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Tue Jun 14, 2022, 11:16 AM

The scandal embroiling Washington's most venerable think tank, explained

Few research institutes in Washington command as much respect as the Brookings Institution. Itís where a visiting head of state may deliver a lecture, where an administration official might roll out a new policy idea, and where former US leaders hold prestigious fellowships. More than 20 of the think tankís experts have gone on to serve in the Biden administration.

And yet, over the weekend, Brookings president John Allen resigned after a federal investigation into his alleged unregistered lobbying work for a foreign country became public.

For Washington observers, it was a stunning fall. Allen had long carried an air of impartiality and public service. After an almost four-decade career in the Marines, he retired as a four-star general in 2013 and joined Brookings as a fellow. In 2014, President Barack Obama appointed him as the State Department special envoy for the global coalition countering the Islamic State.

By 2017, Allen was again a private citizen and working at Brookings. He also, according to a US District Court filing made public last week, was allegedly lobbying top officials in President Donald Trumpís administration on behalf of Qatar. He did not register as a foreign lobbyist as required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Spokesperson Beau Phillips denied that Allen had ever worked as an agent of the Qatari government. ďGen. Allen has actively and voluntarily cooperated with all U.S. government inquiries related to this matter,Ē Phillips said in a written statement.

If the FBIís allegations are correct, Allenís conduct crossed lines ó legal ones. But it was only possible in a world where similar, albeit less explicitly transactional, connections are normalized.

The scandal surrounding Allenís resignation reveals how foreign and corporate interests have a bigger role in policy-idea production than we tend to realize, and how relatively little scrutiny the capitalís think tanks receive despite their outsize influence in policymaking.


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