CGCN Group ends relationship with Saudi Arabia

The firm cut its ties days after Senator Elizabeth Warren launched an investigation into K Street's ties with the Saudis, following Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON: CGCN Group, an integrated advocacy and strategic communications firm, has ended its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the fallout of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

CGCN said in the documents that its most recent contract with the Saudi embassy was formally terminated on November 30, 2018, a couple of days after Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass-D) sent a letter asking 18 lobbying and PR firms to disclose their work for the Kingdom, including CGCN.

Representatives from CGCN and the Saudi embassy were not immediately available for comment.

Warren sought to obtain details of K Street firms’ contracts with the Saudis, whether the Trump administration was involved in their relationships, and if they would continue to represent them. Warren’s office wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Other firms contacted by Warren include Hill+Knowlton Strategies, MSL, and FleishmanHillard, however, the Omnicom firm has also ended its ties with the Saudis.

The Kingdom has dozens of agencies on its roster, but Khashoggi’s murder forced several to walk away from their contracts.

Most recently, Saudi lobbyist Richard Hohlt dropped the Saudis as a client, according to a mid-December report from The Center for Public Integrity and NBC News. Reporting to Adel Al-Jubeir, the minister of foreign affairs, Hohlt was conducting communications and government relations counsel on behalf of the Saudi embassy.

In addition, Gladstone Place Partners, Glover Park Group, BGR, Portland Communications, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have all ended their work for the Saudi government and its various business and philanthropic entities.

CGCN’s relationship with the Saudis goes as far back as November 28, 2016, when it was working as a subcontractor for Glover Park Group, another prominent Saudi lobbyist firm, according to documents filed under the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act.

When it was a subcontractor for Glover, CGCN provided comms and government relations and support for a $20,000 monthly retainer.

Eventually, CGCN became an independent contractor for the Saudi embassy. According to a contract submitted to the Justice Department, CGCN was paid $45,000 per month starting February 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019 as an independent contractor. The firm provided "federal legislative advocacy and related services."

Ultimately, the Saudis paid CGCN a total of $225,000 in October for services rendered between February and June 2018, according to a supplemental statement. During that period, CGCN corresponded with a number of prominent Republican staffers, including those working for former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

One of the top issues discussed is the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, which would revoke the sovereignty immunity protecting OPEC members, such as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, from getting sued by the U.S.

Scrutiny over FARA predates Warren’s letter to K Street.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller raised the issue when he indicted associates of President Donald Trump, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for failing to register as foreign agents.

FARA mandates that any company representing foreign governments or political parties must register with the Justice Department within 10 days of the work beginning. Previously, the regulations were loosely enforced, if ever.

Khashoggi, who was known for dissenting against the Saudi government, was killed on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage document. His death continues to loom large on the international stage.

At the World Economic Forum earlier this week in Davos, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron said the Trump administration and other governments haven’t done enough to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.

Eleven suspects are on trial for the killing. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of them.

The CIA reportedly came to the same conclusion as Turkish officials – that Khashoggi’s murder required approval at the highest levels, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Denying that bin Salman played any role, Riyadh maintains that rogue elements carried out the assassination. Trump has backed up this version of events.

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