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Investigate Al Jazeera's 'Radical' Broadcasts for FARA Violations, Lawmakers Ask Sessions

Al-Jazeera America editorial newsroom staff prepare for their first broadcast in New York on Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers today called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Al Jazeera and determine whether the state-funded Qatari network needs to register as a foreign agent undermining American interests.

The letter was sent to Sessions today by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) was signed by Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Mike Johnson (R-L.A.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Keith Rothfus (R-P.A.), David Rouzer (R-N.C.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.).

Unwilling to go to court where the network would have had to open their books to prove independence from the Russian government, RT, or Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), was forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act last November after the DOJ’s National Security Division flagged RT as FARA-applicable in August.

The January 2017 intelligence community report on Russia’s 2016 U.S. campaign influence operation noted that the Kremlin “staffs RT and closely supervises RT’s coverage, recruiting people who can convey Russian strategic messaging because of their ideological beliefs.”

“The Kremlin spends $190 million a year on the distribution and dissemination of RT programming, focusing on hotels and satellite, terrestrial, and cable broadcasting. The Kremlin is rapidly expanding RT’s availability around the world and giving it a reach comparable to channels such as Al Jazeera English,” stated the declassified version of the report.

In the letter to Sessions, the lawmakers said they agreed with the FARA determination against RT, while adding “clarification” is now needed “as to whether additional foreign principals should also be required to register.”

The Qatari satellite giant Al Jazeera, with bureaus in Washington, New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, reaches about 310 million viewers in 160 countries. The spin-off station Al Jazeera America only lasted three years before closing operations in 2016.

“We find it troubling that the content produced by this network often directly undermines American interests with favorable coverage of U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” the members of Congress wrote. “Furthermore, Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts warrants scrutiny from regulators to determine whether this network is in violation of U.S. law. Such an investigation should cover the full range of activities undertaken by Al Jazeera in the United States, including reports that it infiltrated American 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofit organizations.”

That’s a reference to a documentary produced at Al Jazeera based on footage gathered from sending an undercover reporter into American pro-Israel organizations. The documentary has not aired, and Haaretz reported that the Qatari government intervened to stop its release in a bid to improve relations in Washington.

The lawmakers urged Sessions to ensure that FARA, which is intended to “inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals,” is “rigorously enforced and applied fairly and uniformly to protect U.S. national interests from the undue influence of foreign nations.”

“As such, we respectfully request that you provide our offices with detailed information about the DOJ’s investigative process, and whether additional entities, including Al Jazeera, meet the legal definition of ‘foreign principal’ and if so, whether its subsidiaries should be required to register as ‘foreign agents’ under FARA,” they wrote. “American citizens deserve to know whether the information and news media they consume is impartial, or if it is deceptive propaganda pushed by foreign nations.”