In 2010, the former Democratic nominee for Vice President/speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention/Iraq War cheerleader/Independent Senator signed a letter from congress stating that:
“We are very concerned that these companies [like ZTE] are being financed by the Chinese government and are potentially subject to significant influence by the Chinese military which may create an opportunity for manipulation of switches, routers, or software embedded in American telecommunications network so that communications can be disrupted, intercepted, tampered with, or purposely misrouted. This would pose a real threat to our national security.”
In December 2018, Joe Lieberman signed on to lobby on behalf of ZTE (who Trump also advocated for against the wishes of his own party last year), and here is how he described his upcoming work to Politico:
”There are obviously still concerns about the safety of their products or the extent to which their products could be used to compromise American security in any way or even individual security,” Lieberman said in an interview, adding that ZTE has “decided to really try to get ahead of those concerns and be in a position to answer them.”
So when he was a United States Senator, ZTE was supposedly a national security threat, but afterwards, as a lobbyist, ZTE is now apparently “really try[ing] to get ahead of” concerns of being a national security threat. There could not be a starker example of how so many of our politicians are nothing more than corporate mercenaries who won’t hesitate to sell out their countrymen for a few extra bucks and a pat on the head.
The point of becoming a congressperson for the Joe Liebermans of the world isn’t to gain serious power and wield it to improve people’s lives, but to make the connections he needs so he can get the job he really wants: being a well-paid lap dog for the globe’s corporate overlords. Russell Berman has more in The Atlantic about the revolving door between congress and K Street:
Of the nearly four dozen lawmakers who left office after the 2016 election, one-fourth stayed in Washington, and one in six became lobbyists, according to an analysis by The Atlantic. The numbers were even higher for those who departed after the 2014 midterms: About half of those former members stuck around, and around one in four became lobbyists.
Lobbying remains the single most popular post-Congress career choice for retiring members.
Members point out that lobbying allows them to use the experience and issue expertise they’ve built over many years in Congress to continue to advocate for causes they believe in. But while that might attract ex-lawmakers to lobbying, it’s not what draws high-paying companies to them: They want the relationships. “Policy wonks and knowledgeable people are out there,” said former Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia, a Republican lawmaker-turned-lobbyist who left in 2015 after 24 years in the House. “The question is, can you get a door opened, and are you going to work?”
Lobbyists are a popular target these days, for good reason. Professors at Georgia State University and the University of Exeter in the UK, tracked congressmembers from 1976 to 2012, and found that roughly a quarter of politicians in each party become lobbyists, and the commonality between them is that the most powerful congressmen benefit from this pipeline to K Street.
It’s an unimpeachable fact that the United States government works on behalf of the most wealthy and powerful—often against the interests of the vast majority of the populace. That’s thanks to the influence exercised by the most wealthy in our nation’s capital. Jack Kingston’s framing of the job as “can you get a door opened” is exactly right. D.C. lanyards dress all this up in language like “policy wonks,” but at the end of the day, the gig is just doing whatever you can to push your boss’s interests—even if they’re a national security threat like ZTE.
Not every lobbyist is bad. Without the basic act of lobbying, government could not get things done. Certain subject matters do need experts pushing for their implementation, as not every policy is obvious on its face. That said, we are way through the looking glass here. “Lobbying” and “campaign donations” are nice little fairy tales that Americans tell themselves about corruption. We are largely nothing more than a kleptocracy who cloaks it under an avalanche of arcane tax rules and the opacity of LLCs and real estate. The joke about America being an insurance company with an army is true when you look at total government spending, and that gives you a good idea of what special interests are most powerful on both sides of the aisle in D.C.
The only expansive bill that the Republican Party passed while in complete control of the government the last two years was a massive and massively unpopular tax cut for the richest in this country (and outside it). Now, spineless husks like Marco Rubio are decrying the reality which everyone knew they were bringing upon us.
That’s the product of lobbying. It doesn’t matter what the Republican voters want, the Republican Party’s first priority was to give their “donors” a return on their investment. The Democrats aren’t much better. They did something similar when they last had major power, as Nancy Pelosi passed a PAYGO law in 2010 that requires any rise in the deficit to be offset with proportionate spending cuts or tax increases. She is now arguing that Democrats need to pass a PAYGO rule that allows her to bypass the law, otherwise the Trump administration would have the power to overrule pretty much any liberal legislation. Restraints like this on government spending only have one major constituency: the donor class.
No one in the Democratic grassroots was clamoring for PAYGO (raise your hand if you’ve even heard of it before), and tax cuts in general are always popular with Republicans, but support for this latest round of cuts dipped among all voters, and the GOP barely ran on—and mostly ran away from—their signature legislative accomplishment in the 2018 midterms. Regardless of who is in power, our political system largely does not exist for us, but for our oligarchs, and no one embodies that spirit better than Joe Lieberman.
Upon leaving office in 2012, he said “I’m not going to lobby. For sure.”
In 2013, Lieberman registered to be a lobbyist and joined the white collar crime group at Kasowitz, Benson & Torres.
That name may sound familiar, and that’s because that law firm has represented Donald Trump since 2001. Lieberman also joined “revolving doors” (per OpenSecrets) Victory Park Capital and the American Enterprise Institute. Last year, Lieberman went back to Capitol Hill to implore his former peers to support Betsy DeVos, and he did not disclose that his employer represents the man who nominated the woman he was sent to sell to the American people. While giving his eulogy, Joe Lieberman spoke fondly of John McCain needling him over becoming a lobbyist, quoting McCain as saying, “Joey, have you made enough money yet to buy that place in Jerusalem?” and Lieberman supposedly replied “Not yet, Johnny, but I’m getting closer.”
Corruption is so rampant in our nation’s capital that a former vice-presidential nominee/current lobbyist can joke about enriching himself at a funeral and no one even notices. The second that Lieberman left congress, he signed on as a lobbyist, after using his time in the Senate to do things like take $5 from health care-related interests for every $1 from labor interests and eliminate the public option in the Democratic president’s signature health care plan. This is how D.C. really “works.”
When The Daily Beast reached out to Lieberman for comment on his ZTE 180, he said that his past criticism of his new employer was actually an asset:
”ZTE asked me to lead this independent inquiry precisely because of—not in spite of—the fact that I share many of the concerns of the Senators and others in the U.S.G. whose views ZTE wants to understand and address. Because I have demonstrated that I share their concerns, ZTE believes my inquiry can engender candid and constructive dialogue that could lead to effective solutions.”
Lieberman has not registered as a foreign agent, despite working on behalf of a company that everyone agrees is an arm of Chinese intelligence and a serious national security threat to the United States. While this is like business as usual in Washington D.C.—it’s a step above the typical corruption given the explicit threat that ZTE poses to our national security. Part of what makes the Michael Flynn situation so extraordinary is that for once, the Department of Justice is going after Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) violations, and with any hope, Lieberman will one day face similar scrutiny over ZTE, and any other employers in the shadows that we may not yet know about.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.