The Saudi Arabian government reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to encourage U.S. veterans to lobby against a law that would have allowed families of those killed in 9/11 to sue the country.
Despite the existence of a law requiring lobbyists to notify Congress if they are receiving money from a foreign government, the lobbyists did not do so until months after, The Associated Press reports.
Almost 3,000 people died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, District of Columbia and Pennsylvania. Of the 19 hijackers involved, 15 were from Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act enabled families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts. After the legislation was enacted, military veterans traveled to Capitol Hill to argue that unintended consequences could result from passing the measure. Those military veterans had their flights and accommodation paid for by the Saudi government.
Critics of the bill, which Congress passed in September 2016, stated that it could open up U.S. troops and contractors to lawsuits. Former President Barack Obama sought to veto the law, but Congress overruled him.
After the bill was passed, the Saudi foreign minister stated that he hoped "wisdom will prevail and that Congress will take the necessary steps to correct this legislation in order to avoid the serious unintended consequences that may ensue."
The Saudi embassy's chief lobbyist in Washington alleged that they had encouraged the groups they were working with to be transparent about the source of the funds.
Others argued the U.S. Department of Justice should have been more proactive.
"If the purpose of the statute is to make a public record about how foreign sovereigns are spending money to influence U.S. policy, it's not clear how the Justice Department's relatively lax enforcement of the statute furthers that goal," law professor Stephen Vladeck told AP.
Some of the veterans involved in the campaign stated they were unaware of the Saudi involvement.
"It was very evident that they weren't forthcoming; they weren't telling us the whole truth," said David Casler, a former Marine sergeant. "They flat-out lied to us on the first day with the statement: 'This is not paid for by the Saudi Arabian government.'"
But others suggested Riyadh's role was known.
"We have allies," Chuck Tucker, retired U.S. Air Force major general who took part in the lobbying, said, according to Newsweek. "They're not perfect, we're not perfect. It's not like it was blood money. We're taking money from somebody who is our friend and ally helping us around the world."
This was backed up by lobbyist Jason Jones, who stated that the role of Saudi money was made clear from the outset.
Although the 9/11 Commission did not find that the Saudi government directly funded al-Qaida, it did note that the terrorist group enjoyed "fertile fundraising ground in Saudi Arabia, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was ... subject to very limited oversight," AP reports.