Def(e)ining Choice: Bruce Fein, the Turkish Lobby, and the Ron Paul Campaign
Posted by Nanore Barsoumian on January 20, 2012
Bruce Fein is a familiar name in the Armenian American press, having time and again represented Turkish-American interests inside U.S. courtrooms in cases such as Schmidt vs. Krikorian; the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) vs. the University of Minnesota; and Guenter Lewy vs. the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is a resident scholar at the TCA, and one of two leading attorneys at the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund (TALDF), established by the TCA in 2008. He had previously served as “adjunct scholar” and general counsel at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). His latest gig, however, is a position as senior legal advisor to Republican presidential contender Ron Paul. The appointment has surprised some who are aware of Ron Paul’s expressed distaste of “special interest” and lobby groups. However, Fein’s close ties to Ron Paul date back at least to the candidate’s 2008 campaign when Fein spoke at Paul’s “Rally for the Republic.”
An odd match
On Aug. 25, 2011, Fein was appointed senior legal advisor of the Ron Paul 2012 Presidential Campaign.
“Bruce Fein’s participation adds to our campaign’s already intellectual heft, enabling us to more broadly engage the conversation about constitutionality, civil liberties, and the dangers to national security of an increasingly interventionist foreign policy,” said campaign chairman Jesse Benton.
Ron Paul has been a prominent voice against interventionist foreign policy in all its manifestations, including the interference of “special interests” in U.S. foreign policy. As a Congressman, Paul criticized the existence of hyphenated Americans (i.e., Armenian-Americans and Turkish-Americans) as groups that sometimes pursue “special interests.” Back in 2008, Ron Paul laid out his reasoning for refusing to support the Armenian Genocide Resolution bill in a speech before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, finding “disadvantages” in “stirring the pot,” and advocating for neutrality.
“One of my long-term goals has always been to strive for eliminating hyphenated Americans. I don’t like the idea that we have so many groups that are hyphenated. So they have lobbyist groups that serve the interests of this group of Americans against another group of Americans. Then you have foreign lobbyists come in, and foreign governments, and representatives—one government over another. Truly, if we had a republic, we wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of a problem being brought up constantly over many, many years…” he said, arguing that the bill did not serve U.S. interests or the cause of peace.
Five years before that, in 2003, prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Paul had blasted Turkey for “demanding billions for its cooperation with our war efforts,” which he described as “blackmail” and a “blatant shakedown [that] gives new meaning to the term ‘ally.’” (See http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul78.html)
Hence the surprise when Fein was welcomed into the Ron Paul camp. On top of his involvement with Turkish-American groups, Fein is one of two principals at the Lichfield Group, which is a public advocacy organization. His wife, Mathilde, is the other principal. Fein spends a significant portion of his professional life as an advocate for special interests.
FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds refers to Fein as a “foreign agent-lobbyist” and “the greatest threat to the Ron Paul camp to date,” in one of many articles she has written on the matter. After providing a list of Fein’s client states, banks, and corporations, she noted, “The Turkish clients paid Bruce Fein $500,000 in less than two years for him to represent their interests. How much is the Ron Paul campaign willing to pay Bruce Fein in order to surpass Turkey’s client value to Fein?”
Edmonds, who is also the founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, retrieved deleted information from the Lichfield Group website, where Fein et al. advertise their “connections” with the Justice Department, State Department, and Central Intelligence Agency.
“Whether a client is a giant corporation handcuffed by ill-conceived United States government policies or a foreign government anxious to influence the decisions of Congress, the president, agencies, the judiciary, or state governments, the Lichfield Group is armed with the skills and contacts indispensable for success,” read the group’s site.
The Lichfield Group also offers “writing services” for newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor, and boasts “connections” with leading newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
As the TCA’s resident scholar, Fein has penned a number of articles attacking the veracity of the Armenian Genocide in publications such as the Huffington Post (“Recommendations for the Armenian Diaspora,” May 8, 2009; and “Lies, Damn Lies, and Armenian Deaths,” June 4, 2009), the Washington Times (“Tawdry Genocide Tale,” Sept. 2, 2007; and “Armenian Crime Amnesia?” Oct. 16, 2007), and the San Francisco Chronicle (“Armenian Genocide Measure is Misguided,” Oct. 21, 2007).
Ironically, Fein has also worked on behalf of a group that asserts that the Sri Lankan Tamil people were victims of genocide during the long and bloody civil war on the island nation of Sri Lanka.
The money trail
In discussing the TCA and Fein’s work with the coalition, it is necessary to introduce Turkish American entrepreneur Yalcin Ayasli, who invested a large sum of money in founding the TCA, the parent organization of the TALDF. Ayasli was the biggest individual political donor in the 2008 election cycle in the U.S., donating a whopping $424,050 to politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties, reported the Nashua Telegraph in January 2011.
In 2010, Ayasli, who currently resides in Nashua, N.H., was the 12th most generous political donor in the country. The Telegraph noted that “while the Ayaslis’ donations have tipped toward Republicans recently, a closer look suggests their giving has nothing to do with partisan politics, but rather is aimed toward advancing Turkish-American relations and the interests and image of Turkey in the United States.”
According to the newspaper, “Yalcin Ayasli and groups he supports helped lead the countercharge against bringing the Armenian Genocide Resolution to a vote during the closing days of the 111th Congress.”
In 2007, Ayasli founded the TCA, and donated around $30 million to the organization from his Hittite Microwave Corporation stock. The company, which he founded in 1985 in Chelmsford, Mass., was reported to be worth more than 1.2 billion in 2008, with millions in revenue deriving from government defense contracts. Ayasli is also a founding trustee of the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF).
The Telegraph further reported that the TCA became “the third-largest sponsor of Congressional travel, spending $545,710 to send five members of Congress and 80 staffers to Turkey since May 2009.”
Up until recent months, the TCA, TALDF, and TCF shared an office suite at 1025 Connecticut Ave., which the TALDF still lists as its office headquarters in Washington, D.C. The TCA and TCF continue to share an office in Concord, Mass., at 48 Jonas Brown Circle, and an office in Washington, D.C., at 1510 H St. NW, Suite 900. Interestingly, all three organizations share the same Washington, D.C. phone and fax numbers.
According to a U.S. Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, the TCA also “works closely” with the U.S. Azeris Network. The latter “calls on its members to email their government representatives to change U.S. policies regarding the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict,” wrote U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Donald Lu from Baku, adding, “The organization also campaigns against any recognition on a state or federal level of the Armenian ‘genocide.’”
The Ayaslis have also supported Ohio’s Republican Congresswoman Jean Shmidt, who was challenged by Armenian American David Krikorian in Ohio’s second district congressional race in 2008. Schmidt later sued Krikorian for accusing her of accepting “blood money” from the “Turkish lobby.” Bruce Fein, along with his TALDF co-counsel David Saltzman, represented Schmidt in the suit. The House Ethics Committee determined that Fein and Salzman’s legal services, for which Schmidt was not billed and which ran to some $500,000, “constituted an impermissible gift.” The committee found that the TCA had been paying Fein and Saltzman’s legal fees. Schmidt was ordered to pay back the full amount. Schmidt was not reprimanded because of her “apparent lack of knowledge of this arrangement.”
Here’s a man at the center of a web of sticky special interests, now sitting by the side of a presidential candidate who expressly despises much of what Fein advocates. Ron Paul’s strict non-interventionist stance most likely suits the TCA: inaction only reinforces the status quo of denial and the suppression of justice for the Armenian Genocide. Ron Paul’s followers praise his record of consistent principled votes in Congress. But his association with Bruce Fein raises some serious questions.