Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles this week described a dizzying array of secret foreign lobbying by a major donor to both political parties—a new twist in a case that could reveal whether there were foreign efforts to funnel money to President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee.“The Zuberi case explicitly verifies through evidentiary proof pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes.”
The donor, Imaad Zuberi, is a longtime Democratic backer who began lavishing funds on Republicans after Trump’s surprise 2016 electoral victory. His largesse included a $900,000 contribution to Trump’s inaugural committee. Zuberi agreed in October to plead guilty to tax evasion, to filing phony foreign agent registration materials, and to making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions, much of it secretly put up by foreign entities and people hoping to influence US politics. In their initial filings, prosecutors identified by name only one country, Sri Lanka, for which Zuberi had illegally lobbied. But in a new filing Tuesday that argues for Zuberi to receive significant prison time, prosecutors detailed his secret work for Turkey, Libyan officials, a businessman from Bahrain, and Dmitry Firtash—a Ukrainian oligarch who was deeply involved in Trump’s Ukraine scandal.
Prosecutors say Zuberi’s activities show that the widespread public concern about foreign influence in US elections is warranted. “The Zuberi case explicitly verifies through evidentiary proof pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes,” prosecutors write, using italics for emphasis.
From 2011 to 2017, Zuberi lavished more than $3 million in campaign contributions on lawmakers in both parties. He supported the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.); and Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and others. In 2015, he made donations backing Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), then the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel from which Zuberi sought various favors. (Engel now chairs the committee; Royce has retired from Congress.) Prosecutors say much of the money Zuberi used for donations came from foreign sources from whom he had solicited these funds—along with millions of dollars in fees—while promising to influence lawmakers on their behalf. There is no evidence members of Congress knew that Zuberi was using foreign funds to make donations.