Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) severed his firm’s lobbying contract with the Qaddafi-controlled government of Libya in the fall of 2009, after Qaddafi’s son welcomed the individual convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 back to his home country as a conquering hero.
“Saif Qaddafi gave him a really public greeting broadcast around the world to welcome him home as a hero of the state — that was just too much,” Livingston told TPM in a telephone interview.
Moammar Qaddafi has a long and rocky history with the United States. This week, after Qaddafi turned on his own people in an increasingly violent crackdown, American officials said they were disturbed and horrified by events taking place in Libya.
But back in the early to mid-2000s, Qaddafi appeared to be trying to moderate his image and breakdown the deep-seated hostility between his regime and the United States. He denounced the 9/11 attacks and agreed to pay reparations to families of those killed in the bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Eventually, the U.S. decided to try to normalize relations with the country and expand Libyan business investments. In February 2008, Livingston and his firm, the Livingston Group, agreed to represent Libya, and played a critical role in the process of normalizing relations.
Livingston also has been busy in the last month with work for the government of Egypt, a longstanding business relationship he said he has no intention to end even following Hosni Mubarak’s departure from power. The Livingston Group is one of three top firms, along with the Podesta Group and the Moffet Group, who have joined forces to do the lion’s share of the D.C. lobbying work on behalf of Egypt.
Livingston continues to lobby on behalf of the country’s military leaders who are now running the country, as well as the country’s ambassadors and military representatives in Washington.
“The military runs the show — they are appointing civilian ministers as we talk,” he said. “Our military and their military worked hand in glove for more than 30 years — they work well together and our military people have a lot of respect for the Egyptian military.”
“We’re very hopeful things will work out well there,” he continued. “My sincere hope is we’ll have free elections, and that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t come to power.”
Over the last week, Livingston has been watching Qaddafi’s displays of violence against his own people with disgust. Back when the firm took on Libya as a client, Livingston said he had “no reason to believe that [relations between the two countries] weren’t going to continue to improve.”
“So we worked with them,” he explained.
The Libyan government paid the Livingston Group $2.5 million in 2008 and 2009 to influence Washington on behalf of itself and the government of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and a charity run by his son Saif Al Islam Qaddafi.
Livingston said some of that work dealt with helping settle the legal claims from the families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which had been outstanding for over 20 years. Other influence efforts focused on trying to amend a statutory provision against U.S. trade with Libya in an effort to boost foreign investment in the country.
Around the same time as those meetings were taking place, the Senate lifted sanctions imposed on the nation in the 1980s, after the U.S. declared Libya a terrorist state.
“Things were rocking along very smoothly for us…in the spring and early summer of 2009,” Livingston recalled.
But after Qaddafi welcomed back convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Livingston says things changed. When traveling to the U.S. to speak at the United Nations in late August 2009, Qaddafi demanded to pitch the bedouin tent he stays in on foreign trips in Central Park.
When that request was denied, he proposed setting up camp on land the Libyan government owned in Englewood, N.J. That parcel was located directly between a Jewish synagogue and a Jewish elementary school, and Qaddafi’s insistence created an uproar among residents, local politicians as well as multiple state department officials who were forced to negotiate about the matter. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) was particularly incensed.
“Steve Rothman went ballistic, and he called me and we had a lot of dialogue,” said Livingston.
At that point, Livingston said he pulled the plug on the contract.
“It just became all together more than we felt comfortable with,” he said.
Before that, Livingston had been working with Libya and Qaddafi on making hundreds of millions of dollars in business investments in the U.S.
“After we got unanimous approval for normalization of relations, we were talking to them about making targeted investments in the U.S.,” he said. “[The Libyan government] talked to Chrysler about ordering a vast number of cars…for whatever reason that never panned out.”
Livingston also worked with Qaddafi’s son, Saif Al Islam Al Qaddafi, and a charity he ran called the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which he billed as being devoted to international humanitarian issues such as AIDS and human rights.
Saif, Livingston said, was educated in Vienna and London and appeared to be more western-oriented and he believed that it was focused on humanitarian issues. Lobbyists at the Livingston Group held four meetings for the charity with 68 people from different think tanks and independent organizations, according to a Sunlight Foundation report.
“Saif was investing in the U.S. and [the foundation] was a charitable humanitarian foundation intending to promote civil rights around the world,” Livingston.
Whether the foundation is primarily focused on a humanitarian mission or set up for other purposes, Livingston said he couldn’t say.
“I can’t speak to what they were doing around the world because I don’t know,” he said. “We did work with them in introducing them to think tanks and public interest groups in Washington, D.C. and beyond.”
Just this week, students at the London School of Economics have held demonstrations in the halls expressing outrage over the university’s decision to take money from the Qaddafi Foundation. By Tuesday evening, the school had announced it would no longer accept the money from the Qaddafi family. It had already received 300,000 pounds and was scheduled to receive 1.2 million pounds more, according to the Jerusalem Post.