Saudi Arabia is quietly spending millions on a fresh lobbying effort in the US, hoping to finally put to bed Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS

Reuters

  • Saudi Arabia has reignited its formal lobby efforts in the US, a year on from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and at a sensitive time for US-Saudi relations.
  • Saudi Arabia was made a pariah by lobbyists after Khashoggi's murder, with five major US clients jilting them in a single week after the killing.
  • On Friday, a Saudi service member shot dead three US citizens at a US naval base in Florida, prompting many US politicians to criticize the Saudis once again.
  • In November, Saudi Arabia contracted LS2group, Summit Information Services, and Hathaway Strategies to help boost the kingdom's reputation at a cost of about $1.5 million.
  • It's unclear what specific objectives the agencies have been given, but Saudi Arabia is keen to whip up interest in its new tourism industry and encourage foreign investment into projects like the Neom megacity and the Saudi Aramco initial public offering.
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Saudi Arabia is spending $1.5 million to restart its lobby efforts in the US to stir up favor and investment amid a social revolution at home, a year after it was made a pariah over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

After the murder of the Washington Post writer in October 2018, five US communications firms — Gibson Dunn, Gladstone Place, Harbour Group, Glover Park Group, and BGR Group — jilted Saudi Arabia in the space of one week.

But now, a year on, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a new path into Washington, DC.

On November 1, the Embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hired the Iowa-based communications firm LS2group for a fee of $1.5 million, contracting the firm until October 31, 2020, filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show.

Its task: "Inform the public, government officials, and the media about the importance of fostering and promoting strong relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia have likely advocated for the country in Washington, DC, in the year since the Khashoggi murder, but the LS2group filing is the first formal declaration of representation since that time.

That task gained weight Friday after a Saudi airman killed three people at a US naval base in Florida, prompting an outpouring of anger toward the kingdom from some on Capitol Hill.

"15 Saudis attack us on 9/11. The Saudi government kills a US journalist. A Saudi pilot in training kills 3 of our soldiers. Can anyone spot the common thread? My take: It's way past time to quit arming and training the Saudis!" Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted.

An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Ensign Joshua Watson on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including 23-year-old Watson, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy from Enterprise, Ala., in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Associated Press

As part of the revamped lobby effort, the Saudis, through LS2group, contracted the Colorado-based Summit Information Services on November 22 and the Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies on November 26.

Hathaway is tasked by LS2group to "advise and consult on public relations and communications," according to FARA filings.

Summit's mission is to "promote good relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by disseminating information to the public, government officials, and the media," FARA filings show.

It's unclear what specific objectives the three agencies have been given by Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom is keen to whip up interest and investment in its new tourism industry and to encourage foreign investment into projects like the Neom megacity, the Saudi Aramco initial public offering, and its higher-education sector.

Summit is also tasked with garnering favor for the Saudi cause in Colorado, a state whose communications agencies have strong ties to Saudi Arabia.

Bucking the trend of deserting Saudi Arabia after the murder of Khashoggi, the Denver-based law and communications firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck carried on working for them.

"We don't believe it is in our client's interest, in our interest or in the United States' interest to abandon them during this crisis," Alfred Mottur, a BHFS lobbyist, told The Colorado Sun in November 2018.

Saudi Arabia previously contracted LS2group from October 2016 to March 2017 at a cost of $76,500, FARA disbursement filings show.

Business Insider contacted LS2 Group, Summit Information Services, and Hathaway Strategies for comment on their specific tasks in relation to Saudi Arabia but did not receive a response from any of the firms.

Editor's note: This article was amended on December 13 to include a line expressing that it is highly likely lobbyists were working for Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, in the last 12 months, but that they weren't listed in FARA filings.

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