February 16, 2012

Sell Out Of The Week: Joe Trippi

Sell Out Of The Week: Joe TrippiLast week, Republic Report inaugurated our weekly feature, Sell Out Of The Week, a series on political leaders who have sold out the public interest in favor of greedy corporate interests.

A year ago this week, at the height of the Arab Spring democratic revolt across the Middle East, protesters calling for better economic conditions and a more representative government in Bahrain demonstrated at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital city of Manama. Their demands were met with state violence as the ruling Al Khalifa family responded with mass paramilitary violence, killing children, imprisoning activists, suspending Internet communication, and torturing doctors suspected of aiding the protesters. Following the crackdown, the Bahrain government went on a hiring spree of British and American lobbyists and spin doctors to quell international outrage.

One of the consultants hired by the regime was Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative famous for his Internet-driven campaign strategy for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. Last September, Salon.com’s Justin Elliott (now with ProPublica) revealed Trippi had signed a contract with the Bahrain government. But at the time, the details of the agreement were unclear. Now, Republic Report has those details.

Trippi has been paid $15,000 a month to oversee a partnership that conducts outreach to nonprofits and media, according to documents filed with the Justice Department. He also oversees a partnership with Sanitas International, a Republican-led firm that specializes in “Web 2.0” and “Counter Opposition” strategies. In recent months, Trippi has contacted three individuals, two of whom work for anti-torture activist groups. View a screenshot from the DOJ disclosure below, which shows contacts from Trippi, on behalf of the Bahrain government public affairs office:

Sell Out Of The Week: Joe Trippi

Avaaz currently leads an effort to boycott the Grand Prix race in Bahrain over human rights abuses, and was one of the leading voices against torture during the height of the crackdown. Vali Nasr, formerly a Special Advisor to Obama’s U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke, is an expert on Shiite history and a well-regarded observer of Bahrain politics. Frontline Defenders is an Ireland-based human rights group that has also focused on bringing attention to abuses by the Bahrain regime.

Why was Trippi contacting anti-torture organizations on behalf of Bahrain? Avaaz and Nasr did not respond to the Republic Report’s request for comment. Adam Shapiro from Frontline Defenders told us that Trippi had only spoken to him briefly.

Trippi told the Republic Report that he contacted these anti-torture groups as part of a dialogue process on behalf of the Bahrain government. Asked why someone who is known for building inclusive campaigns using the Internet would work for a government engaged in vast web censorship, the former Dean campaign manager dismissed the question, telling us that he believes Bahrain is “sincere about reform.”

“I am as reform-minded as you get,” Trippi said “I took it as a good sign that the government of Bahrain would hire someone like me knowing who I am and what I’m about to help them look at political reform.” “I took that as a sign of their sincere effort,” he added.

We asked Trippi, if he is focused only on dialogue, has he contacted any of the opposition groups, or spoken to activists from the protest movement? “I have not,” said Trippi. He also admitted that he had not visited the demolished mosques or engaged with dissidents.

He did, however, say that he spoke with the King of Bahrain, who Trippi says conveyed that he is “committed to democratic reform.”

According to a report yesterday by Reuters, the clashes marking the one-year anniversary of the initial uprising have been bloody: “A medic who works with researchers of an international organization and asked not to be identified said the numbers of wounded in clashes this week was the highest in months… The medic said some casualties had been hit by birdshot, controversial ammunition that Bahraini police deny using.”