The U.S. Department of Justice today announced the arrest of an alleged agent of the Iranian government, who has been charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”).  The defendant is an Iranian political scientist, living in the United States as a permanent resident.  The Justice Department alleges that for years he has engaged in advocacy activities in the United States on behalf of the Iranian government, and that he has been paid approximately $265,000 for those services.  The advocacy allegedly included lobbying Members of Congress and the State Department, making television appearances, and writing articles.  The defendant is also alleged to have served as an advisor to the Iranian government.  The case was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, along with the FBI field offices in New York and Boston, reflecting the increasing involvement of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices across the country in FARA investigations.

According to the Justice Department, the defendant emailed Iran’s Foreign Minister in July 2020 with links to his articles “in international newspapers and academic journals,” noting that “without support none of this would have been possible!  This has been a very productive relationship spanning decades that ought not to be interrupted.”  The Department also alleged that it has evidence reflecting the defendant’s awareness of his obligations under FARA, which is relevant to meeting the Department’s burden of proof that the defendant “willfully” violated FARA, which is a criminal statute.

This case reflects the continuing stream of prosecutions related to FARA, particularly with respect to what might be considered core FARA cases that involve paid advocacy for foreign governments.  The arrest and unsealing of the criminal complaint in the new FARA case was announced today by John Demers, the outgoing Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, one day before the end of the Trump Administration.  In March 2019, Demers announced a FARA enforcement initiative, including the appointment of a criminal prosecutor to head the Department’s FARA Unit.

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Photo of Robert Kelner Robert Kelner

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Mr. Kelner provides political law compliance advice to a wide range of corporate and political clients.  His compliance practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to…

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Mr. Kelner provides political law compliance advice to a wide range of corporate and political clients.  His compliance practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws, as well as legal ethics rules.  His expertise includes the Federal Election Campaign Act, Lobbying Disclosure Act, Ethics in Government Act, Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  He is also a leading authority on the arcane rules governing political contributions by municipal securities dealers, investment advisers, hedge funds, and private equity funds.  Mr. Kelner advises Presidential political appointees on the complex process of being vetted and confirmed for such appointments.

In addition, he regularly advises corporations and corporate executives on instituting political law compliance programs.  He conducts compliance training for senior corporate executives and lobbyists.  He has extensive experience conducting corporate internal investigations concerning campaign finance and lobbying law compliance, as well as other corporate compliance matters.  Mr. Kelner regularly defends clients in investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. House & Senate Ethics Committees, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, the House & Senate Judiciary Committees, the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and other congressional committees.  He has prepared numerous CEOs and corporate executives for testimony before congressional investigation panels, and he regularly leads the Practicing Law Institute’s training program on congressional investigations for in-house lawyers.  He also defends clients in Lobbying Disclosure Act audits by the GAO and enforcement actions and audits by state election and lobbying enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kelner has appeared as a commentator on political law matters on The PBS News Hour, CNBC, Fox News, and NPR, and he has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Legal Times, Washington Times, Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, USA Today, Financial Times, and other publications.