Last week, a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators introduced the Retroactive Foreign Agents Registration Act (“RFARA”) in the U.S. Congress. Led by Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, the bill would amend the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) to clarify
Brian Smith provides strategic and legal advice on matters that require substantial political, reputational, or government relations considerations. He represents companies and individuals in high-profile or high-risk investigations, particularly congressional investigations, criminal investigations with political implications, and investigations related to political law compliance. He has significant experience in crisis management, where he advises clients facing combined legal, political, and media relations risks. His practice also includes the development and execution of government relations initiatives, including securing the U.S. government’s political support on behalf of U.S. companies facing international legal issues.
May 31, 2023, Covington Alert
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”)’s FARA Unit released several new advisory opinions in recent weeks that interpret the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) and its regulations. While the newly published opinions addressed a number of topics, the FARA Unit’s broad reading of the FARA triggers and the jurisdictional scope of…
Late last week, the Committee on Oversight and Accountability published the House of Representative’s “Authorization and Oversight Plans.” The massive 241-page report is required by the House rules, and the Oversight Committee’s report collects the individual oversight plans that each standing committee of the House is required to create at the start of a new Congress. The report is the most comprehensive collection of the committees’ plans for investigations in the coming Congress.
This year’s report reflects a significant shift in priorities, reflecting the change in control of the House to the Republicans. For example, the Oversight Plan speaks to expected oversight of the Administration’s alleged “collusion” with “Big Tech,” the “politicization” of the federal government, China’s interactions with the American economy and national security, and the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing prevention efforts. A repeated priority throughout the plans is seeking out and minimizing instances of “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government programs, which includes scrutinizing the recipients and use of government funds.
The plans of the four most active oversight committees—Oversight and Accountability, Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services—stand out in particular for their focus on the private sector and the way companies interact with the federal government. Other committees, including the Foreign Affairs Committee, have outlined ambitious oversight agendas as well. Of note, the Foreign Affairs Committee has added a Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability “to undertake more complex oversight and investigative activities,” including on issues related to China, the conflict in Ukraine, the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the origins of the pandemic. The Oversight Plan does not include the oversight objectives of the newly created House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which we explored in a separate alert.
The following summarizes key portions of the Oversight Plan with implications for the private sector and other individuals and entities that routinely interface with government:…
*This guide was originally published in 2018 and we have updated it periodically.
January 31, 2023, Covington Guide
In 1938, Congress enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), requiring “foreign agents” to register with the Attorney General. As amended over the years, it applies broadly to anyone who acts on behalf of a “foreign principal” to, among other things, influence U.S. policy or public opinion. Until recently, it was a backwater of American law—and a very still backwater at that, with just seven prosecutions between 1966 and 2016.
That now has changed. Like the once obscure Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prosecutors revived from hibernation some years ago, FARA is receiving its close-up. Prosecutors have brought more FARA prosecutions in the last several years than they had pursued in the preceding half century. In-house lawyers have scrambled to bone up on this famously vague criminal statute, at a time when the nation’s tiny bar of experienced FARA lawyers can still hold its meetings in the back of a mini-van.
While cases related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are the most salient examples, the renewed focus on foreign agents actually began prior to the Mueller investigation and has continued long after the Special Counsel closed up shop. A significant uptick in audits of registered foreign agents by the FARA Unit (the Department of Justice office that administers FARA), followed by significant staffing changes in the FARA Unit, and then noticeably more aggressive interpretations of the statute in advisory opinions and informal advice from the FARA Unit, all have signaled a sea change.…
The House of Representatives formally established the new “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party,” with a bipartisan vote of 365-65. The Select Committee, to be chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a former military intelligence officer who also serves on the House Intelligence Committee, has been…
With Senate Democrats having secured the 50th vote needed to maintain control of the Senate, both parties are eagerly awaiting the results of the Georgia runoff on December 6 between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Republican candidate Herschel Walker. If Walker wins, the Senate will be split 50-50. The implications of a 51–49 Democratic majority versus a 50–50 Democratic majority are significant.
An Equally Divided Senate
Since February 3, 2021, the Senate has operated under an organizing resolution negotiated by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The organizing resolution formalized a power-sharing agreement for the 117th Congress and was largely modeled on the 2001 power-sharing agreement reached by then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and then-Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) following the November 2000 elections that resulted in a 50–50 Senate split for the 107th Congress. The 2021 power-sharing agreement laid out internal rules of the Senate, apportioned the makeup and control of committees, and prescribed procedures for the control of Senate business. Specifically, the 2021 power-sharing agreement provides that:
- Senate committees be equally balanced with members of both parties;
- The majority and minority on each committee have equal budgets and office space;
- If a subcommittee vote is tied on either legislation or a nomination, the committee chair may discharge the matter and place it on the full committee’s agenda;
- If a committee vote is tied, the Majority or Minority Leader may offer a motion to discharge the measure from committee, subject to a vote by the full Senate;
- Debate may not be cut off for the first 12 hours; and
- It is the “sense of the Senate” that both Majority and Minority leaders “shall seek to attain an equal balance of the interests of the two parties” when scheduling and debating legislative and executive business.
Yesterday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol filed a highly consequential brief in ongoing litigation relating to a subpoena seeking documents involving attorney John Eastman’s alleged participation in efforts to thwart Congress’s certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Not surprisingly, the Select Committee’s…
After the election of two Democratic Senate candidates in the Georgia runoff elections on January 5, 2021, the Senate this year will be equally divided between 50 Democratic Senators (and those caucusing with them) and 50 Republican Senators. Governing in an equally divided Senate presents several challenges regarding the internal rules of the Senate, the…