Africa, Corruption, New in Lobbying

Ex-Cruz aide joins Trump campaign adviser on former AG Ashcroft’s Congo account

The law firm headed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft has hired a veteran Republican communications aide for public relations help as it defends the Congolese government in a decades-old international legal dispute over unpaid bills.

Catherine Frazier, the senior vice president at Austin-based Clout Public Affairs, has registered as a subcontractor to the Ashcroft Law Firm in its work for the Republic of Congo. Clout is a division of Kansas City-based Republican consulting outfit Axiom Strategies.

Frazier was a senior communications adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) before joining Clout in 2019. She previously served as press secretary to then-Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Donald Trump 2016 campaign adviser Barry Bennett of Avenue Strategies registered as a subcontractor on the account last year.

According to her filing, Frazier is to be paid $75,000 to “assist with securing media coverage that highlights issues of common interest between the US and Republic of Congo in the form of news articles, interview with Congolese officials and/or opinion articles from officials or subject matter experts.”

Cruz’s office appears to be a key target of the influence effort. A new lobby filing indicates the Ashcroft firm reached out to Cruz’s chief of staff Steve Chartan, senior legislative assistant Samantha Leahy and national security adviser Omri Ceren between October to December 2020. A conference call with Leahy was held on Dec. 3 to “discuss geopolitics in the Middle East.” Ashcroft also represents the government of Qatar, but the filing says the outreach was done at the behest of the Congolese government.

Neither Frazier nor the Ashcroft Law Firm responded to requests for comment about the exact nature of Frazier’s work.

The Ashcroft Law Firm first registered as a foreign agent for the government of President Denis Sassou Nguesso in October 2019. The firm provides legal services to the Congolese government in addition to political activities that require disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), including “advocacy before US government agencies and departments; outreach to members and staff at the US Congress; development of media outreach and strategy; seeking support of though leaders and think tanks, including non-government organizations.” The non-legal portion of the firm’s Congolese work amount to $75,000 per month.

Among the registered foreign agents on the account Michael Sullivan, a partner in the Ashcroft Law Firm’s Boston office and former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Kim West, another partner in the Boston office who served as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and Ashcroft Law Firm associate Nathan Brennan. Sullivan and West are both acting as lawyers for the Congolese government in a decades-old international legal battle with Commissions Import Export S.A., a company that claims it wasn’t paid for public works contracts entered into in the late 1980s.

The legal fight has since gotten entangled with allegations of corruption against Nguesso and his family.

One of the defendants in the Commissions Import Export case alongside the Congolese government is Ecree LLC. In 2019 the international non-governmental organization Global Witness issued a report stating that the company had bought a $7 million condo in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York for the president’s daughter Claudia Sassou-Nguesso using allegedly stolen government funds.