Qatar's Influence Campaign
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Qatar would like to improve its relationship with the U.S. government, which has supported a Saudi-led economic blockade of the small Persian Gulf power. Qatar didn't just hire well-known K Street lobbyists and powerbrokers. It targeted people they believe President Trump listens to - a radio broadcaster, a real estate developer, a commentator and former presidential candidate - and gave them all-expense paid trips to Qatar and, usually, a consulting fee. Qatar's regime believed if it could win over people that President Trump listens to, he might change his mind. Now, that's according to a news story published in The Wall Street Journal by Julie Bykowicz, who joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.
JULIE BYKOWICZ: Thank you.
SIMON: Tell us how this is done. You begin the story by talking about Alan Dershowitz, whose name doesn't usually come up when you're talking about Qatar.
BYKOWICZ: Sure. He's not an elected official. He's not in the administration. But what Mr. Dershowitz does bring to the table, at this point, that lobbyists have identified is President Trump really likes this guy. And so other lobbyists have picked up on this, and the two gentlemen that I interviewed for this Qatar story said they identified him as someone that could potentially be influential. What Alan Dershowitz is thinking, perhaps President Trump would begin thinking as well.
SIMON: That raises the point - did he wind up being useful to the Qatar regime?
BYKOWICZ: Well, the lobbyists said that they didn't make any specific asks of the people who went to Doha. But they just hoped, and it turns out they were right about this, that these people would say nice things about Qatar and just sort of start to change the conversation that they thought the president might be picking up on through the media that he listens to, the social media that he uses and the people that he has in the White House.
Alan Dershowitz - as an example, he wrote a very glowing column about his visit in The Hill newspaper. And then, people like Governor Huckabee tweeted a couple of nice things about Doha and how lovely it was. The radio host who went over, John Batchelor, actually broadcast from Doha for a week and then spoke very glowingly afterwards in very positive terms, you know, really saying that the U.S. ought to embrace this country more. And, indeed, when the emir visited the White House in April of this year, which, in and of itself, was a big move, the president seemed very friendly with him, very open to him and called him and his country a friend of the U.S. And so to these lobbyists' minds, what they did worked.
SIMON: What are the implications of this new approach in lobbying? I mean, I'm wondering - would Qatar or some other power start trying to get close to the people who are Mar-a-Lago members and might see Mr. Trump over the relish tray?
BYKOWICZ: So this is where it starts extending beyond just what Qatar and its lobbyists were doing. Talking with people in Washington, Fox News and particular programs that the president clearly watches - because he's tweeting during them - are being used for commercials that certain interests want to put before the president. And so it's just making lobbyists and the people who are hiring them behave differently and think more creatively or differently about their traditional approaches to lobbying, which, over the years, have focused largely on, you know, trudging up to the Hill and talking to various congressmen. This period of time, everyone seems to be recognizing, is much more focused on the White House and what the president is thinking at any given time.
SIMON: Julie Bykowicz of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.
BYKOWICZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.