In 2016, the Magyar Foundation of North America paid $103,750 for “public relations” services to the consulting firm of Richard Grenell, Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, called Capitol Media Partners, according to the foundation’s tax filing, reports govexec.com. The foundation was funded and supervised by Hungary’s government, according to records obtained by Hungarian nonprofit news organisation Atlatszo. The foundation’s director, Jo Anne Barnhart, had been a registered lobbyist for Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The work for Hungary is Grenell’s second foreign consulting engagement that was not previously disclosed. On Friday, ProPublica reported that Grenell did consulting work on behalf of Moldovan politician Vladimir Plahotniuc, who the U.S. later said was involved in corruption. Craig Engle, a lawyer of Grenell’s, said Grenell did not have to register under FARA because “he was not working at the direction of a foreign power”.
Grenell, however, did not register, even though public relations work on behalf of a foreign government falls strictly under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to lawyers specialising in the matter. FARA is the same law that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, were convicted of violating.
Grenell’s past work for Hungary was first reported on the blog of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a foreign policy think tank whose funders include conservative billionaire Charles Koch and liberal financier George Soros. In emails published in the blog post, Engle said Grenell knew that the Hungarian government was the “sponsor” of the foundation. He said Grenell’s work did not “qualify as registerable activity” under FARA but did not expand on it. Engle, whose practice at the firm called Arent Fox includes FARA compliance, was also a board member of the foundation and served as its lawyer.
Grenell’s work, according to Engle, consisted of enlisting reporters to attend cultural and academic events. A progress report that the foundation sent to the government said Grenell’s firm was part of a communications team that contacted more than 50 news outlets to promote an event at the National Press Club in Washington. The event was emceed by Connie Mack, a former congressman who was Orban’s registered lobbyist in Washington, and was attended by several lawmakers and government officials.
Watchdog groups have criticised Orban and his far-right party for consolidating power, suppressing opposition, stoking anti-Semitism, and cosying up to Russia. Trump, however, has lavished praise on Orban. “Probably, like me, a little bit controversial,” Trump said at an Oval Office meeting last May, “but that’s OK.”
Grenell, for his part, has advocated bolstering conservatives across Europe. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe,” he told Breitbart London in 2018. “I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”