Hundreds of veterans unwittingly became lobbyists for the Saudi government

Lauren Warner
December 06, 2018 - 11:24 am

Photo courtesy of Dreamstime

Hundreds of veterans were unwittingly used as pawns to lobby for U.S. legislation the Saudi government supported, and put up in luxury hotel rooms in Washington DC - all paid for by the Saudi Arabian government.

As reported in The Washington Post, a veterans advocacy group, D.C. lobbyist agency, and the Saudi Arabian government are all connected to the latest veteran scandal. The report says that over the course of three months, lobbyists supporting the Saudi Arabian government's interests booked over 500 nights at the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C.

Those trips were part of a massively unconventional campaign developed to utilize unknowing veterans as pawns in an attempt to shut down The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). JASTA allows victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia, among other foreign nations, for their role in the attacks (though the bill does not mention Saudi Arabia by name). Six groups of U.S. military veterans were housed at the Trump Hotel, costing the Saudi's over $270,000 according to the lobbying records. 

The NMLB Veterans Advocacy Group, which is run by a veteran, was hired by a secondary lobbyist group, Qorvis, acting on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government. The veterans invited to Washington D.C. were encouraged to "storm the hill" and lobby against JASTA. According to the veterans interviewed by The Washington Post, they were told that if JASTA was successfully passed, then other countries would be able to reciprocate with similar laws. This would lead to lawsuits against U.S. soldiers for their actions. 

In 2016, the NMLB Veterans Advocacy Group began inviting veterans to Washington D.C. to stay first in Northern Virginia, then in D.C. at the Trump Hotel, for free. The trips were advertised as a free vacation from the NMLB, saying "[i]t’s an awesome trip and basically like a 5 star vacation :)” According to the complaint filed March 29, 2017, many of the veterans who took the trips were unaware that the Saudis were paying for their stay or backing the lobbying encouraged on the trips. The veterans involved in the lobbying campaigns were instructed to speak with lawmakers specifically about JASTA. 

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Henry Garcia, a Navy veteran from San Antonio, told the Post. He said the organizers never said anything about Saudi Arabia when they invited him-- and he went on three of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Capitol Visitors Center

According to the Post, David Casler, a retired Marine sergeant living in Sacramento, said he thought a nonprofit veterans group was paying to fly him to Washington and put him up in the Trump hotel. It wasn’t until after he arrived in Washington that he figured out the Saudis were paying the bill, he said.

“We realized we were pawns,” Casler said. 

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