The alleged killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is putting pressure on Saudi Arabia’s formidable lobbying corps in Washington, with at least one firm dropping its representation of the country and others warily monitoring the crisis.
The Harbour Group — which had received $80,000 a month to advise Saudi Arabia on communications, foreign policy and government relations — said it had severed its ties with the kingdom.
“We are terminating our relationship,” Richard Mintz, managing director of the Harbour Group, said in an interview Friday.
The Saudis plowed $27 million into lobbying in Washington last year, making them one of the highest-spending countries seeking to influence U.S. policy, according to public records.
Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, called the nearly three dozen Washington lobbying and law firms retained by the kingdom a “Saudi machine.”
So far, many of the firms on the country’s payroll — including the BGR Group, the Glover Park Group, Hogan Lovells and Hill & Knowlton — have remained silent amid growing public outrage over reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week.
Saudi officials have denied any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, who had written critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi officials said Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after entering.
The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate, then killed him and dismembered his body, The Washington Post reported this week.
Privately, several lobbyists retained by the Saudis said they were waiting for more information before deciding whether to continue representing the kingdom.
One lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said his firm was contemplating announcing that it would donate to charity fees received from the Saudi government.