From Wall Street to K Street, Companies Gauge the Risks of Doing Business With Saudi Arabia

One of the roughly 10 lobbying firms that represent the Saudi government, the Harbour Group, has dropped it as a client, and others are considering following suit, according to people familiar with discussions, as Saudi Arabia struggles with a backlash over allegations that it murdered the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The lobbying firms are privately discussing how to proceed, these people said. But some have already decided that the prospect of continued paychecks from Saudi Arabia — once a prized and profitable client — is not worth the risk to their reputations.

But for financial and technology companies, several of which have multibillion-dollar ties to Saudi Arabia, the calculus is more complicated. Few executives have backed out of the conference, which is called the Future Investment Initiative but is known colloquially as Davos in the Desert.

Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, was one of the few to announce that they would back out.

.. The Public Investment Fund, a large Saudi sovereign wealth fund, invested $3.5 billion for a 5.6 percent share in Uber in June 2016.

The fund’s managing director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, took a seat on Uber’s board. Prince Mohammed is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund.

.. Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, remains an advisory board member and is expected to speak at the conference, which is held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where Prince Mohammed locked up hundreds of wealthy Saudis last year in what he called an anti-corruption campaign but critics said was an effort to crush dissent.

.. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, is also still planning to attend

.. Peter Thiel, the technology venture capitalist who was once an ally of President Trump and is known for his independent streak, is still a member of the event’s advisory board but had never planned to attend the gathering, according to a person close to Mr. Thiel.

.. Richard Branson, the billionaire British entrepreneur, said that he had suspended his directorship at two tourism projects near the Red Sea and that his space ventures would halt their discussions over proposed investments from the Public Investment Fund.

.. Saudi Arabia has been a coveted client, thanks to its reputation for paying above-market rates and its status as one of the United States’ most reliable allies in an unstable region, which seemed cemented by the ties between Prince Mohammed and the Trump administration.
.. The debates about dropping the Saudi account also reflect the skittishness of the lobbying industry at a time when it has faced mounting scrutiny from federal investigators, including the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, about how foreign interests try to shape American politics and policy.
.. The highest-paid firms representing the Saudis in Washington are the international public affairs consultancy
  • Qorvis MSLGroup, which is being paid $279,500 a month, and the
  • Glover Park Group, which was started by former Clinton administration officials and is being paid $150,000 a month
.. Another two firms are being paid $125,000 a month —
  • Hogan Lovells, which has Norm Coleman, a former senator of Minnesota, as its point person for Saudi work, and
  • Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has a bipartisan team composed of Marc S. Lampkin, a former aide to the former House speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, and Alfred E. Mottur, a top fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

.. Not all of these firms will drop the Saudis. Some are leaning toward maintaining their contracts, in part because they predict that if they were to abandon the country en masse, it could lead to reduced cooperation from the Saudi government.

Trump Is Mulling Candidates Who Could Succeed Jeff Sessions

Potential candidates for attorney general include Alex Azar, Steven Bradbury and Bill Barr

Mr. Sessions isn’t currently planning to leave, but privately has said that he anticipates he may be asked to resign, according to people familiar with the matter. The attorney general, who was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, has told people the request may come on the president’s Twitter feed.

“This is actually the dumbest thing I’ve been asked to comment on in a while,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores.

..Replacing Mr. Sessions would present legal and political quandaries for the president.

.. Mr. Trump must find a successor who could win Senate confirmation, a job that senators say is harder given the president’s public suggestions that he wants a political ally as attorney general.

.. Many GOP senators are advocating for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to succeed Mr. Sessions, especially after Mr. Graham’s vocal defense last week of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

.. “As I think about people who could be confirmed to that position in the Senate, Lindsey Graham is at the top of my list,” said John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican. “In fact, I can’t think of anybody else right now who could get confirmed.”

.. Mr. Trump has spoken about the possibility of Mr. Graham as attorney general, but has told his team that he is not inclined to choose him, given their turbulent history, according to people familiar with the discussions.
.. Mr. Graham called Mr. Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Mr. Trump said Mr. Graham was a “lightweight” and an “idiot,” and gave out Mr. Graham’s mobile number during a campaign rally.
.. Another purported candidate, Sessions chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, has allies in the White House but also detractors, according to people familiar with the matter. As a commentator on CNN, Mr. Whitaker expressed skepticism about the special counsel probe and urged limits on its scope, a position likely to raise objections from Democrats and some Republicans... That leaves, for now at least, the five individuals currently under discussion at the White House. Three of them—Messrs. Azar, Bradbury and Sullivan—are serving in Senate-confirmed positions. They would have to be reconfirmed to serve as attorney general, but may have an advantage from having already won Senate approval.

.. Mr. Azar took office in January as Mr. Trump’s second health and human services secretary. He served as general counsel in former President George W. Bush’s administration, then headed an affiliate of pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly & Co. before returning to Washington.Mr. Azar isn’t interested in the top job at the Justice Department, said a person familiar with his thinking.

.. Mr. Bradbury was sworn in last November as the Transportation Department’s chief legal officer after a narrow confirmation vote. Two Republicans joined Democrats in opposing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination, citing his role in helping author memos in the Bush administration that provided legal grounds for harsh interrogation techniques that some consider torture.

Mr. Bradbury defended his role, saying it was a difficult issue that drew strong opinions from both sides.

Mr. Sullivan, who was confirmed in May 2017, has served previously in senior positions in the Justice, Defense and Commerce departments. Before assuming office, Mr. Sullivan was a partner at Mayer Brown LLP.

.. Ms. Brown, appointed to the bench in 2005 by President George W. Bush, stepped down last year. She was among the most conservative voices on the D.C. Circuit, which hears numerous cases related to the federal government.

The Mueller Investigation Is Bigger Than Rod Rosenstein

This isn’t to say that a Rosenstein replacement couldn’t do any damage — he could try to starve the investigation of resources, for example, or withhold approval for investigative steps that have yet to be taken. But considering that the potential replacements for Mr. Rosenstein — Solicitor General Noel Francisco or the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel — have very little experience in counterintelligence and criminal matters, they would face an uphill battle justifying those decisions against seasoned prosecutors and in the face of evidence warranting otherwise.

.. Under the special counsel regulations, moreover, any such decision would be required to be reported to Congress. With the precedent set by Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, if Congress changes hands, it’s going to be very difficult for the president to try to block obvious attempts to obstruct justice from seeing the light of day.

What Is John Bolton’s Bully-Pulpit Attack on the International Criminal Court Really About?

Fatou Bensouda, asked the court’s judges to authorize an investigation of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since 2003, including allegations of torture by members of the U.S. military and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bolton, who was at the time a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, responded immediately with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: “The Trump administration should not respond to Ms. Bensouda in any way that acknowledges the ICC’s legitimacy. Even merely contesting its jurisdiction risks drawing the U.S. deeper into the quicksand.”

.. “Any day now,” Bolton said in his speech, “the I.C.C. may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots, who voluntarily signed on to go into harm’s way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. . . . An utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.”

..  the I.C.C. showed no intention of going after Americans, and, in Bush’s second term, when Bolton was serving as the Ambassador to the U.N., U.S. officials began to see that the court could serve as a useful instrument in pursuing their own interests, and began to offer it support and coöperation accordingly, ultimately stepping aside—over Bolton’s objection—to allow its investigation of war crimes in Darfur.

.. His telling of the I.C.C. backstory left off in 2002, with a note of regret that he had been unable to convince “every nation in the world” to pledge to protect Americans from the court, and also with a dig at holdouts in the European Union, where, he said, “the global-governance dogma is strong.”

..  he said that his “worst predictions” about the I.C.C. had been confirmed and decried what he claimed to be its supporters’ “unspoken but powerful agenda”: to “intimidate U.S. decision-makers, and others in democratic societies,” and thereby to “constrain” them.

.. The I.C.C., from its inception, has been impossibly compromised by the simple, definitive fact that many of the world’s most lawless countries, along with some of its most powerful—including the U.S., Russia, and China, the majority of permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—reject its jurisdiction. After sixteen years with no major triumphs and several major failures to its name, it would be easier to make the case for it if there were reason to believe that it could yet become the court of last resort for all comers that it is supposed to be, rather than what it is: a politically captive institution that reinforces the separate and unequal structures of the world.
.. simultaneously exaggerating the power of the I.C.C. as an ominous global colossus and belittling it as a puny, contemptible farce. The only historically proven deterrent to “the hard men of history,” he declared, is “what Franklin Roosevelt once called ‘the righteous might’ of the United States.”
.. it is tempting to think that he was deployed to deflect attention from the White House chaos, while his boss spent the day issuing uncharacteristically Presidential tweets about the hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas.
.. The President and the nation cannot be held to account or supervised, so the prosecutor has to be. The President and the nation cannot be criminals, so the prosecutor must be.