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RICHMOND, Virginia, April 28, (AP): A former top-ranking State Department official is set to plead guilty for improperly helping a wealthy Gulf country try to influence U.S. policy and not disclosing on a government ethics form gifts he received from a disgraced political fundraiser. Court records filed earlier this month say that Richard G. Olson, who was the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of the Obama administration, provided “aid and advice” to Qatar on lobbying activities in violation of a “revolving door” prohibition against such behavior for one year after leaving public service.
Olson, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, indicated in a signed filing earlier this month he intends to plead guilty. It’s unclear if he’s cooperating in other investigations.
The case represents one of the more high-profile efforts by the Justice Department in recent years to crack down on unreported or illegal influence campaigns funded by foreign governments aimed at altering U.S. policy. Federal prosecutors also said that while at the State Department, Olson failed to disclose certain financial benefits he received from a California businessman named Imaad Zuberi.
Once a major political donor, Zuberi is now serving a 12 year prison sentence for funneling illegal campaign contributions to politicos in both major parties and then peddling the resulting influence to foreign governments.
The new court records do not use Zuberi’s name, but The Associated Press was able to identify him based on court filings in other cases, letters a Zuberi representative has sent to Congress, and interviews with Zuberi associates. Neither the Justice Department or Olson’s attorney immediately returned requests for comment.
Shortly after Olson left the State Department, several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, launched a blockade against Qatar that sparked a massive spending spree in Washington on lobbying and other efforts to influence U.S. policy.
Olson, Zuberi and retired Marine four-star Gen. John Allen traveled to Doha early in the diplomatic crisis to meet with top Qatari officials and discuss ways of resolving the issue, according to court records and a statement Allen’s spokesman provided to the AP last year. Federal prosecutors write in Olson’s newly filed court records that shortly after the June 2017 trip, Olson, Zuberi, a Qatari official and Allen, who is only identified as “Person 3,” met with several Congressmen “for the purpose of convincing the U.S. lawmakers to support Qatar rather than its regional rivals in the Gulf Diplomatic Crisis.” Emails that Zuberi’s representative submitted in a letter to Congress also show that Zuberi pushed for Olson and Allen to accompany Qatari officials to a White House meeting with then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.