You may wonder about why John McCain has been so wild about getting us into a new Cold War with Russia in general, and into what could turn into a shooting war with them over Georgia in particular. I mean, other than the fact that he's John McCain ... The Washington Post reports:
Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic.
The day of the call, a lobbying firm partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington.
The McCain campaign said Georgia's lobbying contract with Orion Strategies had no bearing on the candidate's decision to speak with President Mikheil Saakashvili and did not influence his statement. "The Embassy of Georgia requested the call," said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
But ethics experts have raised concerns about former lobbyists for foreign governments providing advice to presidential candidates about those same countries. "The question is, who is the client? Is the adviser loyal to income from a foreign client, or is he loyal to the candidate he is working for now?" said James Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University. "It's dangerous if you're getting advice from people who are very close to countries on one side or another of a conflict."
At the time of McCain's call, Scheunemann had formally ceased his own lobbying work for Georgia, according to federal disclosure reports. But he was still part of Orion Strategies, which had only two lobbyists, himself and Mike Mitchell.
Scheunemann remained with the firm for another month, until May 15, when the McCain campaign imposed a tough new anti-lobbyist policy and he was required to separate himself from the company.
Rogers said Scheunemann "receives no compensation of any type from Orion Strategies and has not since May 15, 2008." Scheunemann declined to be interviewed for this story.
As a private lobbyist trying to influence lawmakers and Bush administration staffers, Scheunemann at times relied on his access to McCain in his work for foreign clients on Capitol Hill. He and his partner reported 71 phone conversations and meetings with McCain and his top advisers since 2004 on behalf of foreign clients, including Georgia, according to forms they filed with the Justice Department.
The contacts often focused on Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and on legislative proposals, including a measure co-sponsored by McCain that supported Georgia's position on South Ossetia, one of the Georgian regions taken over by Russia this weekend.
Another measure lobbied by Orion and co-sponsored by McCain, the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2006, would have authorized a $10 million grant for Georgia.
For months while McCain's presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia's lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees.
Since 2004, Orion has collected $800,000 from the government of Georgia.
Since Orion consists of two guys, that's basically $400k that the Republic of Georgia put into the pocket of McCain's top foreign policy adviser.
You know, these ex-Soviet Union folks must snicker at how cheap it is to buy American politicians. The Exile had a column once about how politicians in the ex-Soviet region expect to wind up with hundreds of millions of dollars in London real estate, while American politicians get bought for peanuts (e.g., $90,000 in cold cash in the icebox).
My view is that we should treat Americans who have been registered agents for foreign governments the way we treat mob lawyers -- as a necessary part of the system, but, in return for the money, they permanently disqualify themselves for important roles in government, other than maybe Mayor of Las Vegas. But nobody else seems to think that way.
By the way, this guy Scheunemann was in deep with Ahmad Chalabi, and now he's got a shot at being, what, National Security Adviser? How many times do you have to screw up in Washington before your act wears thin?