Sharpening an Old Tool for FARA Enforcement
June 01, 2022

Sharpening an Old Tool for FARA Enforcement
On May 17, the DOJ filed a civil complaint – the first in 30 years – to compel an individual to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That individual is Steven Wynn, of casino and hotel fame, whom the DOJ said it asked to register as a foreign agent three times. On April 13, 2022, Wynn, also the former finance chair of the Republican National Committee, was given 30 days to register.

David Laufman, a partner at Wiggins Dana and former head of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (where the DOJ’s FARA Unit is housed), told me a year ago for the Anti-Corruption Report’s article series on FARA that civil action authority is a “gun on the mantelpiece that is not as cold as it was before.” The DOJ is making more requests as its resources for FARA enforcement increase, and more companies and individuals are challenging the DOJ’s determination that they have an authority to register, Morrison Foerster partner and former FARA Unit Head Brandon Van Grack said.

The DOJ alleged that Wynn had at least eight telephone calls with the former Chinese Vice Minister for Public Security, Sun Lujin, in 2017 about removing a Chinese national (unnamed but widely thought to be a billionaire real estate developer) from the U.S. who had sought asylum. Wynn allegedly urged then-President Trump to remove the Chinese national in meetings at the White House, with the motivation, according to the DOJ, of protecting his casino business in the Macao region of China. Among other allegations, the DOJ said Wynn called Trump about the matter from a yacht owned by Elliot Broidy (who, after pleading guilty to FARA charges, was later pardoned by Trump) while on a trip off the coast of Italy. The efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. There is no allegation Wynn was paid for his actions, or entered into a contract, however, under the statute, a request to engage in activities is enough to establish agency, and the DOJ has argued “direction and control” is not needed.

“Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in the statement announcing the case. 

As we wrote in a previous Brief, changes to the 80-plus-year-old law may be on the horizon to potentially give the DOJ more enforcement authority. 

Let us know your thoughts on FARA enforcement and compliance in this new environment.

Rebecca Hughes Parker
Global Editor-in-Chief

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