Former Trump adviser under DOJ investigation for secret foreign lobbying operation
Barry Bennett on Fox News. (Screenshot)

A Republican lobbyist who served as an unpaid campaign adviser to Donald Trump is under investigation for an alleged lobbying scheme involving Qatar.

Barry Bennett founded the lobbying firm Avenue Strategies shortly after Trump won the 2016 election and agreed to represent Qatar a few months later, according to federal disclosure records, and the tiny Arabian Gulf nation paid the firm $3 million between July 2017 and July 2018 to develop closer ties with the U.S., reported the Wall Street Journal.

"Prosecutors have presented evidence to a grand jury alleging that Mr. Bennett set up and funded a political group called Yemen Crisis Watch, according to the people familiar with the matter, as a way to embarrass Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., which at the time were enmeshed in a military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen," the newspaper reported. "That war has since left thousands dead and fueled what the United Nations described in 2019 as the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

Yemen Crisis Watch never registered with the U.S. government, as required, and Bennett never reported his involvement with the organization, which was active on social media in late 2017 and attracted the support of then-Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and California televangelist Robert Schuller.

Colyer and Schuller took part in a congressional briefing about Yemen in December 2017, and Avenue Strategies made two $2,000 contributions to the lieutenant governor's unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Qatar had paid $250,000 to Avenue Strategies in October 2017 to be used in supporting the relief of humanitarian suffering in Yemen," according to a lobbying document.

Bennett, who had served as Ben Carson's campaign manager in 2016, announced in February that he was closing Avenue Strategies.

Republican consultant Ying Ma, who had also served on the Carson campaign, was hired to help strengthen ties between Qatar and the Trump administration, but she sued him in March 2019 for allegedly backing out of an agreement to make her a partner in the firm in exchange for referrals.

She won a default judgment against Bennett in May for failing to obey a court order, and he turned up a few weeks later on Fox News, identified as a "Virginia Little League parent," to complain about critical race theory.

Neither Bennett nor Ma responded to the newspaper's request for comment.