Robin Raphel in conflict of interest controversy

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Robin Raphel, the US State Department’s non-military aid coordinator for Pakistan, is in the eye of a conflict of interest controversy.

She worked as a lobbyist on behalf of Pakistan immediately before taking up her new job, a web site, ‘The Blog of Legal Times’ said quoting newly filed lobbying disclosures.

The Obama administration is extremely vocal about its conflict of interest policies. It has repeatedly promised to limit the influence lobbyists have in Washington.

Raphel worked for lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates until July 31; her State Department job was announced on Aug 5. Cassidy has represented Pakistan since May.

Cassidy’s latest disclosure filings, submitted to the Justice Department on Oct 30, show Raphel attended more than 40 meetings on Pakistan’s behalf in the two months before she left at places including the State Department, and Capitol Hill, though it doesn’t specify who she met with.

The State Department and the White House, the Blog of Legal Times said, have not responded to questions about Raphel’s appointment, including queries this week about whether the State Department knew she was working on Pakistan’s behalf immediately before taking her new job.

The Cassidy report also shows Raphel’s termination date as Sept 1, 2009, which would mean her job at the State Department overlapped with her job at Cassidy by about a month.

Cassidy spokesman Tom Alexander has since said that the termination date on the report was incorrect, and that an amended report would be filed with the Justice Department showing Raphel’s last day as July 31.

Alexander maintains that Raphel ‘she wasn’t lobbying’. She was just helping Cassidy ‘craft a lobbying strategy’ on Pakistan’s behalf, he avers.

Raphel led work on a $1.2 million-a-year lobbying contract for Pakistan that Cassidy briefly held in 2007. So her new job already appeared to violate a ban on federal appointees participating in matters involving former clients or employers.

This is against the avowed policy of the Obama administration to limit the influence lobbyists have in Washington even if Raphel is ‘a temporary worker’ as the State Department appears to claim.