Middles East Eye (MEE) said on Wednesday that Khalifa Haftar is facing a number of setbacks in Washington, with recent lobbying efforts stalling and potentially damaging legislation working its way through the US Congress.
Haftar hired a former top aide to US President Bill Clinton and a retired Republican lawmaker in September, in preparation for what many believed would be his bid for the presidency in elections slated for later this year.
But according to documents filed with the US Department of Justice and seen by Middle East Eye, the six-month contract that Haftar signed with Lanny Davis and former congressman Robert Livingston, a deal thought to be worth roughly $1 million, was suspended on 30 September.
Lobbying firm Rawlings International Advisory Group, which introduced Haftar to the Washington heavyweights, has also terminated its agreement with Haftar, MEE has learned.
Haftar’s lobbying efforts also coincided with a raft of legislation being debated in Congress that could pose serious challenges for the renegade commander and his future aspirations in Libya.
A congressional source with knowledge of the legislation told MEE that support for the bill across party lines may demonstrate an emerging consensus among US lawmakers who are concerned the presence of foreign fighters could derail the country’s first scheduled elections to be held since an October 2020 UN-brokered ceasefire.
“All eyes are focused on December and trying to make sure that elections take place as scheduled,” the source said on condition of anonymity, adding: “This bill aims to create a conducive environment for those elections, which is the top priority on Capitol Hill.”
A source told MEE that the trouble began in May 2019 after Haftar’s forces captured an American citizen operating as a pilot for the internationally recognized government.
Jamie Sponaugle, a US Air Force veteran, was eventually released – but was held for six weeks and prevented from speaking with the State Department while in captivity.
“Holding the pilot was what cost him [Haftar] the relationship with the Trump administration and ruined whatever goodwill he had in Washington at the time,” the source said, adding: “He was snubbed after that. He just made it too weird.”
The passage of the Libyan Stabilization Act in the House and the abrupt end to Haftar’s agreement with Davis and Livingston has fueled speculation as to what Haftar expected to gain from the high-power duo who said their work was “limited to expressing Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s support of free and fair, UN-supervised elections on December 24”.
In a statement, Davis and Livingston told MEE: “We offer the Field Marshal our best wishes that he can carry out the commitment he made to us, leading us to represent him under FARA and as stated in our mission statement in our contract: That he will continue to support the UN-supervised free and fair elections as scheduled on 24 December 2021.”
Anna Massoglia, an investigative researcher on foreign influence at OpenSecrets, said it was unclear which side terminated the lobbying contract, or if it was mutual, but the timing could prove a clue.
She told MEE: To have legislation that is not necessarily favorable to their client, that could have been enough reason that [Haftar] was not pleased with the outcome there.
MEE said that perhaps more troubling for Haftar are two amendments buried in a mammoth US defense spending bill which were introduced by Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski.
The Senate is set to decide whether to include them in their final version of the bill in the coming weeks, offering a potential quick victory for Haftar’s opponents.
One amendment requires the president review those violating the UN arms embargo on Libya and look to impose sanctions on them, while the second is seen as a direct challenge to Haftar in that it requests the Department of State to report on war crimes and torture committed against US citizens in Libya.
A congressional source told MEE the language makes it clear who would be affected by the amendment.
“It essentially asks the DOJ to look into allegations of war crimes against a US citizen,” the source said, without specifically naming Haftar.
“There are clear and serious allegations about a person and we don’t intend to let them fly by.” The source added.