Obama-era U.S. ambassador pleads guilty in illegal foreign lobbying probe

Early last month, former U.S. ambassador Richard Olson, employed during the administration of former President Barack Obama, pleaded guilty to illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the country of Qatar, according to the Seattle Times, in a probe that has also implicated retired Marine Gen. John Allen.

Court filings revealed that Olson, who served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates as well as to Pakistan, admitted to the aforementioned unlawful lobbying from 2017 and also to a failure to disclose gifts he accepted while employed in those roles, as Lawfare notes.

Olson’s plea came on the heels of a federal indictment which accused the former diplomat of making false representations in ethics documents concerning gifts that included hotel stays and airplane tickets, not to mention monthly payments of $20,000 that were remitted to him by an unnamed lobbyist associated with Qatar.

The time period during which Olson was alleged to have engaged in the aforementioned activity was a fraught one, given the diplomatic tensions that had emerged between Qatar and its neighbors, and it was therefore a stretch when Qatar had a keen interest in influencing U.S. policy in the region, as the Times explained.

Amid reaching a deal to plead guilty in the matter, Olson asserted that he deserves to know why federal prosecutors have not brought charges against Allen, someone the former ambassador says was also part of the Qatar lobbying endeavors for which he faced charges.

Indeed, Olson’s attorneys have indicated that he has actively sought a reduced sentence by offering full cooperation with federal authorities “with the express goal” of securing charges against Allen, though no decision as to the retired general’s fate has yet been forthcoming.

Earlier in June, Allen resigned his position as president of influential think tank the Brookings Institution due to the allegations swirling around him in connection to the Qatar lobbying investigation, as The Hill reported at the time.

The FBI reportedly seized Allen’s electronic data in the ongoing lobbying probe, and in departing his post at the helm of Brookings, he said he was doing so with a “heavy heart,” but denied any wrongdoing through his spokesperson.

While the court filings in Olson’s case certainly suggest that Allen is perhaps just as culpable when it comes to engaging in illegal activity on behalf of a foreign country, only time will tell whether he, too, will be forced to answer for his conduct in a court of law.