A prominent Washington, D.C., law firm has been working on behalf of the Qatari-owned broadcasting network Al Jazeera, prompting questions from a congressional office as to whether the firm has disclosed this relationship under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The firm, DLA Piper, recently sent a letter on behalf of Al Jazeera to the office of Rep. Jack Bergman (R., Mich.) demanding he issue a series of corrections to a recent op-ed accusing Al Jazeera of peddling anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric, according to a copy of emails exchanged between DLA Piper and Bergman's office viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
Al Jazeera is owned by Qatar and routinely disseminates the country's anti-Israel propaganda. Congress recently passed legislation to compel greater disclosure and transparency by foreign-owned broadcasters operating in the United States. Several foreign government-owned broadcasters registered; Al Jazeera has thus far not done so.
The exchange comes in the midst of heightening scrutiny of Qatar's high-dollar efforts to influence policy and public opinion in prominent Washington circles. Al Jazeera recently ran an undercover report on American Jews and pro-Israel officials in D.C., efforts that prompted several members of Congress to demand an investigation.
DLA Piper, in its letter to Rep. Bergman, demanded the lawmaker correct what it described as "significant factual and legal errors" in his op-ed, which was published earlier this month in the Washington Examiner.
The letter initiated a testy back-and-forth between DLA Piper and Bergman's office, which later told the law firm it was "deeply troubled by your message, which seemed to be a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate a Member of Congress to advance the interests of a foreign government that promotes Islamic extremism and anti-Semitism."
DLA Piper partner Ignacio E. Sanchez first emailed Bergman's office on June 5, a day after the op-ed initially appeared.
"I am reaching out to you with respect to the Op-Ed published by Congressman Bergman in the Washington Examiner concerning Al Jazeera," Sanchez wrote. "Our firm represent [sic] Al Jazeera and we wanted to provide you with information concerning some significant factual and legal errors in the piece. Out of respect for Cong. Bergman we want to provide that information to you before going to the paper and will be happy to come see you or the Congressman any time today. It is important that we address this today as we don't want to let the inaccuracies linger without a response."
The op-ed in question, headlined, "The mask drops at Al Jazeera," outlined the Qatari-funded outlet's routine dissemination of anti-Semitism, including a recent case of Holocaust denial, and argued in favor of requiring it to register under FARA.
"Although Al Jazeera has long denied accusations that they are a mere mouthpiece for a Qatari regime that provides funding and safe haven for terrorist groups such as Hamas, that pretense can now be dispensed with," Bergman wrote. "Last year, several House Republicans sent a letter to the Justice Department stating that 'Al Jazeera's record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts warrants scrutiny from regulators to determine whether this network is in violation of U.S. law.'"
"Now, the jury is in, and it is time for the Justice Department to require Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent under FARA," the piece continued. "This would simply acknowledge a longstanding reality: Under the best reading of the current situation, the network is essentially a public relations agent for the government of Qatar operating on U.S. soil; under the worst reading, it is an extension of Qatar's espionage apparatus."
The firm reached out to Bergman to inform him that the op-ed in question had wrongly stated that Al Jazeera was "forced" to file with the FCC, as recently mandated by Congress. Al Jazeera did not file the report, maintaining its stations in the U.S. do not meet the criteria necessary to warrant such a report under the new law.
After receiving DLA Piper's letter, Bergman's office told the firm the lawmaker was surprised to learn they have not registered themselves under FARA disclosing their work for Al Jazeera.
"Foreign state-sponsored media outlets in the United States, by definition, transmit a varying degree of propaganda-infused news products to the American public," Bergman's office replied, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon. "As we are both aware, Al Jazeera is owned by the Emirate of Qatar. As such, pursuant to last year's National Defense Authorization Act, it is required to register and outline the true scope of its interactions with its foreign principal to the Federal Communications Commission."
"Let me ask, have you and your firm, DLA Piper, registered to represent Qatar or its media outlet, Al Jazeera, under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, as is required by law?" Bergman's office asked. "You have represented several foreign entities, so you are doubtless familiar with this process. If you are representing Qatar, you have a legal obligation [to] register on their behalf. Maybe you've already done so, and the filing has not yet appeared online."
"Our office is deeply troubled by your message, which seemed to be a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate a Member of Congress to advance the interests of a foreign government that promotes Islamic extremism and anti-Semitism," the reply states. "If you believe we made an error in fact in our Washington Examiner article, We would appreciate you sending us a thorough correction, so that, with new information we might change our mind. However, your decision to send a representative of the American people what amounts to a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of a foreign client—not to mention one with as much incitement, anti-Semitism and pro-Islamist rhetoric as usually appears on your client's airwaves—is extremely concerning."
DLA's Sanchez, in a subsequent note to Bergman's office, said the firm's goal was to help educate the Congressman and at "no time did we seek to silence any viewpoints," according to a copy of that email.
Sanchez further maintained that Al Jazeera is not explicitly controlled by Qatar despite the country's leadership owning a majority stake. The Al Jazeera media network does not take marching orders from Doha's leadership, he said.
Sanchez also sought to inform Bergman's office that the recent law mandating a report be filed with the FCC for foreign media outlets "do not apply to AJMN as they do not to most other foreign media outlets," according to Sanchez, who offered to meet with the lawmaker to discuss the issue in greater depth.
DLA Piper is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, sources confirmed, though that filing may not have been made publicly available at this time.
One senior GOP Congressional official familiar with Qatar's operations in the U.S. told the Free Beacon that the country has long tried to gain influence in Washington by spending large amounts of money generated from its lucrative oil trade.
"The Qataris fund think tanks and media outlets that undermine American foreign policy debate, and now they're trying to intimidate sitting American lawmakers into silence about their influence operations," said the source, who would speak only on background about the matter. "That's happening just as there's a renewed expectation that the agents they have running around D.C. register. It's a really bad look."
Al Jazeera did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.