Law drawing focus in Russia probe rarely ends in prosecution

WASHINGTON (AP) — Criminal prosecutions are rare for people who fail to register as foreign agents, according to a top Justice Department official who testified Wednesday about an obscure law receiving new attention amid investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Adam Hickey, a deputy assistant attorney general, told Senate lawmakers that the Foreign Agents Registration Act — a law aimed at ensuring transparency about lobbying efforts done in the U.S. at the direction of foreign governments or principals — contains multiple exemptions for registration and requires proof that someone intended to break the law by failing to disclose their work.

He said lawyers in a specialized Justice Department unit often prod someone to voluntarily register instead of seeking to charge them.

“The high burden of proving willfulness, difficulties in proving direction or control by a foreign principal and exemptions available under the statute make criminal prosecution for FARA violations challenging,” Hickey said.

Nonetheless, he said, the Justice Department will not refuse to bring a case if there is evidence of intentional wrongdoing. It has brought four criminal prosecutions under the statute since 2007, all of which he said have resulted in convictions.

The law has been broadly discussed in the last year because of Justice Department investigations into Trump campaign associates and because of a watchdog report last year that said the statute had been weakly enforced for decades. That report, from the Justice Department’s inspector general, found that the number of FARA registrations had declined in the last two decades and that prosecutions and civil enforcement actions were rare. The report made several recommendations for improvement.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort belatedly registered in June with the Justice Department for political consulting work he did for a Ukrainian political party before joining the Republican candidate’s presidential…

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