Former Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.) and political consultant Lanny Davis have teamed up to represent eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar as he eyes a presidential run.
The so-called Davis-Livingston Team is to be paid $960,000 over six months to help arrange a three-day Washington visit for Haftar, according to lobbying filings made public on Wednesday. The engagement was effective Aug. 25 and is expected to be followed by a subsequent annual contract with Haftar “to support the continued enhancement of the US-Libya relationship.”
As part of the first phase of their engagement, Livingston and Davis are expected to help set up meetings with the White House and the departments of State and Defense; congressional leaders and members of the foreign affairs, defense and appropriations committees; and institutions including the Center for American Progress and the US Institute of Peace. The stated goal is to advocate for US support for general elections scheduled for Dec. 24 as well as “additional U.S. political, diplomatic, and economic support to the extent possible to enhance the future of a unified Libya under a democratic system of government governed by the rule of law.”
“The Livingston / Lanny Davis team will be representing Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar,” Livingston told Foreign Lobby Report in an email interview. “Our lobbying mission, as summarized in our FARA filing, is limited to expressing Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s support of free and fair, UN-supervised elections on December 24 — to facilitate a peaceful, stable, unified, democratic Libya, under the rule of law.”
Davis has registered his law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates on the contract and is also expected to provide legal representation and may conduct additional media relations services for an additional fee, if requested. Meanwhile The Livingston Group has registered managing partner J. Allen Martin and international practice director Cathryn Kingsbury as foreign agents on the account in addition to the former congressman.
Michael Laba of the Rawlings International Advisory in Potomac, Maryland rounds out the lobbying team and is being paid $40,000 per month as a liaison to Haftar after initiating the agreement with the Davis-Livingston Team. Samuel Omwenga of Intrepid Investment Services International is also expected to provide support for Haftar’s visit but is not currently registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The contracts comes as rival Libyan politicians have been stepping up their outreach to Congress and the Joe Biden ahead of elections that have been repeatedly delayed since December 2018.
Haftar faces an uphill battle securing public support from the Biden administration amid continued fallout from his failed campaign against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) between April 2019 and June 2020. A confidential UN report has accused Donald Trump supporter Erik Prince of violating the international arms embargo on Libya by supporting the LNA’s offensive, The New York Times reported in February, while the families of alleged victims of the offensive have sued Haftar in US court with the backing of the Libyan American Alliance, a US advocacy group close to Tripoli.
Haftar joins a growing list of Libyan actors lobbying for US support.
Mercury Public Affairs is representing the interim Government of National Unity after lobbying for its predecessor the GNA. Meanwhile former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, another presidential hopeful, has just hired the BGR Group for $50,000 per month and is believed to be eyeing a visit to Washington later this month.
Others casting about for US support include the son of the late dictator Muamar Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, whose US advocacy is greatly hampered by lingering US sanctions, as well as former Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Aref Ali Nayed, who is close to Haftar.
“I’m sure everybody’s going to pop up. Because if they’re not running for president, they’re running for Cabinet member or they’re running for influence in the tribes,” said Christopher Harvin, a founding partner with Washington advisory firm Sanitas International, which represented Nayed as recently as last fall.
In addition to building ties with US authorities, Haftar is also keen to ensure that the December elections stay on track. After adopting a low profile over the past year, he has been holding public rallies in recent weeks and has threatened to renew his assault on Tripoli if elections aren’t held on time, the London-based New Arab reports.
“We followed the wishes of our friends and allies, and we will resort to a political solution… which is the elections,” Haftar reportedly said in July. “If we do not reach a solution, (our) armed forces are ready once again to liberate the capital from militias and criminals.”
The remarks come as the interim Government of National Unity in Tripoli, which replaced the GNA in March, has reportedly been pressing for a delay in the elections. The Africa Report reported last weekend that the US State Department has proposed replacing elections scheduled for this December with a staggered vote that would end in September 2022 amid opposition to the current timeline from the transitional Government of National Unity in Tripoli.
“The US goal is a sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya with no foreign interference, and a democratically elected government that supports human rights and development, and that is capable of combating terrorism within its borders,” a State Department official told Foreign Lobby Report when asked for comment. “The target election date of December 24 is rapidly approaching. To avoid losing the progress made since the ceasefire, there is an urgent need for Libyan leaders to come up with creative compromises on an electoral framework.”
Harvin said Haftar and others are positioning themselves for the war-torn country’s reconstruction while looking for support from the US and Europe to make the elections a success.
“I think what you’re seeing now is the beginning of the election,” Harvin said. Potential candidates “understand that there are fundamental problems and challenges on both sides, in Tripoli and Benghazi. There’s a stalemate militarily, there’s a stalemate politically, there’s a lot of foreign actors. And so everybody is going to use Washington to drive the narrative, not just [for their candidacy] but [also] how the election looks like: How it’s administered, who does the oversight, bringing in election monitors.”
This isn’t Haftar’s first US lobbying foray.
Back in May 2019 the LNA’s diplomatic wing signed a $2 million contract in May 2019 with Houston-based Linden Government Solutions amid mixed messages from the Donald Trump administration over US support for the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Linden’s representation ended in June 2020 as Khaftar’s forces suffered battlefield defeats in their offensive on the capital.
“Basically the contract expired and the situation there is such that they’re focused on more serious issues right now,” Linden Executive Vice President Joseph Fleming told Foreign Lobby Report at the time. “We didn’t end up continuing to engage due to the ongoing situation there.”
Earlier in 2016 Haftar’s interests were represented by former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe and his Montreal-based Dickens & Madson Canada as part of the firm’s lobbying for the eastern-based government in Tobruk. And Washington-based Grassroots Political Consulting represented the Haftar family in 2017 and 2018.
Livingston served in Congress from 1977 to 1999 and was next in line to replace Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as House Speaker before an extramarital scandal upended his political career. His Livingston Group has previously represented the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo but is not currently registered to lobby for any foreign sovereigns. As for Davis, the former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and partner at Washington law firm Davis Goldberg & Galper recently registered as a foreign agent for embattled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
This post was updated on Sept. 8 with additional information from newly disclosed lobbying filings.