Why Did the Justice Department Cover Up John Allen's Illegal Lobbying for Qatar?
The DOJ seems irreparably corrupt and politicized. But the extent to which he’s been protected—and the reasons why—can provide some lessons.
A few weeks ago, someone close to the Justice Department or FBI uploaded several dozen pages of court records, including a warrant for the electronic communications of the (now former) president of Brookings, John Allen. The filings were promptly deleted from the system, but not before the Associated Press—and, subsequently, many other media outlets and researchers—got a chance to download them.
The documents outlined Allen’s alleged role in an illegal scheme to lobby the White House, Congress and the US military on behalf of Qatar without filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
Curiously, while both of Allen’s alleged co-conspirators—convicted fraudster and embezzler Imaad Zuberi and former US ambassador to Pakistan and the UAE Richard G. Olson—faced legal scrutiny over their part in the scheme, Allen was able to walk away unscathed, despite what appears to be definitive evidence of guilt.
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The court documents appeared mysteriously, just a few weeks before the five-year statute of limitations on charging Allen would expire. It’s clear that a whistleblower connected with the investigation was disgusted by how Allen was being protected by the Justice Department; by making the documents public, the whistleblower could ensure that the public knew about the ex-general and think tank head’s abject corruption and, possibly, spur the DOJ to charge Allen for his crimes while there was still time.
Giving Allen a free pass is disturbing, as the scale of this scheme makes it clear that this wasn’t a typical, small violation of FARA. The seniority of the conspirators and their access to the highest levels of government decision-making would’ve made this one of the most consequential and shocking foreign influence scandals in recent memory. Indeed, both the FBI and Justice Department took it seriously enough to secure convictions and lengthy prison sentences. Law enforcement even approached former Trump National Security Advisor HR McMaster, who Allen had claimed credit for influencing on Qatar policy in 2017.
Of course, the Biden DOJ has not commented on the case or indicated that it is pursuing charges. While Allen will, most likely, not be charged at all, he has already suffered some repetitional harm: he has been forced to resign his position leading the influential Brookings Institute in disgrace and, worse for his finances, the blaring headlines will make it difficult for him to trade off his old relationships with government officials.
Allen will probably not be facing the consequences of the legal system—which, we’ve seen lately, seems irreparably corrupt and politicized. But the extent to which he’s been protected, and the reasons why, are illuminating, and provide some lessons.
Marine four-star General John Allen had been the Commander of CENTCOM, responsible for the floundering effort of the Afghanistan war and then, even more disastrously, for command of Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).
During those years, he’d spent a lot of time at al-Udeid Airbase just outside the Qatari capital of Doha which, since 2003, has been one of the US military’s key Middle East outposts. It was undoubtedly at that posting where he got to know the generosity of the Qatari officials who would be his future paymasters.
They might need us more than we need them, but the perception in Washington defense circles and at CENTCOM seems to be the opposite. While the US military can keep its airbase in a variety of countries nearby, its continued presence in Doha is essential to Qatar’s diplomatic strategy and its national interests. The base isn’t simply an insurance policy against foreign attack or invasion; it allows the Qataris to exert influence of American policy at the highest levels, by using the US military to its leverage inside the Beltway on its behalf.
Protecting al-Udeid—as well as the gifts, promises of contracts, and other relationships on offer to high-ranking commanders stationed there—becomes one of the primary missions of CENTCOM in its dealings with Congress and the White House.
Of course, the al-Udeid airbase becomes a major reason for dismissing criticism of Qatari policy and for siding with Qatar in diplomatic disputes—and this is exactly what Allen allegedly urged Congress and the NSC to do in 2017. As the recently-released documents show, Allen reported this strategy back to his Qatari paymasters following his meetings there. The corruption is hard to stomach: the recently retired commander of CENTCOM working to advance a foreign nation’s interests for pay by using his old base as leverage against the US government’s preferred policies.
How many of the US military’s generals would do the same? Today’s corps of flag officers are survivors of politically-motivated Defense Department purges that began under Obama administration. The Left understood that the capture of what has always been, by necessity, the nation’s most masculine, tradition- an honor-oriented institution is crucial to its remaking of society. It would take advantage of the civilian control of the military to push radical social change in its ranks, like: women in combat; the complete reversal of don’t ask, don’t tell; vaccine mandates; the welcoming of transsexuals (including paid medical transition procedures); ceaseless Diversity propaganda; targeting of right-leaning soldiers as potential ‘violent domestic extremists’; and on and on. The officers opposed to these policies—or have the inclination to speak up about them—are long-gone.
Not, Gen. Allen, however. Allen was one of the most senior military leaders during the Obama years; his willingness to acquiesce to the White House’s radical social agenda was matched by his participation in their war-fighting and foreign policy disasters. Unlike Gen. Mike Flynn—or even Gen. James Mattis—if Allen objected to any Obama policy, he didn’t let his conscience get in the way of promotions.
Once he retired in 2015, Allen joined the elite Democrat-leaning foreign policy ecosystem. He didn’t just spend a career ingratiating himself in the offices of people like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and countless senators on the Foreign Relations Committee; he’d built goodwill and relationships throughout what many have called the “Deep State”—properly understood as the national security branch of the permanent administrative state. As their willing participation in RussiaGate proved, the wing of the Department of Justice responsible for legal issues intersecting national security is hopelessly corrupt, using the legal system to reward partisan friends and punish political and ideological enemies.
All this is to say, a general incapable of winning wars in this Late Republic leaves his post without honor, but with valuable contacts which could be of use in lucrative lobbying and influence-peddling endeavors—or in keeping him from facing justice for his criminal behavior.
RussiaGate as Qatari Information Warfare
As I’ve said often, Democrats don’t have foreign enemies; they despise foreigners who remind them of their domestic enemies.
The opposite has always been true, as well: the Left’s romance with revolutionary socialist, communist, or Islamist movements has been a consistent part of its history, beginning at least with the Spanish Civil War. In the Middle East, Muslim states that embrace political Islam and anti-Americanism, like Turkey, Qatar and Iran, are seen as relatively sympathetic warriors against a western global hegemon, with all the usual alleged vices of imperialism, capitalism, Islamophobia, and so on.
From 2017 until 2020, Democrats found an ally with deep pockets and a willingness to bankroll their domestic war against Donald Trump: the tiny, natural gas-rich Islamist emirate of Qatar.
Throughout those four years, the state-owned and operated Qatar Foundation would subsidize lavish trips to Doha–very often including speaking fees and other perks–for a stream of Democrat politicians, ex-military men and diplomats, academics, think tankers, and influencers.
Under John Allen, the Brookings Institute served as an essential node in the most successful and dangerous information operation in recent American history: the false accusations of Donald Trump’s “Russian collusion” that split America apart, and was responsible for a great deal of civil disharmony from which the country will never recover.
Throughout the Trump campaign and presidency, Brookings’ credibility on Russia was leveraged and laundered to buttress the most wild, irresponsible and baseless Russia conspiracy theories involving Donald Trump and his administration.
In Brookings, the most craven and cynical Democrats found ostensibly serious experts —people with long, impressive CVs and decades as academics or policymakers at the highest levels—to shout completely unhinged nonsense about Trump and Russia, day after day, for a period of years.
It began, as special prosecutor John Durhan found, with Brookings analyst Igor Danchenko, who worked with Christopher Steele to manufacture claims that became known as the “Steele Dossier.” Then, from their perch at Brookings’ LawfareBlog, Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessy were key players in the all-out political warfare operation, tweeting, writing, and leaking from investigations and sympathetic sources in law enforcement. Both in and out of government, Brookings fellows Fiona Hill, Victoria Nuland, and others indulged in and propagated fantasias that obliterated their claim to legitimate expertise but—because they were servicing an emotional need for millions of partisan Democrats—their careers and bank accounts benefited greatly.
In retrospect, it should’ve been plain to see why the Beltway’s most feverish Russia Hawks took to the conspiracy. I explain a bit about why and how this happened in “Ukraine and the NGO Archipelago.”
Crucially, they all seemed to make the same deadly analytical mistake, born of unchecked hostility: because their enemy is personified evil, any evil thing they can imagine their enemy doing is both probable and likely. Once they’ve gotten themselves into this trap, their very active imaginations become obstacles to dispassionate analysis—and they’re no longer much use in predicting their enemy’s actions and combatting them.
Unsurprisingly, these same people were the targets—the very easiest of marks—when the Clinton campaign launched its RussiaGate conspiracy theory narrative in the summer of 2016. They hated Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin both with such fury, they ate up the most fanciful tales of collaboration. It’s not an accident that the most degenerate of Russia fabulists are now in the news again, as if they hadn’t corrupted their analysis and betrayed the trust of their audiences.
Was this unprecedented, years-long political and media assault on Donald Trump cooked up in or directed from Doha? Likely not. There’s a temptation to see alliances of conveniences or correlations of forces as a conspiracy, but that is often not the case (unless there’s more evidence to establish it.) In this case, it’s simple: money is fungible, and the millions Qatar poured into Brookings went a long way in giving financial space with which to engage on RussiaGate.
For a number of reasons even unrelated to the Islamism that is its state ideology, Qatar has an interest seeing the destruction of any Republican president. As I wrote in my book, Qatar’s Shadow War, the emirate’s public branding has long reflected elite, leftist opinion. The editorial positioning of Al Jazeera English is marketed towards urban self-consciously cosmopolitan types who believe all American media—including CNN and MSNBC—is biased towards all the various phobias and isms.
Taking down Allen in a highly public way would be a monstrous blow to Brookings. Of course, doing so would compromise the integrity of the think tank’s work on RussiaGate, which was essential to the Deep State’s effort to dispense with political leaders it dislikes, even including an elected president. But Brookings, as an institution, is even more important to the Deep State in the long run.
The Strange Disappearance of Brookings Doha
Beginning in 2008, the Qatar Foundation poured money into the Brookings Doha Center, a dark-money slush fund disguised as a think tank, completely hidden from disclosure obligations. Despite its self-description as “an overseas center of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC” and “a hub for Brookings scholarship in the region,” it was a Qatari state operation from the start. The emirate essentially licensed the name from the Beltway think tank, like a locally-owned franchise.
From the outside, Brookings Doha looked like a real thing: they had fellows, events, and work product. Creating and maintaining a multimillion-dollar non-profit policy center is no small thing, even with an endless supply of money to finance it. And, after a few years, even a more modest endeavor becomes an established fixture on the scene.
That’s why it’s curious that, 14 years after it had launched, the ignition was suddenly switched-off, and Brookings Doha disappeared without any fanfare. The note at the website is terse, and leaves no clues:
In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.
A look at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs yields almost nothing. It’s been nearly a year since the successor project was announced, and there are few signs of life. “Full website to be launched soon,” the website announces.
Could the hasty disappearance of Brookings Doha be tied to the information that the Justice Department and FBI brought to light in the investigation and subsequent prosecution of Zuberi, and revelations about Allen’s work for Qatar? Maybe. But we really have no idea—but there’s certainly a story there, if a journalist wants to dig into it. Maybe the same whistleblower who released Allen’s search warrant will help us out once more.
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