Sen. Rick Scott is calling for the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Amsterdam & Partners LLP after the law firm began representing a member of the Nicolás Maduro government.
But lawyer Bob Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Partners is firing back and threatening to file a complaint of his own.
Specifically, Scott wants Treasury to determine whether the firm’s representation violates existing sanctions on the Maduro regime. Scott is also asking the DOJ to determine whether the firm is violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA.) That law requires individuals or firms doing work on behalf of a foreign principal to register with the U.S. government.
Scott made the request in a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
“I am deeply concerned by recent reports about Venezuelan agents of Nicolás Maduro retaining firms to lobby the United States government to ease the sanctions imposed against the brutal and illegitimate Maduro regime,” Scott wrote.
“I was recently troubled to learn that the firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP has picked up the shameful mantle of lobbying for the Maduro dictatorship. Amsterdam has even publicly stated it would not file a FARA registration statement, a mandatory disclosure whenever agents of foreign principals are retained to engage in political activities specified under the statute.”
“This is a man that’s so devoid of the most basic principles of due process and fairness, that it shocks me that he’s a lawyer qualified — allegedly — in Texas,” Amsterdam said of Scott.
Amsterdam argued his firm is not required to register under FARA — at least not yet.
“Rick Scott, I guess, just does not believe in doing due diligence,” Amsterdam said.
“We are not lobbying. We are a law firm engaging in legal services. And unless you’re lobbying, you don’t need to register under FARA.”
The law firm Foley & Lardner had originally agreed to a contract to represent Venezuelan Attorney General Reinaldo Muñoz Pedroza, who Maduro appointed. The United States no longer recognizes Maduro’s government as legitimate.
After pressure from Scott and others, Foley & Lardner dropped the contract, which included lobbying work.
Amsterdam & Partners then agreed to replace Foley & Lardner. But Amsterdam said that work only pertains to legal matters with regard to Venezuelan government officials who have been sanctioned.
“You are allowed to go to court. You are allowed to make representations to the various government agencies,” Amsterdam said with regard to those sanctioned individuals.
“We are not allowed to lobby and go to members of Congress, go to the press, and start advocating.”
Amsterdam himself is based in Canada. The firm’s work in the U.S. will be handled by Andrew Durkovic, a partner at the firm.
When pressed, Amsterdam did not say whether his firm would apply for a license allowing them to engage in lobbying activities.
“We don’t have it and that’s really all I can say. But were we to have it and exercise those rights, we would then register under FARA.”
Nevertheless, Scott’s letter pushes for action from the DOJ.
“I ask that you investigate the nature of the contractual agreement between Amsterdam & Partners LLP and Reinaldo Muñoz Pedroza, including the services to be performed and the source of the monies to be paid, to determine if such representation violates the sanctions imposed against the Maduro regime and implicates the disclosure requirements of FARA.
Scott is also asking the Treasury Department to determine whether Pedroza or Amsterdam & Partners are in violation of any existing sanctions.
“Maduro and his agents are pursuing a campaign to attempt to influence the U.S. government to maintain their stranglehold on power in Venezuela, but we cannot let that happen,” Scott said in closing.
“I appreciate your prompt and thorough review of this troubling activity by Amsterdam & Partners LLP.”
Scott has said he would personally boycott the firm over its representation of the Maduro government — a government Scott has accused of “genocide” in the past.
Scott has pushed for his colleagues in the Senate to adopt that boycott as well. But Amsterdam says Scott is misinformed in his attacks.
“Rick Scott’s not interested in the facts. Rick Scott’s interested in pandering to his base,” Amsterdam said.
“He’s not interested in the law. He’s interested in intimidating people to not represent anyone that he disagrees with.”
Amsterdam said he plans to file a report with the International Commission of Jurists regarding Scott’s public statements. That body does not have any formal sanctioning authority, though Amsterdam said he would look into whether Scott’s remarks run afoul of Texas Bar Rules as well.
“This intent to boycott, intimidate and deprive people of counsel in matters as sensitive as sanctions is beyond the pale. And he’s engaging in tactics that fall far beneath his duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Amsterdam argued.
“His tactics belong more in Moscow than Miami.”