Republican operatives settle alleged foreign lobbying offenses with Justice Department

Media outlets speculated that Qatar is the country that hired Bennett's firm. 

Published: January 3, 2024 11:47am

Prominent Republican political operatives settled foreign lobbying allegations with federal prosecutors, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Virginia lobbyist Barry Bennett, 60, and New Jersey campaign consultant Douglas Watts, 73, both entered Deferred Prosecution Agreements to resolve allegations that they did not follow the Foreign Agents Registration Act and committed other related offenses, prosecutors said

An unnamed country hired Bennett's consulting firm Avenue Strategies in 2017 to perform lobbying services, and he directed Watts to open a company to run a public relations campaign that would cast one of the country's rival nations in a poor light, which would improve the country's public image in comparison to the rival, per officials. 

Media outlets, such as The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, speculated that Qatar is the country that hired Bennett's firm.

The country had paid Bennett's firm $2.1 million in 2017 for lobbying, and about 27% of that was used to create the PR company, which conducted a social media campaign, published opinion articles, lobbied politicians and sent mailings to U.S. citizens, according to the Justice Department.

The case against Bennett will be dismissed if he complies with the prosecution agreement's terms, which include amending his foreign registration filings and paying a $100,000 fine, officials said. 

Prosecutors also said the case against Watts would be dismissed so long as he complies with the agreement's terms, which include a $25,000 fine. 

Officials said that if the case had gone to trial prosecutors would have tried to prove that Bennett engaged in a scheme to conceal facts from the Justice Department and made omissions from his federal filings. As to Watts, the government would have tried to prove he acted as an unregistered foreign agent and made false statements to the U.S. government.

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