Libyan government hires US lobbyists as confusion mounts over Trump support for warring rebels

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In 2011, Libyan rebels, pictured here, deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Now the UN-backed Libyan government faces a threat from a Libyan-American rebel leader. (Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images)

Another foreign government has inked a deal with a U.S. lobbying firm.

The internationally-recognized government of Libya hired D.C. lobbyists just days after President Donald Trump expressed support for a Libyan-American rebel’s escalating campaign against the government. The existence of the lobbying contract was first reported by Al-Monitor.

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) was formed and recognized by the United Nations in 2015. That came after years of civil war, violence and instability following the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The current crisis facing the government is growing each day. As of Monday, at least 345 people have reportedly been killed as the rebel force launches attacks on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya’s capital city.  

According to a recent FARA filing accessed using the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool, the Libyan government hired Mercury Public Affairs on April 26 to “provide strategic consulting and management services” such as lobbying Congress and the Trump administration, “identify interest groups allied with Client and coordinate support,” media and public relations work and the vaguely described “international affairs.”

The contract with Mercury stipulated that the GNA will make an initial payment of $500,000, along with paying $150,000 per month and an additional $50,000 per quarter for expenses related to the provided services.

The contract lists Mercury’s contact in the GNA as Yousef al-Mabrouk, chief of staff for the Office of the Prime Minister. The prime minister is Fayez al-Sarraj who has held the position since 2016 and survived an assassination attempt in 2017.     

Mercury has a history of landing powerful foreign clients who appear in the spotlight. They represented Lord Gregory Barker of Battle and the Oleg Deripaska-linked energy company in an effort to overturn U.S. sanctions on the oligarch’s business. Other clients have included the likes of the Turkish, Japanese, Haitian, Kazakhstani and Qatari governments, a Guyanese political party, a Romanian political party and more.

They also made a deal with ZTE, the controversial Chinese telecom company, to run influence operations on their behalf. Mercury employed former Trump campaign aide Bryan Lanza as part of the plan.

The firm is a growing power in foreign lobbying circles. In 2018, the firm made at least $6.4 million from their lobbying and public affairs work, a significant increase from the roughly $1.6 million worth of contracts in 2017.  

Leading the armed opposition to the GNA is General Khalifa Haftar, an army officer who participated in the coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969. Haftar’s relationship with Gaddafi broke down in the 1980s and he moved to Langley, Va., where he became a U.S. citizen. There has been some reporting that Haftar has close connections or a working relationship with American intelligence agencies.

During the 2011 Libyan revolution that overthrew Gaddafi, Haftar returned to the country and led rebel forces in eastern Libya. He has opposed the GNA since 2014, when he announced a military coup and has gained allies in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  

In recent weeks, Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli with his Libyan National Army force. It has grown increasingly unclear who the U.S. is supporting. An April 7th statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces.” On April 24, President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly have both had phone calls with Haftar in recent weeks, even as the U.S. still formally recognizes the GNA government.

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