The Washington Post is sidelining contributing opinion writer and megalobbyist Ed Rogers ahead of the 2020 election, the publication's opinion editor said. Rogers has been a lobbyist for clients such as the Saudi government, and his firm employs Kurt Volker, who has become a key figure in the emerging Trump impeachment scandal.
Rogers is the founding partner of BGR Group, one of the top Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firms. Since 1998, the firm has received over $200 million in lobbying income across numerous industries, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. He joined the Post as a contributing opinion writer in 2011.
In an email to Media Matters, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said that the publication has “decided to take a break from our politics practitioner-commentators, given that we are just about a year from what is likely to be a fraught and hard-fought election. As you may know, we started this as an experiment a few years ago, with Democratic and Republican consultants giving their political analysis, and I think it has yielded a lot of good commentary. We may go back to it, in some form, after 2020.”
Hiatt added that the break would apply to Rogers and Carter Eskew, a former Al Gore aide who founded the corporate lobbying and consulting firm Glover Park Group. Contributing columnist Ron Klain would also be affected, though Hiatt said Klain had already “pulled back” on writing because he is advising Joe Biden’s campaign. “Of course,” Hiatt said, “all will be welcome to submit guest columns.” (While Rogers had still been regularly writing for the Post, Eskew has not published anything for the outlet since January, according to his author page.)
Media Matters has repeatedly criticized Rogers for writing about topics that overlap with the financial interests of his firm’s clients without disclosing the conflicts to Post readers. Asked whether these conflict of interest concerns played a role in the sidelining, Hiatt replied: “I believe conflict of interest questions can generally be handled with proper disclosure and transparency. That wasn't the motivation here.”
Rogers' work for BGR drew scrutiny last year after Saudi government agents killed Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The publication told Rogers that “he’d lose his gig as a contributing opinion writer unless he stopped lobbying for Saudi Arabia”; he subsequently dropped the Saudi government as a client. The Post also told Eskew “that he could not continue writing for its PostPartisan blog while he worked for a firm that lobbied for Saudi Arabia’s government. … Unlike Rogers, however, Eskew didn’t lobby for Saudi Arabia himself; the work was handled by others at the Glover Park Group. And Eskew told [Politico Influence] that GPG decided to quit lobbying for the Saudis before the Post told him anything.”
Rogers has an additional conflict of interest in the debate over the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump: BGR employs Kurt Volker as a senior international advisor “on a full range of international issues.” Volker was the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine until he recently resigned after being named in the first whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden. Volker’s State Department position, which was part-time and volunteer, also raised conflict of interest questions because, as Politico wrote, “at the same time Volker was pushing Trump to arm Ukraine, he also held positions with a major lobbying firm, BGR Group, and a think tank, the McCain Institute, that each had financial ties to Raytheon Co., which manufactures the Javelin system and earned millions from Trump's decision.”
Rogers has twice written pieces for the Post criticizing Democratic impeachment inquiries without disclosing his connection to Volker, which prompted Media Matters to contact Hiatt.
In a September 23 column, Rogers warned that the Trump impeachment inquiry could actually be worse for Biden’s presidential campaign, writing: “What is bad for Trump may be even worse for Biden. … Biden is a fragile front-runner and the whole matter involving his son’s foreign business dealings not only raises unflattering questions but provides plenty of reminders about his life in the swamp.”
He also wrote a September 28 column heavily criticizing Democrats for starting the impeachment process, claiming that with Democrats’ “lack of clarity and precision, they are eroding the perception of fairness.” He also defended Trump’s reported behavior in his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, writing:
Democrats and many in the media were quick to suggest that Trump engineered a quid pro quo agreement with Zelensky, but even a critical reading of the rough transcript fails to find any specific instance where Trump can be seen pressuring Ukraine’s president.
In Trump’s own way, he appears to have been trying to proceed by the book. He suggested that Zelensky coordinate with Attorney General William P. Barr, which would be entirely appropriate for two countries working together on an investigation.