FBI seizes data of retired general related to Qatar lobbying effort

The head of the Brookings Institute is believed to have lobbied for Qatar and lied to federal agents about such efforts

Updated: June 8, 2022 - 5:38pm

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Retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, is on administrative leave from his role as president of the Brookings Institute D.C. think tank after the FBI seized his electronic data on suspicion of lying to investigators and withholding evidence about his role in secretly lobbying for the government of Qatar.

As a general, he commanded all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in the Obama administration.

The court records, which were unsealed Tuesday, are the latest public evidence showing the FBI and Justice Department are conducting a large-scale investigation into the stateside influence of wealthy Arab nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The investigation has already ensnared Richard Olson, a former UAE and Pakistan ambassador, who pleaded guilty last week to federal charges related to the case, and longtime political donor Imaad Zuberi, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges including violating foreign lobbying, campaign finance and tax laws. 

In April, an application for a warrant to search Allen's electronic communications was filed in Federal District Court in central California.

The prestigious Brookings Institute stated it is not under federal investigation in an email on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The organization's executive vice president, Ted Gayer, will become acting president.

"Brookings has strong policies in place to prohibit donors from directing research activities," the think tank wrote. "We have every confidence in the Brookings team’s ability to remain focused on delivering quality, independence, and impact."

Last year, Just the News broke the story that Brookings had received $2 million from the government of Qatar as Allen was pushing the Trump administration to take specific action beneficial to Qatar during a 2017 diplomatic crisis between the country and its neighbors. Outside of Allen, Qatar has been a significant backer of Brookings for years.

FBI agent Babak Adib wrote in a search warrant application that, "there is substantial evidence that these FARA violations were willful," referring to Allen's violation of the the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The FBI now says that Allen presented a "false version of events" during a 2020 interview about his work for Qatar and did not produce relevant email exchanges in response to a grand jury subpoena. 

An affidavit says that Allen used his official Brookings email account for some of his lobbying-related communications. 

"John Allen voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter,"  a spokesperson for the retired general said in a statement. "John Allen’s efforts with regard to Qatar in 2017 were to protect the interests of the United States and the military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no fee for his efforts."

Allen has previously said that his 2017 efforts on behalf of Qatar were to prevent a war from breaking out in the Gulf that would lead to the endangerment of U.S. troops.