Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, whose law firm is paid to lobby for the government of Taiwan, was involved in setting up last week’s controversial phone call between President-elect Donald Trump and the Taiwanese president.
The phone call was part of a months-long effort by Dole and others to improve Taiwan’s relations with Trump and the Republican Party.
The protocol-breaking phone conversation angered and confused leaders in mainland China, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. It also worried some domestic analysts and diplomats, who said it might signal a major change in decades-old U.S. policy toward Taiwan and China.
Dole’s direct involvement wasn’t made public until Monday night, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Dole, 93, helped broker the phone call between the president-elect and Taiwanese officials.
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“It’s fair to say that we may have had some influence” in making the call happen, the former Kansas senator told the newspaper.
When the call was first reported, Trump strategists downplayed its significance.
“It was just a phone call,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday.
But reports of a six-month strategy to link the Taiwan government with the Trump campaign and transition team suggest the call was more significant than first portrayed.
Documents made available Tuesday show Dole — whose law firm is paid $20,000 a month by the Taiwan government — had actually worked for months to further the interests of the Taiwanese government, and to connect it to the Trump campaign.
Dole’s role extended beyond the telephone call. The former presidential candidate, who endorsed Trump, worked to include pro-Taiwan language in the 2016 GOP platform, Justice Department filings show.
“As a loyal friend of America, Taiwan has merited our strong support,” the platform says, “including free trade agreement status, the timely sale of defensive arms including technology to build diesel submarines, and full participation in the World Health Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization, and other multilateral institutions.”
Dole also videotaped a tribute to former Taiwanese diplomat Lyushun Shen, convened a meeting between Trump transition officials and “embassy” staff, and “secured a letter of congratulations from President Obama” in connection with a festival.
A Dole spokeswoman said Tuesday the 1996 GOP presidential candidate was traveling for a Pearl Harbor-related ceremony in Texas and would not comment.
Dole and the law firm where he works, Alston and Bird, have represented the interests of the Taiwanese government for years. In March 2016, documents show, Alston and Bird renewed an agreement to represent the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office for $20,000 a month.
Filings show the firm was paid $60,000 in May, $40,000 in August, and $20,000 in June and September.
The Taiwan office — known as TECRO — is the functional equivalent of an embassy, although the U.S. doesn’t recognize it as such because the nation has a formal relationship with the People’s Republic of China.
While the United States does not recognize Taiwan, the nation and Taiwan “enjoy a robust unofficial relationship,” the State Department says. “Maintaining strong, unofficial relations with Taiwan is a major U.S. goal.”
In the agreement letter to TECRO, Dole says, “I will actively participate in and supervise our day-to-day work.” He also says he’ll work to include Taiwan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Trump has sharply criticized.
“We are also prepared to undertake other special assignments on your behalf,” the agreement says.
A spokeswoman for a government watchdog group said Dole’s paid lobbying relationship with Taiwan is common, and potentially troubling.
“It’s part of the swamp culture that you’d have people who have interest in certain outcomes helping to make things happen that might lead to those outcomes,” said Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics. “We’ve seen a number of examples now where the ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric is not necessarily matched with reality.”
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said the story suggests Dole will have some influence in the new administration. Some members of Trump’s campaign worked with Dole, and Dole endorsed Trump in the general election.
“Donald Trump is a man who seems to appreciate loyalty,” Beatty said. “If influence means Trump will listen to what he has to say and even take his advice, then Bob Dole will and does have influence with Trump.”
Dole’s relationship with a foreign government isn’t unusual. Gephardt Group Government Affairs — led by former presidential candidate and former Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri — also signed a contract with TECRO this year.