Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) delivered the following remarks today during the markup of H.R. 4170, a bill that increases the transparency requirement for foreign agents lobbying the United States.
Chairman Goodlatte: I commend Representative Johnson for introducing H.R. 4170, the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act, a narrowly-focused bill aimed at requiring greater transparency when entities advocate on behalf of foreign governments in the United States.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act—called “FARA”—was enacted in 1938 to require individuals, groups, or organizations advocating on behalf of foreign governments to register and report to the Department of Justice on a periodic basis. Such disclosures allow the American people and their law enforcement agencies to evaluate the statements made by registrants in light of their function as foreign agents in the U.S.
However, several loopholes exist in FARA as currently codified, loopholes that have been highlighted by independent agencies from Inspector General offices to the Government Accountability Office.
The Justice Department’s National Security Division Inspector General concluded in a 2016 report that the federal government currently lacks both a comprehensive enforcement strategy, and, more importantly, the basic tools to obtain the information necessary to enforce FARA.
That report followed the Government Accountability Office’s 1980, 1990, and 2008 reports that all recommended the federal government be given a demand authority to obtain information necessary to FARA’s enforcement.
Answering the call for such enforcement authority is Mr. Johnson’s bill before us today. The bill grants the Attorney General the same civil investigative demand authority he currently has to investigate false claims made to the federal government. This demand authority is a type of subpoena that allows the Department of Justice to obtain documents, require responses to interrogatories, and take depositions. 28 of the bill’s 34 pages simply replicate the provisions of the civil investigative demand authority in 31 U.S.C. § 3733 and codify those same provisions in the context of FARA investigations.
The bill also eliminates a loophole that currently allows entities to forego registration under FARA when they register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. Those who advocate for foreign governments and entities in the U.S. should register under both that Act and FARA when appropriate, as this bill requires.
The bill also requires the Department of Justice to develop a comprehensive strategy for administering and enforcing FARA, including setting standards for the timely review of FARA filings and the encouragement of coordination between national security agencies and law enforcement.
Senator Grassley has introduced companion legislation in the Senate, and I look forward to working with all my colleagues to see these common sense transparency provisions enacted into law.