Former Obama administration official Richard G. Olson pleaded guilty last Friday in federal court to charges related to a secretive effort to illegally influence the Trump administration.
Olson served as Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2015 and 2016. Through his plea, he admitted that he lied on ethics documents and violated federal revolving door laws.
The charges against Olson stemmed from his lobbying work on behalf of the nation of Qatar within a year of leaving his employment with the U.S. government. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges that each carry the possibility of a one year federal prison sentence. The sentencing hearing for his case has been set for September 13.
As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, Olson admitted that he did not reveal in required ethics filings that he received at least $20,000 worth of travel and hotel that was paid for by a Pakistani American businessman.
He also admitted that he had conversations with another businessman from Bahrain who offered to pay him $300,000 for a year’s work. Olson admitted that in June 2017 he provided lobbying services to Qatari officials by giving them aid and advice with “the intent to influence U.S. policy during a blockade of Qatar by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.”
Prosecutors with the Department of Justice alleged that Olson was paid by Qatar to influence the Trump administration about taking steps to have the blockade lifted.
Before the plea agreement was reached, Olson’s attorneys argued that the federal government was going after him while ignoring what they said were similar actions by retired Marine Gen. John G. Allen.
Allen retired in 2013 before being named president of the Brookings Institution in 2017. Brookings is a Washington think tank that received $14.8 million in donations from Qatar over four years beginning in 2013.
Attorney J. Michael Hannon represents Olson and pressed DOJ attorneys to explain why Allen has not been charged, in that the failure to do so harmed Olson’s defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Turgeon disputed the assertion that the federal government “has made a prosecutorial decision as to other persons.” He added that nothing related to Gen. Allen has any bearing on false statements made by Olson on a formal ethics form in May 2016, which was a full year before any alleged acts by Allen regarding Qatar.
A spokesman for Gen. Allen said that he has voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation and has only acted with regard to Qatar to “protect the interests of the United States and the military personnel stationed in Qatar.” That statement also said that Allen did not receive any fee for his work in that regard.