Lobbying by Trump associates highlights foreign agent law

WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul Manafort says he’s registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. Michael Flynn already has. In both cases, the filings by these associates of President Donald Trump come late — after the lobbying has already taken place — and accompanied by an admission that they violated federal law.

The high-profile filings are putting a spotlight on the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law enacted before World War II with the goal of unmasking foreign influence campaigns in the U.S.

The idea was simple: Lobbyists and others who work on behalf of a foreign government or political interest must disclose their work to sway public opinion and U.S. policy to the Justice Department and to the public.

But the cases of Manafort, who was forced out as Trump’s campaign chairman, and Flynn, who was fired as the president’s national security adviser, have raised questions, particularly in light of the continuing scrutiny of the foreign entanglements of several Trump associates. A few answers:

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Q: WHAT IS THE FOREIGN AGENTS REGISTRATION ACT?

A: Congress enacted the 1938 statute in response to covert Nazi propaganda agents operating in the U.S. It requires individuals who act in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political parties, people or governments to register as foreign agents with the Justice Department.

Registrants are expected to disclose whom they work for and how much they’re paid, and to describe their activities. They’re also expected to conspicuously disclose that mailings, letters, opinion pieces or other material they distribute are on behalf of a foreign principal, and that additional details about their efforts are available in Justice Department files.

There are exceptions in the law for foreign diplomats and foreign government officials, and for people engaged in solely religious, academic, commercial or scientific activities.

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Q: HOW DOES IT WORK?

A: In practice, lobbyists file reports that can list meetings, phone calls and even emails on behalf of their foreign clients. They must disclose the names of people they meet with and the issues they discussed. The foreign agent must register within 10 days of agreeing to perform the foreign work, before beginning any activities. After that, supplemental reports must be filed every six months, as long as the foreign agent work is ongoing, and the Justice Department must be notified when the agreement is terminated.

The reports are posted on a searchable public website: https://www.fara.gov/

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Q: WHY DID FLYNN REGISTER?

A: Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group, registered as foreign agents in March for work performed for a Turkish-owned business. In the registration, Flynn acknowledged that the work could have principally benefited Turkey’s government. Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was on contract with the company while he was a senior Trump campaign adviser. —

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