CNN's Ed Henry reports a GOP lobbying firm is seeking to undermine the Iraqi prime minister, above.
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) - A powerhouse Republican lobbying firm with close ties to the White House has begun a public campaign to undermine the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, CNN has confirmed.
This comes as President Bush is publicly taking great pains to reiterate his support for the embattled Iraqi leader, whose government has come under sharp criticism and scrutiny from Washington lawmakers and officials and Thursday's National Intelligence Estimate.
A senior Bush administration official told CNN the White House is aware of the lobbying campaign by Barbour Griffith & Rogers because the firm is "blasting e-mails all over town" criticizing al-Maliki and promoting the firm's client, former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, as an alternative to the current Iraqi leader.
But the administration official insisted that White House officials are not privately involved or blessing the lobbying campaign to undermine al-Maliki. (TIME.com: Few good alternatives to al-Maliki)
"There's just no connection whatsoever," the official said. "There's absolutely no involvement.
The lobbying firm boasts the services of two onetime foreign policy hands of President Bush: Ambassador Robert Blackwill, the former Deputy National Security Adviser, and Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Ingrid Henick, a vice president for Barbour Griffith & Rogers, confirmed to CNN the firm has signed a contract to "provide strategic counsel for and on behalf of Dr. Allawi."
Henick refused to comment on why such a prominent Republican firm would work to hurt al-Maliki, whom President Bush has repeatedly backed as the best hope for forging political reconciliation in Iraq.
When asked whether the White House will call the prominent Republican lobbying firm to stop lashing out at al-Maliki, the senior administration official said "I don't rule it out" because of the President's support for the prime minister.
Pressed on why allies of the White House would be contradicting the president so publicly, the senior administration official said of the lobbyists, "They're making a lot of money."
According to an e-mail obtained by CNN, Barbour Griffith & Rogers sent a mass message Tuesday to congressional staffers with the subject line, "A New Leader in Iraq," promoting Allawi as a potential successor to al-Maliki.
"Please see today's news items regarding the increased skepticism of the Maliki government in The New York Times (embedded), The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal (attached), along with a joint statement made by Senators Carl Levin and John Warner," said the e-mail obtained by CNN.
A second e-mail from the lobbying firm sent congressional staffers a copy of a recent Washington Post op-ed by Allawi that said Iraq will fall apart unless al-Maliki is forced out of power.
The outlines of the lobbying campaign were first reported by the news blog, Iraqslogger.com.
The lobbying e-mails were sent Tuesday, the day after Levin called for the ouster of al-Maliki upon return from an official trip to Iraq with Warner. Also on Tuesday, President Bush appeared to be softening his support for al-Maliki at a press conference by expressing frustration with the pace of progress by the Iraqi government.
But on Wednesday, upset by media reports asserting he was backing away from the Iraqi leader, Mr. Bush clarified in a speech, "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him."
The e-mails to congressional staffers directly came from Allawi himself from the e-mail address "DrAyadAllawi@Allawi-for-Iraq.com."
But the bottom of the e-mail added this note of disclosure to congressional aides: "Barbour Griffith & Rogers, LLC has filed registration statements under the Foreign Agents Registration Act with regard to its representation and dissemination of information on behalf of Dr. Ayad Allawi."
"Yes, in fact, we recently filed forms with FARA," Henick, the firm's vice president, told CNN.
But she would not provide details of the filing, which will reveal how much money the firm is making on the account and other details, because the Justice Department has not yet made the documents public.
Henick added that beyond the e-mails, the firm will also be directly lobbying members of the "U.S. government, Congress, the media and opinion leaders" on behalf of Allawi.
One Republican congressional aide who received the e-mails this week expressed surprise that a lobbying firm with such close ties to the White House would attack al-Maliki at such a pivotal time on the debate over the war, just weeks before the President provides a progress report to the nation.
The lobbying firm was founded by conservative stalwarts Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee Chairman and current governor of Mississippi; Lanny Griffith, who worked for the administration of former President George H.W. Bush; and Ed Rogers, an aide to former Presidents Reagan and Bush.
But the current Bush administration official dismissed the effort, noting there's a "lot of lobbying" on various issues and the campaign against al-Maliki is just a "bunch of noise in Washington, D.C."
First the United States, now Iraq. I guess Republican power lust knows no bounds.
This explains Bush's Return to the Moon and Mars Initiative. After the GOP seizes control the Earth (and fullfilling their long-sought dream putting the U.N. out of business), they'll have two more places to assimilate.
Wow- remember when people denied that the Iraqi government was a 'puppet for the U.S.'? Now you have a former Prime Minister, chosen by the White House, paying a U.S. PR Firm to lobby the U.S. Congress and White House and undermine the current PM. This is despicable.
Also, Allawi-for-iraq.com is owned by Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Inc , according to WHOIS records.
It seems inappropriate to me, to put it mildly, for a corporation in the US to take money from a foreign political operative in exchange for political services, namely to alter the declared policies of the US Government. "So what?" some might say. "The lobbyist is merely expressing a point of view. All points of view should be heard."
My problem is that the policies that are urged on Congress by the lobbyist are for hire. Pay the lobbyist a little more and he will argue, with equal sincerity, for the opposing point of view. While looking for a noun to describe this behavior, I thought that "treason" was a little too strong a term, but "treachery" seems appropriate. "Willful betrayal of fidelity, confidence, or trust" says the book. This lobbyist is looking my Representative right in the face (over a plate of salmon glace smothered in hummingbird tongues) and telling him that it is best for the USA – his nation – to do this or that because he was paid to plant that idea in every political head.
hmmmmm . . . . . anybody suspect Rove's involvement? Naaaaaa . . . . .
Looks like Hillary Clinton is in good company with wanting to overthrow Iraq's leader...
So Bush failed to export democracy, but apparently he's succeeded in exporting Swiftboating.
CNN has confirmed..
Well we can take that to the bank, not distortion here. Right....??
And all along I was lead to believe the government in Iraq was a democracy where the Iraqi citizens vote for their leader. Imagine my embarrassment when I found out an American lobbying firm actually gets to choose who leads Iraq. That type of government has a name and it ain't democracy.
Terry in El Paso:
Your description of a lobbyist sounds like the description of a lawyer. They too can argue both sides of an issue with a straight face and appear to be absolutely sincere. That's probably why a lot of lawyers are lobbyists.....and why a lot of lawyers run for public office. Much to our dismay unfortunately.
Terry from El Paso writes:
“It seems inappropriate...for a corporation in the US to take money from a foreign political operative in exchange for political services”
I totally agree, Terry. It’s sick. But it’s also standard operation procedure in Washington, D.C.
Let’s not forget that Fred Thompson was a lobbyist for Haitian strongman Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as well as foreign mining and automotive corporations.
Impeach. I want the lobbying firm that will work for that, in regards to our idiot and chief.
spinstopper .. care to prove that distortion allegation about CNN?
Hell, care to prove ANY allegation you've EVER levied against ANYONE on these threads?
Yeah ... I didn't think so!
WAKE UP EVERY ONE, THIS CRAP IS ALL ABOUT GIVING BUSH AN OUT.REMEMBER HOW HE STUCK WITH BROWNIE, RUMMY, WOLFAWICH. ETC. ETC.
this is absurd... why are we trying to undermine another country's duly elected officials... what does it matter so long as they've got democracy!!!!!
Iraq is a mistake all together, we are fighting a war that devices our nation, it creates lack of joint spport, death, economic problems, we are the nation of nations and we can,t seem to come to an agreement in our own goverment, how can we then try to change another cpuntry's way of thinking.
Very nice journalism here from CNN. Keep it coming.
Unfortunately a puppet government cannot succeed in a power vacuum. Maliki is not just seen exactly as a puppet by Iraqis (which is most important problem he has since his office will never be respected by Iraqis), but he is only still in power by means of the US military keeping him in power. My prediction is he's gone (one way or another) by early September; for sure before the "Petraeus Report" so that Bush can show replacing inneffective Maliki as "progress".
How does Allawi afford the services of this lobbying firm? It has got to be very expensive and the man has never held a real job in his life. I hope CNN follows the money and discovers who is paying for this campaign.
First of all, if Iraq has a constitution and has held elections, as President Bush has said, then this guy is lobbying in the wrong country. I used the email in the article to write to him and tell him just that. I think everybody should do the same.
Secondly, as Glenn Greenwald points out, CNN did not disclose on screen that Zelikow was lobbying for the very comment that he made, instead identified only as a "Former Counselor to the State Department." That is deceitful and outrageous that someone is lobbying for the very thing he is so Seriously and Confidently putting forth as a change in our government's stance, and that CNN didn't say so. Shame on you, CNN.
You didn't expect us to export democracy in its purest form did you? It would be neglectful of us not to give them a 'mature' form of our government saddled with all of the corruption big money can bring to it. If they ever get up and running by themselves, with their mineral reserves think what their version of "Big Oil" will do over there. Probably show our guys a few new tricks.
Maliki will have to borrow a line from Scooby-Doo soon.... "And I would STILL be PM if not for those meddling kids"
Have a great weekend,