Chinese telecom company ZTE, considered a potential national security threat by U.S. intelligence officials and many in Congress, has found a new friend in former Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The former lawmaker is officially registered as a lobbyist for the company.
ZTE has long been under fire from U.S. officials and members of Congress who say the company could endanger national security by providing espionage opportunities for the Chinese government.
Though the well-connected Lieberman was thought to be hired to help take pressure off of the embattled ZTE, his firm Kasowitz Benson Torres (KBT) — the law firm of President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney Marc Kasowitz — tells a different story.
Instead, Lieberman will investigate the concerns of U.S. officials and lawmakers and report back to ZTE in order that the company might address those concerns more effectively, according to the firm.
Clarine Nardi Riddle, chair of the firm’s Government Affairs and Strategic Counsel Practice Group and Lieberman’s former chief of staff in the Senate who also registered as a lobbyist for ZTE, said Lieberman is not actually “lobbying” for ZTE but rather is gathering concerns about the company from lawmakers and officials
“Senator Lieberman is conducting a national security assessment investigation, where he will listen to congressional, executive branch, and customer national security concerns, but will not be attempting to influence them nor advocate on ZTE’s behalf,” Nardi Riddle told the Center for Responsive Politics in an email.
“His mission is to listen, assess and then make recommendations to ZTE on how to address U.S. national security concerns. While these activities are not associated with the common understanding of “lobbying,” the Lobbying and Disclosure Act can be interpreted to require registration because he is meeting with “covered officials” under the statute. Out of an abundance of caution, Senator Lieberman will register under the LDA so that there will be no question about his and ZTE’s transparency and compliance.”
It remains unclear whether Lieberman’s activity might fall under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), particularly due to ZTE’s reportedly close ties to the Chinese government.
Lobbying and public relations powerhouse Mercury Public Affairs also launched influence operations for ZTE, inking a contract for a $75,000-per-month retainer paid through Hogan Lovells just one day after [President Donald] Trump tweeted about a potential deal to lift penalties on ZTE, according to disclosures on file with the Justice Department under FARA. As a part of its efforts, Mercury enlisted former Trump campaign aide official Bryan Lanza.
The Trump administration worked out a deal with ZTE last year that saw Commerce Department sanctions lifted, which were put in place in 2016 after the company violated sanctions on Iran and North Korea, nearly driving ZTE into extinction.
ZTE isn’t out of the woods yet, though. Trump is reportedly considering barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by ZTE and Chinese telecom Huawei, and Congress remains a threat to the company’s vitality.