WASHINGTON – Although Rudolph W. Giuliani is campaigning as President Bush’s staunch ally in the war on terror, his law office has lobbied Congress on behalf of legislation that the Bush administration calls a threat to anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.
Giuliani was not personally involved in the lobbying last year on behalf of the company’s client, the American wing of a dissident Ethiopian political party known as the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, leaders of the group said.
But the firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, used Giuliani’s name in its pitch to win the assignment, and his clout was a reason it landed the job, said Seyoum Solomon, an Ethiopian-American from Maryland who helped negotiate the deal.
“He is a popular Republican, a good friend of the president, and he might have some influence on the State Department,” Solomon said to explain the hiring decision.
The legislation sought by the dissidents proposes restrictions in American aid if Ethiopia does not agree to share power with opposition parties and take other steps promoting democracy. As part of its work, the Giuliani group set up a meeting at the White House last year, at which the administration was urged to consider the viewpoint of a consortium of Ethiopian political parties that included Solomon’s group as well as a more militant rebel organization.
The Ethiopian effort demonstrates the complications Giuliani confronts as he simultaneously runs for president and remains a name partner in a law firm that lobbies in Washington. He is the only Republican candidate who remains engaged in business pursuits.
The Bush administration supports the government in Ethiopia as a bulwark against terrorism and has characterized the legislation as a liability in that effort.
A White House spokesman declined comment on Bracewell & Giuliani’s role. A State Department official described the legislation that the firm helped to push as detrimental. “The reality is, in fact, it does harm a relationship” with an ally, the official said.
The Ethiopian opposition has many supporters in Congress, in part because of concerns about the existing government’s reputation for repression. Even the Bush administration is not critical of the coalition as an organization and has refrained from classifying as terrorists the more militant opposition parties in the consortium that some coalition leaders helped establish.
But the administration believes, said one State Department official who was not authorized to speak on the record about the matter, that the existing government is making progress toward creating a democratic government and has helped to combat an extremist Islamic insurgency in neighboring Somalia, where it has sent troops and worked to aid American operations against Qaida suspects.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the Giuliani campaign, said Giuliani’s views were not necessarily consistent with the lobbying stands taken in Washington by Bracewell & Giuliani.
“At the end of the day, the mayor’s position and ideas on the campaign trail are his own,” Comella said.
Scott H. Segal, a lobbyist for Giuliani’s firm, said its primary mission had been to secure American support for the release of jailed Ethiopian opposition leaders, not to promote the legislation. He said Giuliani’s firm primarily sought to use the legislation to draw attention to those disenfranchised in Ethiopia.
“Not everything we did on behalf of the client was 100 percent consistent with United States foreign policy at the time,” he said. “Our job was to cajole the U.S. foreign policy establishment into taking a principled stand in Ethiopia.”
The lobbying contract, signed in January 2006, is one of the few that Giuliani’s firm, based in Houston, has had with clients looking to influence U.S. foreign policy.
The law firm, which Giuliani joined in 2005 and which pays him more than $1 million a year, specializes in corporate finance and energy matters. But several years ago, the firm was approached by an Ethiopian-American who knew Marc F. Racicot, the former Montana governor and Republican Party leader who once worked at Bracewell as a lobbyist.
“We did not go to the firm because of Giuliani,” said Solomon Bekele, a leader of the American affiliate of the coalition who was involved in the hiring decision. “It was a plus.”
When the contract was signed, Ethiopia had suffered through a bloody few months after a May 2005 federal election that was first heralded as the most democratic in its history. Soon, protests organized in part by the Coalition of Unity and Democracy turned violent as demonstrators began to complain about election fraud.
The government claimed some protesters were armed, while observers said the police and armed forces had overreacted, sparking conflicts in June and November 2005 in which 199 people were killed, including six police officers. The government arrested thousands, including coalition leaders who had just been elected to Parliament, including Hailu Shawul, the chairman, and Birtukan Midekssa, a vice president.
Last year, the firm was able to persuade the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa to insert language into a bill that condemned the violence and the arrests. One new provision in the bill, introduced by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., demanded that Ethiopia reconfigure its national election board to include representation by opposition parties.
Members of Smith’s staff said they had received advice on the bill from many parties, including Bracewell & Giuliani and a lobbying firm hired by the Ethiopian government, DLA Piper.
The Ethiopian government position is that the legislation is being pushed by “extremists in Ethiopian politics who reject peaceful and legal avenues of political participation,” according to a statement issued by its embassy in Washington.
Smith said support for the bill hardly constituted weakness toward terrorism.
“The war on terror is very, very important,” he said in a speech in October about the proposal. “But no regime that terrorizes its own citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror.”
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In June 2006 the Giuliani firm set up a meeting for coalition leaders with Michael J. Gerson, at the time one of Bush’s senior policy advisers.
At the meeting, coalition leaders asked the United States to put pressure on Ethiopia to negotiate with a new consortium of opposition parties that included both the coalition and more militant members, such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist group, according to a written account of the meeting provided by coalition party officials.
About a year after the meeting, the Ogaden group was involved in an attack on a Chinese-run oil field in which more than 70 people were killed.
Solomon said the coalition had always been a peaceful party and did not condone the attacks. But he would not condemn what he called “freedom fighters.”
Segal said his firm had lobbied the administration only on behalf of the coalition, not the larger alliance of opposition groups.
A White House spokesman, Scott M. Stanzel, said Gerson could not recall details of the meeting but described it as merely informational.
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Last summer, the administration worked behind the scenes to win the release of the jailed opposition leaders, as the coalition had urged. But the administration has consistently opposed the legislation in letters written to the House sponsors.
The lobbying contract between Bracewell & Giuliani and the American affiliate of the coalition ended last year. Solomon said the coalition’s affiliate had terminated the deal because the firm had not lined up more news coverage and never delivered on a promised meeting with Giuliani. The law firm said a meeting had never been promised.
Lobbying disclosure records indicate the firm was paid $210,000 in 2006, but Solomon said his group had actually paid only $90,000.
Nonetheless, the legislation that the firm helped push has moved forward and passed by a voice vote in the House of Representatives in October.
Though Bracewell & Giuliani is no longer employed by the Ethiopian dissidents, its communications director, Frank Maisano, arranged a news conference in October on the topic at the National Press Club. Segal said that Maisano had been involved in that function as a member of the press club and that his help was not related to the former Bracewell contract.