Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy allegedly continued to take payments from an African despot now on trial in international court for crimes against humanity after saying he had halted his lobbying contract with the former Ivory Coast president and received only partial payment.
Fox News reported Thursday that Espy was paid for his full $750,000 lobbying contract with former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo’s government in 2011. That year, after former U.S. Reps. Espy and Bob McEwen, R-Ohio, came under scrutiny for lobbying for Gbagbo, both said they had dropped their contracts lobbying for interests of the African nation. Espy at the time told The Hill publication in Washington that he had only worked on the three-month contract for one month and been paid $400,000 when he suspended it.
But Fox News on Thursday published U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act documents that show Espy was paid the full $750,000 and ended the contract only 15 days before it was set to expire — two days before the March 2011 article in The Hill.
The FARA documents show Espy’s Jackson-based agricultural consulting firm AE Agritrade received a payment of $400,000 from the Ivory Coast’s Cocoa and Coffee Board in January 2011, then another $350,000 on March 1, 2011. The Hill article, in which Espy said he had been paid only $400,000 and ended the contract, was March 12, 2011.
Gbagbo lost re-election in 2010, but refused to step down and the country fell into turmoil and violence. Gbagbo and his former youth and sports minister, Charles Ble Goude, have been on trial since 2016 in the International Criminal Court accused of carrying out widespread, systemic attacks against civilians and crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution. The pro-Gbagbo militia the Young Patriots allegedly targeted ethnic and religious groups.
In addition to lobbying for the country’s Cocoa and Coffee Board, which was controlled by the Gbagbo government, Fox News said Espy had represented Gbagbo in talks with the Obama administration, the United Nations and the media in 2010.
Espy spokesman Danny Blanton told Fox News that Espy worked on agriculture issues with international clients and realized the Ivory Coast “didn’t pass the smell test” so he ended the contract and reported what he knew to the U.S. government.
Espy, also a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, faces a Nov. 27 runoff against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
The Hyde-Smith campaign, still dealing with fallout from Hyde-Smiths recent “public hanging” comments, blasted Espy over the report about Gbagbo in a press release titled “Have you ever been paid $750,000 by a foreign dictator who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity? Mike Espy has.”
“It’s incredible but true that Mike Espy was paid three quarters of a million dollars as a registered foreign agent to lobby on behalf of a brutal dictator of the Ivory Coast,” Hyde-Smith spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said. “Espy lied about how much he was paid, and he represented someone now charged with crimes against humanity.”
Blanton did not directly address the payments when asked by the Clarion Ledger on Thursday, but accused the Hyde-Smith campaign of trying to change the subject.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith had a chance to admit she was wrong, and instead of apologizing, she doubled down,” Blanton said. “Since that hasn’t worked, she’s trying to change the subject with a smear campaign against Mike.”