An Egypt Lobbyist Speaks

Since unrest swept across Egypt last week, none of the country's high-powered Washington lobbyists have been talking.

Since 2007, Egypt has employed some of the top influence brokers in the District of Columbia: Tony Podesta, one of the most well-known Democratic lobbyists in town and the brother of Bill Clinton's former chief of staff; Bob Livingston, the former Republican Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who nearly became House Speaker; and former Democratic Congressman Toby Moffett, from Connecticut. The three signed a $1.1 million/year contract.

The Atlantic sought comment from their firms for this story, to no avail.

But Moffett has opened up to ABC News, which asked about the precarious situation he's now in. Matthew Mosk and Lee Ferran have the story:

"Tunisia got on the radar screen. There had been discussion about possible spill over. But no real sense of urgency," Moffett said. "A week ago, he said, "we were still focusing on getting ready to approach the new Congress with the [Egyptian] ambassador." ...

Moffett told ABC News that he has always operated "on the assumption that we are trying to bring value to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship around the edges."

"In other words," he said, "this is mostly about the Egyptians making the decisions and doing the talking with American officials. We are pretty much in the background, providing advice when needed." ...

"If a government was not friendly to the United States, then we wouldn't be working with the guys," he said. "Some consultants do that. We don't."

As another lobbyists put it to ABC, Podesta, Livingston, and Moffett are now in a "dicey situation."

It's not unnatural for a U.S. ally to employ lobbyists to grease the wheels and help them obtain meetings to discuss things like foreign aid, which is what the three lobbyists have done for Egypt. They facilitated meetings between Egyptian military officials and 42 members of Congress last year, on top of myriad meetings with executive-branch officials over the years. The Sunlight Foundation's transparency dab hands have put together a database of meetings.

But public perception of Egypt's government is shifting. While fewer people talked about Hosni Mubarak as a freedom-suppressing dictator over the past 29 years, the sight of Egyptians rallying in the streets--and the new wave of violence in Cairo--has seemingly changed the way people talk about Egypt and its government.

Lobbying for dictatorial regimes never looks particularly good, but, as Moffett explained, Egypt has been friendly to the U.S. With the White House calling for transition, however, the U.S. relationship with Egypt's government appears to be in flux.