Hungary has hired a right-wing national security hawk with a large following on social media to push back against accusations of democratic backsliding amplified by presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The Hungarian Embassy in Washington hired David Reaboi and his Florida-based Strategic Improvisation Inc. for $35,000 to combat negative press about the country. The newly disclosed contract runs from Sept. 25 to Dec. 20.
Reaboi is tasked with helping to “generate positive American media coverage of Hungary”; “combat negative media coverage of Hungary”; and “build a network of writers and experts.” Those contacts in turn are to be used to “create interview opportunities for high-level Hungarian leaders, with guaranteed five media appearances/Op-Eds per month.”
A national security consultant of Hungarian Jewish origin, Reaboi is best known for his Middle East commentary in support of Israel and the Arab autocracies that oppose Iran and political Islam. He has been a contributor to the right-wing news site Breitbart and a fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute in California.
His Twitter biography proudly notes that he was once called a ” right-wing Twitter pugilist” by Politico.
This is the first time either Reaboi or his firm Strategic Improvisation Inc. register as foreign agents with the US Department of Justice.
The agreement appears to have been in the work for months. The contract makes reference to a February 2020 request for proposal and is dated Sept. 18.
Neither Reaboi nor the Hungarian Embassy responded to requests for comment. In a tweeted response to this story, Reaboi said he had long supported Hungary and was “not in this for the money.”
Hungary has come under criticism for its anti-immigrant rhetoric and the erosion of independent courts and media since right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban took office in 2010. In March the chairmen of the Senate and House foreign affairs panels, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), criticized the Hungarian parliament for giving Orban sweeping new powers in the name of fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.
The country’s public relations campaign has surged in the closing days of the US presidential race after former Vice-President Biden slammed the Hungarian government during his Oct. 15 town hall in Philadelphia, saying the NATO alliance was at risk of “beginning to crack.” Orban was the only European leader to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016 and is supporting his re-election against what he calls the Democrats’ “moral imperialism.”
“You see what’s happened in everything from Belarus to Poland to Hungary, and the rise of totalitarian regimes in the world,” Biden said. “This president embraces all the thugs in the world.”
The comments sparked an outraged response from Budapest. In a video statement on Facebook, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto mirrored the Trump campaign’s accusations that Biden intervened in Ukrainian affairs during his stint as President Barack Obama‘s vice-president to help the business prospects of his son Hunter Biden.
“It would be great if Joe Biden could tell us why he put pressure on the Ukrainian government to fire its chief prosecutor, and how all of this related to the investigation into his son’s Ukrainian energy deals grinding to a halt,” Szijjarto said (US and European officials insist there was broad consensus that Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin should be fired because of his refusal to investigate political corruption).
Reaboi retweeted Szijjarto’s comments to his 107,000 Twitter followers over the weekend, part of a series of recent tweets in defense of Hungary. He has notably highlighted Hungary’s efforts to diversify its energy purchases away from Russia.
“Biden’s attack on Hungary is utterly stupid. Here they are, diversifying their energy supply so they’re less reliant on Russian energy,” he tweeted Monday. “Europeans talk a lot about Putin, but line up to buy energy from him.”
In addition to Szijjarto’s comments, Reaboi over the weekend also tweeted out Hungarian media coverage of the country’s pro-family policies, such as tax cuts for home construction and subsidies for renovations for families with at least one child. The focus is reminiscent of Hungary’s public relations push ahead of Orban’s visit to the White House last year, when Szijjarto defended his country’s immigration restrictions by framing the issue as a pro-family policy to help native Hungarian families afford to have more children in an appearance on Fox News personality Tucker Carlson‘s show in February 2019.
The embassy had a total of five lobbying and public relations firms working on its behalf at the time of Orban’s May 13, 2019 visit or right after but all had been terminated by January 2020.
Update: This post was updated at 6 p.m. on Oct. 20 with Reaboi’s response.