General Lobbying, Middle East, New in Lobbying, Staff Changes

Ousted Lott led losing fight against Saudi lawsuit bill

A senior lobbyist and former Senate leader who left one of Washington’s biggest influence firms this week had helped lead the unsuccessful fight to prevent one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest policy reversals.

Squire Patton Boggs ended ties with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, on Monday. Lott co-chaired the firm’s public policy practice.

The Hill, a congressional newspaper, linked Lott’s departure to his past support for segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina amid the national debate over racial discrimination.

“We have decided that it is the right time to make a change in the leadership of our industry-leading public policy practice,” Squire Patton Boggs CEO Mark Ruehlmann said in a statement. “As a global law firm, we are obliged to constantly evaluate and tailor our professional offerings to not only respond, but also anticipate the issues and concerns of an evolving marketplace and the clients we serve.”

But Lott told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday that he was fired after word got back that he and former partner John Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana, were looking to leave and start their own firm.

“Word got back to the firm,” Lott said, “and they decided to try to undermine our ability to get clients.”

Saudi Arabia’s royal court hired Lott and Squire Patton Boggs in September 2016 in a last-ditch effort to prevent passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which opened up the kingdom to lawsuits from the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A lobbying filing from that period shows Squire Patton Boggs agents frantically called and emailed dozens of Senate offices over the course of a few days in the second half of 2016 to warn them that US companies might suffer blowback if Washington challenged Saudi Arabia’s sovereign immunity.

“Many foreign entities have long-standing, intimate relations with US financial institutions that they would undoubtedly unwind, to the further detriment of the US economy,” Trott emailed Senate legislative directors on Sept. 26, 2016, Politico reported at the time. “American corporations with interests abroad may be at risk of retaliation, a possibility recently expressed by GE and Dow.”

The gambit failed, and two days later the Senate voted 97-1 to override President Barack Obama‘s veto of the legislation. JASTA became law on Sept. 30, 2016. In March 2017, 1,500 injured survivors and 850 family members of victims of the attacks filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia under the law.

Squire Patton Boggs last reported political activity on behalf of Saudi Arabia three years ago. Still, its Sept. 2016 contract with the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court remains active: Riyadh paid the firm $974,000 in November 2019, while Bret Boyles, Ludmilla (Savelieff) Kasulke and Edward Newberry are still registered to lobby on the account.

During his time at Squire Patton Boggs, Lott also lobbied for the governments of Turkey, South Korea and Cyprus as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

Update: This post was updated at 3 p.m. on June 9 with Lott’s comments to CQ Roll Call.