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Even a Congress that doesn’t agree on anything is usually pretty willing to say that genocide is wrong, and more than 200 members of the House of Representatives backed a resolution that would condemn a World War I-era massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey. The resolution drew support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Armenian-American groups brought tremendous grass-roots pressure to bear in its favor. But within a day of signing up as a co-sponsor in January, then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) withdrew support. Others followed, with 25 members pulling their names off the resolution by the end of October. The reason: a high-octane lobbying effort conducted by some of the top lobbying players in Washington. Former Republican congressman Bob Livingston of the Livingston Group (Turkey’s longtime representative in Washington) and former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), now a lobbyist with DLA Piper, earned top dollar to fend off the resolution. According to disclosures filed with the Justice Department, Turkey’s embassy in Washington pays DLA Piper $100,000 per month. Livingston, a subcontractor, filed an agreement with DLA Piper under which Livingston would receive $625,000 to cover the period between March and August. Their campaign relied on a deep knowledge of Congress and the proper pressure points in the House — particularly targeting members of both parties with expertise in foreign affairs and defense issues. They met with executive branch officials, as well, and were helped by the White House, which said the resolution would offend an important ally. But they faced a strong foe: Armenian-American groups who mustered a fierce grass-roots campaign of their own. Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, which helped organize thousands of Armenian-Americans around the country to lobby their congressional representatives, says his group rallied more than 100,000 people to do everything from sending faxes to meeting directly with members. “It was a pretty intense effort,” he says. In the end, the international dust-up over the resolution garnered some of the heaviest, most expensive, and highest-profile lobbying on Capitol Hill this year. MURTHA IS KEY This wasn’t the first time Congress had been asked to condemn the Armenian genocide. In 2000, for instance, President Bill Clinton, citing Turkey’s strategic importance as a key U.S. ally in a troubled region, convinced then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to withdraw a similar resolution. This year, President George W. Bush weighed in, again asking the House not to pass the resolution on the same grounds.
Other Foreign Clients
Country/Firm Yearly Fee
Afghanistan/DLA Piper $120,000 (plus pro bono work)
Azerbaijan/Livingston Group $300,000
Egypt/PLM Group* $1.1 million
Ethiopia/DLA Piper $600,000
Republic of Congo/Livingston Group $500,000
Source: Department of Justice filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. *The Livingston Group is a partner in the PLM Group with the Podesta Group.

The resolution calls on the president to craft foreign policy that reflects “appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide .�.�. and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution,” and also to recognize the 90-year-old incident as genocide, a word Turkey objects to using. In an interview, Livingston declined to speak about his conversations with individual members of Congress, but he says he advocated for allowing Turkey and Armenia to settle the dispute over the historical record themselves. He does say that lobbyists working on the Hill sought out members in both political parties with expertise in defense and foreign affairs and encouraged those with reservations and influence in the House to “make their feelings known.” One target for such lobbying: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a strong ally of Pelosi. Murtha held a press conference in mid-October with four other Democrats asking the House leadership not to bring the Armenian resolution to the floor. Livingston’s most recent disclosure report, filed with the Justice Department in September, shows that he and Livingston Group lobbyist Richard Rodgers met with Murtha in February, a few days after the resolution was introduced, to discuss Turkey-Armenian issues. DLA Piper’s last disclosure report, filed in September and covering a period through the end of August, showed the firm requesting scores of meetings with legislators, staff, and administration officials ranging from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office to the State Department, to discuss “Turkey-U.S. relations.” “We saw our job as trying to communicate the importance of Turkey on many levels and the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Turkey on many levels,” says Mac Bernstein, a DLA Piper partner who coordinated that firm’s efforts. Livingston and DLA Piper have not yet been required to file reports showing the period in October when the most heated lobbying seems to have taken place, in the weeks after the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the resolution in a narrow vote. The withdrawal of co-sponsorship of the measure by many members was an important factor in turning the tide in Turkey’s favor, Livingston says. The lobbyists warned members that the resolution could create a backlash in Turkey, and the Turkish ambassador and embassy officials took an active role in the campaign against the resolution. By the end of October, more than two dozen House members had withdrawn their sponsorships. “I don’t think the proponents expected that to happen” to the degree that it did, Livingston says. Both sides seem confident the issue will surface again. Either way, it’s a fight that gives the lobbyists a chance to show their stuff. In an interview last month, shortly after the genocide resolution failed to get a vote on the House floor, Livingston said his firm was doing well during the second half of the year. “We’ve had the good fortune,” he said, “of having good success with some of our clients.” We can think of one.

Carrie Levine can be contacted at [email protected].

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