Ex-Chief US Diplomat Sentenced Over Qatar Lobbying Plot | PA Power and Policy
Richard G. Olson Pleads Guilty to Aiding Foreign Government
WASHINGTON (AP) — Richard G. Olson, a former high-ranking U.S. official, received a sentence of three years probation and was ordered to pay a $93,350 fine on Friday for inappropriately assisting a wealthy Persian Gulf country to sway U.S. policy. In addition to this, Olson did not declare gifts he received from a disgraced political fundraiser.
Olson served as the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the last years of the Obama administration. Last year, he pleaded guilty to unlawfully offering aid and counsel to Qatar while working for Imaad Zuberi, a once prominent political contributor who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for tax evasion, campaign finance violations, and failure to register as a foreign agent.
High-Profile Prosecution Amid Crackdown on Illegal Influence Campaigns
Olson is among the most notable former government officials to face legal action amidst the Justice Department’s recent efforts to crack down on undisclosed or unlawful influence campaigns funded by foreign governments aiming to change U.S. policy.
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey stated that while a substantial fine was fitting for Olson’s misconduct, he did not believe it justified incarceration. Harvey reminded Olson that the American public anticipates exemplary behavior from top diplomats.
Olson’s Admission to Misdemeanors and His Attempts to Conceal Wrongdoing
Olson admitted guilt to two misdemeanors, one of which was a charge of violating a “revolving door” prohibition for certain high-level government employees against aiding and advising a foreign country for one year after departure from public service. Over the past few months, prosecutors and Olson’s attorneys have been debating the severity of his sentence.
Claiming that Olson attempted to hide his misconduct by erasing emails and lying to the FBI, prosecutors also stated that Olson had accepted first-class travel from Zuberi while assisting him to lobby members of Congress for approving weapons sales to foreign nations.
Consequences and Impact of Olson’s Actions
A prosecutor from the Justice Department’s national security division, Evan Turgeon, argued that imprisonment was necessary to send a strong deterrent message to other high-ranking public officials, as Olson had refused to fully accept responsibility for his misconduct.
During the case hearing, a regretful Olson admitted his mistake and the substantial impact it had socially and professionally. He lamented, “I made a mistake, and it has had enormous consequences.”
Olson is the only former government official associated with Zuberi to face any criminal charges despite prosecutors asserting that the former political donor’s case exposed a “pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes.” It is observed that Zubari used illegal campaign contributions to gain access to top U.S. officials, which an Associated Press investigation discovered included then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Mustian reported from New York.
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