A commissioner on the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has been indicted along with seven others in an alleged conspiracy to conceal millions of dollars in excessive campaign donations to benefit Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The Department of Justice announced earlier this month that a federal grand jury indicted Lebanese-American businessman Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja, the 48-year-old CEO of the online payment processing company Allied Wallet.
Khawaja, who has served as a member of the congressionally mandated religious freedom watchdog panel since 2018, faces 35 counts related to allegations of illegal conduit political contributions made between 2016 and 2018 and obstruction of a grand jury investigation.
Khawaja is accused of conspiring with George Nader, a businessman and lobbyist who has served for years as a liaison between politicians in Washington and the United Arab Emirates, to conceal the source of $3.5 million in contributions directed to political committees associated with a 2016 presidential candidate.
Even though the indictment does not mention Clinton by name, campaign finance records indicate that her campaign was the recipient of the contributions in question, according to Fox News.
According to the indictment, the contributions appeared to be in the names of Khawaja, his wife, and the Allied Wallet. However, the indictment alleges that the contributions were funded by Nader.
Khawaja’s alleged conspiracy with Nader said to have lasted between March 2016 through January 2017.
Khawaja and Nader are accused of making the contributions in an “effort to gain influence with high-level political figures, including the candidate.” According to details released by the DOJ, the contributions were made while Nader “reported to an official from a foreign government about his efforts to gain influence.”
Khawaja, who was appointed to USCIRF by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, faces two counts of conspiracy, three counts of making conduit contributions, three counts of causing excessive contributions, 13 counts of making false statements, 13 counts of causing false records to be filed and one count of obstruction of a federal grand jury investigation.
Meanwhile, Nader is charged with conspiring with Khawaja to make conduit campaign contributions and related offenses. Nader, who was also a witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, is already in federal custody on child pornography trafficking charges.
The indictment also alleges that Khawaja conspired with Roy Boulos, Rudy Dekermenjian, Mohammad “Moe” Diab, Rani El-Saadi, Stevan Hill and Thayne Whipple from March 2016 through 2018 to conceal Khawaja’s alleged excessive contributions totaling more than $1.8 million to various political committees.
The contributions allegedly allowed Khawaja to host a private fundraiser for a presidential candidate in 2016 as well as a private fundraising dinner for an elected official in 2018.
Additionally, the indictment claims that from June 2019 to July 2019, Khawaja obstructed a grand jury investigation in the District of Columbia by providing a grand jury witness with false information about Nader’s connection to Allied Wallet.
Boulos, Dekermenjian, Diab, El-Saadi, Hill and Whipple are charged with conspiring with Khawaja and each other to make conduit campaign contributions, obstructing a grand jury investigation by lying to the FBI and other related offenses.
The indictment is not the first time that Khawaja has found himself in hot water with the federal government.
In May, Khawaja and his Allied Wallet settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they assisted numerous scams by “knowingly processing fraudulent transactions to consumers’ accounts.”
The FTC said that Allied Wallet knowingly processed payments for merchants such as the debt collection scheme Stark Law, the pyramid scheme TelaxFree and the business coaching schemes Digital Altitude and MOBE. The FTC alleges that Allied Wallet “helped numerous dubious merchants hide their fraud from banks and the credit card networks.”
The final orders stipulated by the agreement prohibit Khawaja or his four companies that do business with Allied Wallet from processing payments for certain types of merchants. The order also imposes monitoring requirements for other categories of merchants. Additionally, the order imposed a $110 million equitable monetary judgment.
“After Khawaja turns over a residence in Los Angeles, California, the remainder of the judgment will be suspended due to inability to pay,” a press release from the FTC reads.
Khawaja’s two-year appointment to USCIRF is set to expire in May. His indictment comes as there is some uncertainty about the future of the volunteer committee.
USCIRF is responsible for making recommendations to the U.S. State Department, White House and Congress and for advocating for religious prisoners of conscience worldwide. It was designed to be an “outside independent voice investigating religious persecution incidents.”
Former USCIRF Commissioner Kristina Arriaga, appointed by former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in 2016 and a former vice-chair of the body, resigned from USCIRF in November. She cited concerns that a possible move towards more “bureaucratic controls” could “undermine the independence of the commissioners.”
Arriaga’s objection was to a Senate bill introduced in September that she feared would “shift” USCIRF’s stated purpose.
The bill would have provided USCIRF $4.5 million in standalone funding for the next four years but it was pulled after objections were made by USCIRF commissioners past and present about language in the bill.
The bill would have expanded the scope of USCIRF to also monitor “abuse of religion to justify human rights violations.” It would have also created more rules and oversight on commissioner travel and commissioner participation in speaking engagements.
Critics say that the bill could bring domestic debates on issues like abortion and marriage into what is supposed to be a bipartisan panel.
USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins remarked that the bill’s attempts at "micromanaging" USCIRF is in many ways "turning this watchdog into a lapdog.”
According to World Magazine, Democrats are seeking limits on commissioner travel after Commissioner Johnnie Moore traveled with a group of evangelical leaders to Saudi Arabia and visited controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the eve of Sept. 11.
“Rules are necessary. All organizations have them,” Arriaga told CP last month. “But the new rules do not enable the mission. On the contrary, the new set of mandatory permission slips only serve to muzzle the unpaid, volunteer commissioners and to chill much-needed innovation.”
USCIRF’s funding on a continuing resolution is set to expire on Dec. 21 unless Congress acts to reauthorize.
“If Congress silences commissioners in the name of ‘reform’ or hushes USCIRF in the name of political ideology, Congress will be complicit in a lie,” Arriaga wrote in an op-ed this week.