deceased Iraqi leader stand in stark contrast to the views his current employer held at the time.
John McCain strongly supported the 1991 military action against Iraq, and as recently as Sunday described Saddam Hussein as a one-time to the region who “stated categorically that he would acquire weapons of mass destruction and that he would use them whenever he could.”
At Park’s trial, Vincent testified that Venners, who was already working closely with Vincent on the influence campaign, first suggeted that they needed help from “people that he knew very well” who “used to be high up in the government.” Venners recommended Timmons and the three of them then began working close together, Vincent testified.
Timmons in turn introduced Park to the others, whereupon they worked closely together on the influence campaign over a five year period.
At the time that Timmons introduced Park to the others, Park’s notorious background was well known:
In the 1970s, Park had amitted to making hundreds of thousands in payments and illegal campaign contributions to members of Congress on behalf of the South Korean government. Park was indicted on 36 felony counts by a federal grand jury for his alleged role in bribing members of Congress, making illegal campaign contributions, and acting as an unregistered agent of the South Korean government. But the charges were dropped in exchange for Park testifying against those he corrupted.
Park did not fare so with federal authorities the last time around. He was sentenced to five years in prison for acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
A shorter version of this column has also been posted at the Huffington Post.
Other articles by Murray Waas about Saddam Hussein:
Murray Waas, “McCain Transition Chief Aided Saddam in Lobbying Efforts”, Huffington Post, Nov. 14, 2008..
Murray Waas, “Cheney Authorized Libby to Leak Classified Information,” National Journal, Feb. 9, 2006.
Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, “Kuwait, Saudis Supplied Iraq With U.S. Arms,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 14, 1992.
Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, “Iraq Got U.S. Technology After CIA Warned Baker About Iraq’s Nuclear Ambitions,” Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1992.
Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, “Saudi Arms Link to Iraq Allowed: Under Reagan and Bush, U.S. Weapons Were Secretly Provided to Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1992.
Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, “Abuses in U.S. Aid to Iraqis Ignored,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1992.]]>
Timmons has claimed that he was unaware of much of what Vincent and Park were up to while he worked with them.
However, as my Huffington Post article makes clear, Timmons clearly was aware of Park’s notorious background when he introduced Vincent to Park:
In the 1970s, Park had admitted to making hundreds of thousands in payments and illegal campaign contriubtion to U.S. congresmen on behalf of the South Korean government. In 1977, Park was indicted by a federa grand jury of 36 counts of bribery, money laundering, making illegal campaign contributions, and acting as an unregistered agent of the South Korea Intelligence Agency. Rather than face trial Park fled to South Korea. All of the charges were later dismissed n exchange for Park providing information to federal and congressional investigators about which public officials received funds from the South Korean government.
So what became of Vincent and Park hooking up as a result of Timmons encouragement they do so?
Apparently behind Timmons’ back, Vincent, Park, and the Iraqis had an even more aggressive-and illegal- second track in play to convince the United Nations to ease or bring to an end sanctions: They would simply bribe the Secretary General of the U.N.
In April, 1995, according to the U.N.’s report on the oil-for food program, Saddam Hussein’s regime fomally made the decision to bribe Boutros Ghali. Vincent and Park were paid more millions of dollars to pay the bribes and facilitate the scheme.
If they succeeded entirely, the Iraqis promise to pay Vincent and Samir as much as $15 million.
Vincent has testified and told investigators that he and Park simply pocketed the money the Iraqis paid to them, and never even attempted to bribe Boutros Ghali. Boutros Ghali has denied that he was bribed, or that he even knew about the scheme at all, and there is no evidence to contradict him.
One of the reasons that the Iraqis were hoodwinked was that Tongsun Park, despite his notorious past, was able to ingratiate himself with Boutros Ghali. Park had more than a dozen meetings with Boutros Ghali at his office and residence during this period, and traded countless phone calls.
Boutros Ghali explained his relationship to investigators for the U.N. this way: “Because [Boutros Ghali] did not have a formal intelligence service at the United Nations, he felt compelled to supplement his knowledge through private sources and informal channels of communications.” Park, said Boutros Ghali, provided him “with “first class information”; “knew everyone”; and was “an integral part of the Washington nomenclatura.”
The Iraqis, intent on paying bribes to Boutros Ghali, did their part, even if they were only being hoodwinked by Vincent and Park, to get the money to the to two men.
In one instance, according to a U.N. investigative report, Vincent was given a half million dollars in a briefcase in a non-descript government office in Baghdad. Once back in the United States, Vincent met with Park and gave him his cut by handing him “a grocery shopping back” filled with “old bills.”
In another effort to get funds to Vincent and Park for the fictitious bribery scheme, hundreds of thousands of dollars was “delivered to New York via diplomatic pouch to avoid the risk of detection by custom officials,” says one volume of the Volcker report, “According to a staff member who worked at the Iraqi Mission, diplomatic pouches, the contents of which are immune to customs review, were carried by an individual who was often an Iraqi Intelligence Service member.”
In another instance, Park actually did pay almost a million dollars to a senior U.N. official who the Iraqis were intent to influence.
Describing this particular payment, a U.N. report said: “Before [Park] left Baghdad, Mr. Aziz gave Mr. Park $1 million in cash in a cardboard box, and then he arranged for Mr. Park to be escorted to the Jordanian boarder.” Once in Amman, Park had the money deposited in a bank there. The same day he opened the bank count, a bank check for $988,996 was made payable to the U.N. official, Maurice Strong. (Strong admits that he cashed the check but claims that he never knew that the money originated from Iraq.)
At the end of the day, apparently Saddam Hussein was grifted by his American lobbyists.
The late Edward Von Kloberg, also a lobbyist for Saddam, also apparently took money from the gullible dictator for services he actually never provided. As Mark Steyn wrote in the Atlantic:
According to the U.S. government’s Foreign Agents Registration records, he billed Saddam Hussein for several prominent op-eds that appeared in The New York Times. When the journalist Murray Waas called up the authors, none had heard of von Kloberg. Fraudwise, it’s small beer next to Saddam and his oil-for-food racket. But even so, bilking the Baathists took some nerve. Von Kloberg was an expert at schmoozing friendless regimes into picking up the tab for his social life, a one-man oily-for-food program he kept running for two decades.
Here is a column that I wrote about Von Kloberg shortly after his death.]]>