Earlier last week, the Justice Department dropped a bomb threat against one of the key figures in former President Donald Trump’s circle. According to the Justice Department, billionaire developer Steve Wynn – a man who have known Trump for years and who served as the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee during Trump’s first year – also worked as a foreign agent on behalf of the Chinese government. As such, the Justice Department is trying to get Wynn registered as a foreign agent.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, Wynn used his position to liaise with other foreign agents working on behalf of China.
According to an lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Justice, Wynn used his position to liaise with other foreign agents working on behalf of China to convince Trump to attack an unnamed Chinese dissident, including by revoking the dissident’s visa and sending him on the U.S. no. fly list. Wynn’s primary contact on the operation was Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who: pleaded guilty in 2020 to work as an unregistered agent on behalf of China — and who? served at once under Wynn as the RNC’s deputy finance chairman. (Wynn resigned as RNC Funding Chair in 2018 following sexual misconduct allegations.)
The lawsuit goes into great detail, highlighting, for example, multiple text messages between Broidy and Wynn’s wife that were allegedly sent on her husband’s behalf. The fate of the unnamed dissident was a “matter of utmost importance” to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Broidy said in the lyrics. Wynn also spoke directly to then-Deputy Minister Sun Lijun on the matter several times, with the now former Chinese official directly asking for Wynn’s help. Broidy later texted that Sun was “extremely happy and said President Xi Jinping appreciates it” [Wynn’s] assistance.”
According to the lawsuit, Beijing had every reason to be happy with Wynn’s efforts. Throughout 2017, Wynn urged Trump several times to put pressure on the unnamed dissident, including during “what appeared to be unscheduled meetings” with Trump. At one point, the Justice Department says Wynn called Trump from a yacht off the coast of Italy to discuss the matter. Wynn has even landed Trump’s chief of staff and high marks from the National Security Council. As the Justice Department claims, Wynn spent months trying to convince Trump — never bothering to register his work with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the primary US method of disclosing work for foreign regimes.
For reasons unknown, Wynn’s alleged illegal lobbying ultimately proved fruitless, and in late 2017, he asked his Chinese government contact to “stop contacting him.” But Wynn’s motivations for sure appear much less mysterious. As the Justice Department describes in the lawsuit, the government in the Chinese city of Macau, where Wynn operates multiple casinos, moved in 2016 to limit the number of tables and machines available to Wynn, threatening its revenue stream. A few months later, Wynn reportedly began bidding Beijing — and began discussing the fate of its casinos directly over multiple phone calls with Sun.
Through his lawyers, Wynn has denied the allegations that he served as a foreign secret agent. However, the fact that the Justice Department has filed a formal lawsuit is an important step forward in the US’s efforts to expose illegal foreign lobbying campaigns. Even with the recent surge in attention to foreign lobbying in the US, Wynn’s lawsuit is the first FARA-related civil lawsuit in more than three decades†
It is not difficult to understand why the Justice Department has taken such a drastic measure.
And it is not difficult to understand why the Justice Department took such a drastic measure. Since 2018, the department says it has told Wynn several times to record its lobbying efforts — and each time, the agency says, Wynn has refused.
On the one hand, the allegations are shocking. After all, the US administration formally accuses a longtime compatriot of Trump, and the man in charge of overseeing the finances of the Republican National Committee, of secretly working for a global superpower that is often at odds with American interests. You would think that such an accusation would lead to a general reckoning among the Republican party leadership.
But instead, these accusations have usually been met with a collective shrug. Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, Wynn isn’t the only member of Trump’s orbit accused of trying to bend the president to the will of another country. next to BroidyTrump’s campaign chairman (Paul Manafort) and deputy campaign chairman (Rick Gates) were both convicted of illegally lobbying for a foreign government. The same goes for Mike Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who… allowed to work secretly as a foreign agent for Turkey, in addition to take tens of thousands of dollars of the Kremlin. And Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, remains under federal investigation for allegedly also working as a foreign agent, after being associated with lobbying efforts by Turkey until Venezuela until pro-Russian troops in Ukraine† †Giuliani has denied the allegations†
This isn’t the only big news either this one week about illegal foreign lobbyists whispering in Trump’s ear. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors revealed more details about the alleged links between the United Arab Emirates and Tom Barrack, Trump’s major fundraiser and former foreign policy adviser. As prosecutors in the US Eastern District Court have argued, Barrack’s private equity firm received hundreds of millions of dollars from the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund in 2017 — all of this came at the same time that Barrack reportedly spoke pro-UAE. in Trump’s speeches, and while Barrack relayed internal discussions at the White House to his UAE handlers.
Between the charges against Wynn and the new charges against Barrack, the Trump administration appears to be even more open to foreign interference than previously thought. And there’s little reason to think that we won’t learn more details and more secret connections in the near future.
But it’s also clear that with the new lawsuit, the Justice Department is willing to use more tools to dig up these networks. It couldn’t come a moment too soon. As Trump eyeing a 2024 run, foreign dictatorships around the world are looking for every opportunity they can find to potentially tilt U.S. policy in their favor — and to do so, as we saw time and time again under the Trump presidency, without the rest of us knowing.