Human rights, New in Lobbying

World Court retains US law firm to fight Trump sanctions

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has retained a US law firm to fight the Donald Trump administration’s sanctions against its top officials.

The Washington office of Connecticut-based Wiggin and Dana is representing the Office of the Prosecutor, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the court’s head of jurisdiction, according to a new filing with the Department of Justice.

The Trump administration has taken aim at the court as it investigates possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by US military forces and the CIA in Afghanistan. The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the court, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called a “thoroughly broken and corrupt institution.”

President Trump issued an Executive Order taking aim at court officials on June 11. The Treasury Department followed up on Sept. 2 by freezing any assets Bensouda and Mochochoko may have in the United States and restricting their travel to the US.

Wiggin and Dana is providing outreach to the Trump administration regarding the sanctions pro bono and will advise on a potential legal challenge. The filing points out that the firm will need a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before it can provide legal services.

Wiggin and Dana lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice

The lead attorneys on the account are Wiggin and Dana partners David Laufman and Tahlia Townsend. Laufman co-chairs the firm’s National Security Practice Group and is a former Department of Justice official who helped oversee the probes into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Townsend co-chairs the firm’s International Trade Compliance Practice Group. Also assisting is associate attorney Jacob Sand, a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia.

Wiggin and Dana shared a previous link to the ICC via the firm’s representation of Libyan plaintiffs who have sued eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar in US district court in Virginia, accusing him of extrajudicial killings and torture. Before filing their suit the plaintiffs had provided testimony to investigators with the United Nations and the ICC, according to the Associated Press.

The ICC, Wiggin and Dana and the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The ICC has previously denounced the Trump administration’s actions against the court.

Following Trump’s June order, the court issued a statement its “profound regret” at what it called “unprecedented attacks” from the Trump administration.

“These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings,” the court said at the time. “They are announced with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the Court’s independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings.”

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Then again following the Treasury sanctions in September, the ICC decried “another attempt to interfere with the Court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence” and vowed to press ahead with its investigations in Afghanistan.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was “concerned” by the announcement, his spokesman said at the time. Earlier in response to Trump’s executive order, 67 ICC member countries, including US allies such as France, Canada and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement expressing “unwavering support for the court as an independent and impartial judicial institution.” 

This isn’t the first time a world body turns to a US firm after finding itself in the crosshairs of Trump’s “America First” agenda. Earlier this year the World Health Organization hired public relations giant Hill and Knowlton Strategies for $135,000 to target key influencers as it battled the president’s attacks over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Foreign Lobby Report first reported July 17.