Mississippi Dem Senate Candidate Made $750,000 Lobbying on Behalf of African Despot

Mike Espy | Espy for Senate
November 19, 2018

A Democratic candidate in Mississippi's runoff election for the U.S. Senate received $750,000 after lobbying on behalf of an African despot who is on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Mike Espy, who served as former President Bill Clinton's secretary of agriculture, was paid the money in 2011 by the government of then-Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, Fox News reported.

The payment appears to be inconsistent with Espy's claims that he accepted only some of the money.

"I have voluntarily suspended it," Espy said in 2011 about his contract with the Ivory Coast government. "Events are spiraling rapidly. It is very difficult to work in that context."

Espy claimed to have received only $400,000 of the $750,000 after reneging on the three-month contract about a month into the agreement amid pushback for profiting from a ruthless government.

But a FARA Supplemental Statement filed with the Justice Department in 2011 shows that he received all $750,000 and dropped the contract just over two weeks before it was set to end.

"Secretary Espy worked on agricultural issues for international clients," the Espy campaign communications director, Danny Blaton, told Fox News. "Over the course of that work, he realized one of those clients didn't pass the smell test, so he terminated the contract, and then reported what he knew to the U.S. government."

After losing the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo would not relinquish power, instead resorting to "extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape of his political opponents," Fox noted. Amid the crisis, Gbagbo's government asked Espy to represent him in conversations with the Obama administration and the United Nations. It is unclear how much Espy made at that time.

The contract in question in 2011 involved lobbying on behalf of the Ivory Coast's Cocoa and Coffee Board, which the government controlled and funded. During Gbagbo's presidency, the country's cocoa industry came under fire for use of child labor and slaves.

The United States blacklisted Cocoa and Coffee Board's products.

Gbagbo is currently being tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Espy is challenging Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to succeed former Sen. Thad Cochran after his retirement in April. Neither Hyde-Smith nor Espy received 50 percent of the vote in the midterm elections last week, forcing a runoff election on Nov. 27.