One of the endlessly fascinating things about Washington is that once you start pulling a thread close to one of the town’s gray eminences, there is no telling what you might find.
The press recently reported that Rudy Giuliani is trying to pressure the Romanian government to soften its anti-corruption campaign to benefit a Romanian-American real estate tycoon who was convicted and sentenced to prison. The fact that Giuliani is performing this service while he’s also the White House counsel is troubling enough. But what should have garnered more attention—and so far has not—is that Giuliani is being paid by the Freeh Group, a private consultancy run by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
Freeh’s involvement in this case fits a pattern of his mercenary post-government career. Far more seriously, Freeh was also a lawyer for Prevezon, a money-laundering Russian company caught up in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Prevezon is also represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who notoriously participated in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian operatives and Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner to discuss supposed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
You may wonder why someone who headed our nation’s counter-intelligence efforts for eight years would be involved with such miscreants. Well, it turns out, working for these kinds of people is almost exclusively what Freeh has been doing since his FBI tenure ended.
Just who is Louis Freeh? He followed the standard path of someone who would become Bureau director, beginning his career as an FBI special agent, then assistant United States attorney, and then United States district judge in the Southern District of New York. A Republican, he managed to get appointed as FBI director by Bill Clinton in 1993. He served in that position until June 2001.
Publishers Weekly called his book “self-serving, sanctimonious and self-righteous.” Freeh, a devout Catholic, incessantly decried Clinton’s personal behavior as morally outrageous to him. He also said he had serious reservations about the investigation into the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, a natural enough reaction, given the feudal kingdom’s ability to make official Washington dance to its tune.
But once this former altar boy and eagle scout left government, he was not content to live on his pension. (This is, after all, a Washington story.) Somehow, the man who had what may have been well-founded suspicions about the Khobar Towers investigation had no scruples by literally taking the king’s shilling from none other than Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudis’ longtime ambassador to Washington and one of the most influential figures in the kingdom. Freeh became Bandar’s lawyer, defending him from accusations in the BAE arms-and-bribes scandal. In this case, Freeh was remarkably liberal in trying to exculpate Bandar and Saudi royals from their involvement in bribery. But that is clearly not the way a competent lawyer would read the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Having already dipped his toe in Middle East money-making, the former crime-buster decided to take lobby to get the Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq delisted from the State Department’s roster of terrorist organizations. He even co-authored a CNN op-ed in 2011 that depicts the MEK, which assassinated several American citizens during the 1970s and was closely aligned with Saddam Hussein, as veritable choir boys. Sure enough, he succeeded, and the group was removed from the list in 2012. And they have been grateful ever since, highlighting his presence at an MEK clambake in Paris last summer. We have no information on just how tangibly grateful they were, but the organization (which has all the earmarks of a violence-prone cult) has a history of lavishly paying Western politicians to endorse them. Given that the MEK has funded a rogues’ gallery of greedy Washington insiders– Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, John Bolton, and, of course, Rudy Giuliani – Freeh’s presence in Paris is disturbing and revealing.
Freeh may be correct in protesting that the Romanian government—it may very well be using its anti-corruption drive as a pretext to attack people it doesn’t like, while employing secret protocols to charge them and deny them due process. But how does that square with Freeh’s presence in Moscow in the 1990s, while he was FBI director, during which he fulsomely praised Russian law enforcement, an institution not exactly noted for its scrupulous respect citizens’ rights? The most revealing part of his visit, as shown by AP video, was when he said that “ in the United States, crimes by Russians or by Russian organized crime groups are not a dominant problem, this is not a large problem in relation to the other criminal cases and organized crime groups that we deal with.”
But a former colleague who worked at the National Security Council when Freeh was the incoming FBI chief, reminded me that Freeh then regarded combatting Russian organized crime as a top priority. There is also plenty of evidence that Freeh took this issue seriously in his post: There is a Congressional Research Service memo that repeatedly quotes him on the subject, as do other congressional hearing transcripts. For instance, he described Russian mafia activities in 1997 as “a much more sophisticated type of organized crime than we have ever seen in the United States. It goes to cybercrime. It goes to complex fraud schemes. It goes to money laundering schemes and operations which involve hundreds of millions of dollars.”
So why all the sudden does he have such affection for Russia? Perhaps he thought Russian business opportunities could present themselves? Well, in due course, those business opportunities came knocking—most notably from Prevezon.
Presumably, Freeh has been well compensated by them. In May 2017, he was reported to have paid $9.38 million for a house in Palm Beach boasting a view of the ocean. It is conveniently located near Mar-a-Lago. All we need to know further is whether he is comped when he visits the hotel.
And there you have a typical Washington success story. There is no neat through-line or moral to it. It merely shows that the real danger to our country may not be flagrantly corrupt characters like Donald Trump–any person of normal intelligence can spot these pathological types a mile off. The real danger is when the eagle scouts and altar boys, nursing an inflated sense of justification and entitlement after decades of public service, feel it’s “their turn” to finally cash in. That’s when things get really dicey for our republic.