June 27, 2017
The Center For Public Integrity reported late last week that new Trump appointee, Richard Hohlt, is a current registered agent of the government of Saudi Arabia. According to Department of Justice documents uncovered in the Center’s report, the Saudi Arabian Embassy paid Holt over $430,000 between January and April of 2017. (Further payments to Hohlt will be documented in his next quarterly DOJ filing). Thanks to the Trump appointment Hohlt now serves on the prestigious and influential President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
As a member of the Commission, Hohlt’s role is to ultimately provide final candidate recommendations for the Fellowship program to the President. The Center For Public Integrity reported recipients of the Fellowship often go on to important positions within the White House and various federal agencies. Past recipients include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. Fellowship responsibilities, according to the White House website, “range from chairing interagency meetings and designing and implementing federal policies, to drafting speeches for cabinet secretaries to representing their agencies on Capitol Hill and in international treaty negotiations.” A Fellowship, thus, is often a doorway into prominent political influence.
The Trump campaign of 2016 achieved much of its success by promoting an anti-establishment, anti-lobbying message. “Drain the swamp” was as much Trump’s rallying cry as “M.A.G.A.”. Trump himself tweeted in October of 2016: “I will issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a FOREIGN GOVERNMENT! #DrainTheSwamp”. As the Center reports, one of Trump’s first executive orders included a lifetime ban on executive branch appointees engaging in work that would require registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). That same act is what requires Richard Hohlt to disclose his work for Saudi Arabia. However, because Hohlt’s work for the President’s Commission on Fellowships is considered part-time Hohlt evades the Trump executive order.
In the Center’s report, Hohlt downplays his role with Saudi Arabia and his lobbying efforts on their behalf. Hohlt claims, “That is not my role” in regards to any efforts by him to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of Saudi Arabia. His role, according to Hohlt’s FARA records, is to “provide them (Saudi Arabia) with advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.” However, in the Center’s report, Hohlt does say that he directly contacted some congressional offices in late May and June regarding an arms sale. Last May, is of course, when Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia and negotiated an arms deal with them.
Officially Hohlt first began his work on behalf of Saudi Arabia in last October. Just two months later, the Washington Post reported Hohlt hosted his annual Christmas party which was attended by numerous influential Republicans, soon to be Trump cabinet members, and the Saudi Foreign Minister and his family. Other guests, reported by the Post, included incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Katie Walsh and Josh Pitock, advisers and aides to Trump and Pence; Senators Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); Thailand’s ambassador to the United States; Airbus U.S. chief executive Allan McArtor; and Bret Baier and James Rosen of Fox News. The Hohlt Christmas party was a typical old boys network of Republican and conservative influencers plus Saudi influencers, military influencers, and conservative media.
So Hohlt was on Saudi Arabia’s payroll as recently as two months ago, may still be, and hosts parties which mix Trump administration influencers with Saudi officials and military influencers. Yet, Hohlt wants the public to believe it’s not his role to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Saudi Arabia? Hohlt’s appointment is just another example of the dozens of lobbyists appointed to the Trump administration and the affinity Trump has for the lobbying industry.