WASHINGTON, DC – Lobbyists for the U.S. Travel Association, led by prominent NeverTrumpers, descended on the nation’s capital last month talking to policymakers. American pilots accuse U.S. Travel of trying to keep President Trump from enforcing trade deals that support his America First agenda, and question whether the group might even be unregistered foreign agents in violation of federal law.
The U.S. Travel Association claims that it is an “organization representing and advocating for all components of the travel industry.” Some of the most respected members of the travel industry – airline pilots – beg to differ, in an exclusive statement to Breitbart News.
It is led by outspoken NeverTrumpers like Jonathan Grella, who publicly calls the president a “nasty bully,” and represented by a public relations team that calls the president a “depraved clown.”
U.S. Travel is creating a consistent pattern of opposing President Trump’s agenda. It protests the administration’s efforts to strengthen the process of reviewing visa applications for foreigners seeking to enter the United States, an effort that began when President Trump issued Executive Order 13802 in June 2017. The association sent a letter to “raise concerns” against the president’s EO and asking him to “reconsider.”
The association also opposed the Trump administration’s May 2017 decision to propose eliminating public funding for Brand USA, which advertises the USA as a tourist destination. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney supports tourism, he also supports cutting public funding for promotions he thinks are ineffective, “to be responsible for the taxpayers.”
Although CEO Roger Dow disagreed diplomatically by saying his group was “struggling to understand” why the administration would reduce taxpayer dollars going to the campaign, Grella, an executive vice president under Dow, flatly declared that cutting the corporate welfare would be “a big step in the wrong direction.” He also blamed President Trump’s America First “rhetoric and messaging” as a factor in declining foreign visits to America.
All this builds on the pattern Breitbart News reported of U.S. Travel’s lobbying the administration not to enforce Open Skies agreements between the United States and several foreign nations, such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in the Middle East, which have pumped $52 billion in illegal subsidies into their government-affiliated airlines.
Congress is responding, heeding the concerns raised by the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate these apparent violations. Dow and Grella’s group dismiss these congressional efforts as “manufactured momentum” rather than serious attention, despite the fact that this is official congressional action.
Regarding this latest round of pressing the flesh with lawmakers, America’s pilots are openly asking whether U.S. Travel’s people are unregistered foreign agents in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “The purpose of FARA is to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.”
Critically important, FARA does not just apply if you are working for a foreign government. FARA’s precise language, found at 22 U.S.C. § 611(b)(3), defines a foreign principal as including a “corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.” That might cover Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Air.
As global law firm Covington & Burling explains, FARA has not been stringently enforced in previous years, but “that is changing now.” Covington & Burling elaborates that “lawyers are scrambling to bone up on this famously vague criminal statute.”
Other media outlets report that U.S. Travel has never registered as a foreign agent. While DOJ acknowledges that “persons whose activities are purely of a commercial nature are exempt” from FARA, American pilots are crying foul about U.S. Travel spending time on Capitol Hill with members of Congress, wondering if these are attempts to sway U.S. policy, and thereby possibly trigger FARA requirements.
Breitbart News previously reported that the Air Line Pilots Associations, International, sent a letter in 2017 asking DOJ’s National Security Division to investigate whether U.S. Travel is violating FARA. “The American public deserves to know that the ultimate beneficiaries of U.S. Travel’s lobbying campaign are the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which have a direct financial interest in preferential treatment that U.S. Travel is seeking on behalf of their respective state-owned airlines.”
“We believe the U.S. Department of Justice owes it to American workers to investigate the U.S. Travel Association’s activities and enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Lobbying Disclosure Act,” Captain Tim Canoll, president of the pilots’ association, said exclusively to Breitbart News, reacting to U.S. Travel’s recent conversations with lawmakers.
“These laws are designed to bring transparency to foreign governments, and the American public should know if other countries are attempting to influence U.S. lawmakers and government,” he added.
Violations of certain FARA provisions carry a maximum criminal penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in federal prison.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.