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Retired General investigated in illegal foreign lobbying investigation

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The FBI has reportedly seized the electronic data that belongs to a retired four-star general as part of a probe into illegal foreign lobbying. You may have heard of him, former Marine General John Allen. He led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and now heads one of Washington's most influential think tanks, the Brookings Institution. Now a federal court filing says Allen made false statements and withheld incriminating documents about lobbying conducted by the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. That's according to the Associated Press, which obtained the court filing. AP correspondent Alan Suderman is one of the reporters that broke this story and joins us now.

Good morning, Alan.

ALAN SUDERMAN: Good morning.

FADEL: So what's at the heart of this investigation?

SUDERMAN: Well, this is a really fascinating investigation. It's had a lot of twists and turns. And there's loads of interesting details and dynamics at work. But at the heart of it, federal prosecutors are looking at whether General Allen, who, like you said, is super well-connected in D.C. - he's a Washington heavyweight...

FADEL: Yeah.

SUDERMAN: ...A former four-star general, president of Brookings. They're looking at whether he knowingly broke the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is a law that basically prohibits people from helping foreign governments to try and influence U.S. policy unless they register with the Justice Department.

FADEL: Now, you...

SUDERMAN: So...

FADEL: Sorry. Go ahead.

SUDERMAN: What they've really zoomed in on is this month, you know, in June 2017, right when Qatar and its neighbors got into this - you know, this big diplomatic crisis erupted in the Gulf. And so they're looking at what General Allen did in that month and the weeks right after that crisis. And we know this - one of the things that's really interesting about this case is, you know, the level of detail we've gotten is because the search warrant that the FBI and law enforcement officials applied for and got a judge to sign off on to get some of these records was posted online on, you know, the public courts database, seemingly in error, because when we asked prosecutors about it, it immediately disappeared. So...

FADEL: Interesting.

SUDERMAN: ...You know, General Allen has not been charged. But you have all this super-specific level of detail that's come out in this case, you know, thanks in large part to this document being posted.

FADEL: What specifically does this court filing accuse former General Allen of doing himself?

SUDERMAN: Well, what's really striking in this document is really just the level of detail. One thing that really stuck out was this meeting that General Allen had in Qatar with the ruling emir and other top officials. And prosecutors, say at this meeting, General Allen is basically giving the Qataris a roadmap for how to influence U.S. policy. He's telling them, sign a deal to buy F-15 fighter jets. He's telling them to leverage the fact that Qatar hosts a major U.S. military base there.

And then one of the things that really strikes out is, according to prosecutors, General Allen is telling the Qataris to use the full spectrum of information ops. And prosecutors are saying they - that an American diplomat who attended this meeting took notes on what was said. And part of this - you know, this part of the conversation, he's talking about black and white ops, which, you know, generally means, like, covert and overt operations. So it's a really striking allegation.

FADEL: Just before we let you go, I do want to ask what General Allen has said about the accusations against him.

SUDERMAN: He has declined to comment on these new filings. And he - but previously, when we've talked to him about this, he's denied ever working as a Qatari agent and said that his efforts in Qatar were really just motivated to prevent a war in the Gulf that would put U.S. troops at risk.

FADEL: Thank you so much. AP correspondent Alan Suderman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.