On Jan. 12, a woman from Kazakhstan wrote to a Russia-born lobbyist working out of President-elect Donald Trump's building, 40 Wall Street, in Manhattan. Public records don't show exactly what she wanted, but she thought the lobbyist could help her by talking to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.
"Thank you very much for attention to my business proposals," she wrote in an email. "If you could assist me in promoting it here in US through Mr. Trump's son-in-law or somehow else I would be very grateful."
It's just one tale from the Justice Department's FARA registry — a database where, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, those working to influence the U.S. government on behalf of other nations must declare their intentions.
Although FARA has seen fewer than 70 registrants each year since 2001, 101 entities have registered in 2017 — perhaps because special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia probe has prompted more careful compliance with public disclosure standards. Of those, 61 registrants are in the District, Maryland or Virginia. And if any dealings detailed in the registry seem shady, registrants say FARA exists to bring them into the light.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said it was aware of the increase in FARA registrants, but declined to comment further.
"Most of the people registered there are not nefarious at all," said Bruce Morrison, a lobbyist and former Democratic congressman from Connecticut. "We don't preclude foreign governments from asserting their interest in the United States. We just require that they tell us."
Morrison is one of the D.C. region's most recent FARA registrants. His Bethesda lobbying firm, the Morrison Public Affairs Group, registered on Dec. 10, saying it would provide "political and policy consultation, representation to Congress and Executive Branch" for Ireland.
A longtime champion of immigrants' rights, Morrison proposed a fee of $7,500 to Irish officials last month to "prepare draft legislative language for a provision to assist Irish undocumented in the U.S. to gain work and travel authorization," FARA documents show.
"My judgment is I'm required to register, so I registered," Morrison said. "I'm not a scofflaw. I'm a former member of Congress. I take my lobbying registration requirements seriously." He added: "I'm not Paul Manafort" — a reference to the former Trump campaign manager charged with making false statements in his FARA registration.
Others view FARA registration as superfluous and unnecessary.
John Garziglia, owner of a Virginia-based radio frequency that broadcasts a Russian-funded radio station with offices blocks from the White House, stated his objections in a letter he included with the registration.
The company "does not qualify for registration under [FARA], but is doing so at your direction," Garziglia, a communications lawyer, wrote the Justice Department on Nov. 15. "We do so because we have been directed to do so, not because it is required by the law."
Uriel Rubinov, the Russian lobbyist working out of Trump's 40 Wall Street building, also criticized the registry. Rubinov, who emigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1988 at age 11, said he later became a citizen and had a career on Wall Street before founding a consulting company in 2011. He registered with FARA in April.
His registration, which he said he didn't know would be made public, indicates he is "engaged to help Kazakhstan with their sovereign asset privatization efforts."
Rubinov declined to discuss the plans. However, he argues that FARA foils intelligence-gathering because it forces potential sources to show their hands.
"I'm a die-hard U.S. citizen," he said. "I'm all about America. I'm all about transparency — full disclosure. However, this whole FARA program is counterproductive to the U.S. government." He added: "If they want to gather intelligence, they should keep it confidential."
Rubinov said he doesn't know Kushner and never approached him about Kazakhstan. In an email, Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell wrote: "There is no record or recollection that any contact, call or meeting ever occurred."
Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas who teaches foreign relations law, said there is "a bit of a stigma" that comes with FARA registration, leading some who work for foreign governments to avoid registering.
However, Vladeck said, FARA doesn't penalize activity by foreign agents. It just demands their activities be reported.
"It's meant to say whatever you're doing, shady or otherwise, should be transparent," he said.
Daniel Faraci, a lobbyist with Grassroots Political Consulting in the District, registered under FARA recently and represents the family of Khalifa Hifter, the head of Libya's army, amid that nation's civil war.
In an interview, Faraci said that Hifter is working toward fighting Islamic militants and eliminating the slave trade so Libya will one day be ready for a presidential election. Faraci said he registered under FARA himself because "when you believe in what you're doing, a registration is just a registration."
"I did not have any hesitation in contacting them," he said. "The client is fully on board with it. The client is just like me. . . . I would rather be overly cautious to make sure we're crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i.' "