The Department of Justice on Tuesday proved it wasn’t bluffing when it repeatedly advised former casino mogul and Republican National Committee finance chairman Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent or face the consequences.
The DOJ sued him in an effort to compel him to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in the wake of the exposure of his effort to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of the Chinese government, including a senior official in its Ministry of Public Security.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen admitted the action being taken against Wynn was rare.
“The filing of this suit, the first affirmative civil lawsuit under FARA in more than three decades, demonstrates the department’s commitment to ensuring transparency in our democratic system,” Olsen said. “Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know.”
The 13-page complaint outlines the government’s allegations and facts related to Wynn’s efforts from at least June to August 2017 to communicate with then-President Donald Trump of China’s desire to have a Chinese national returned from the United States at a time he was seeking asylum here. Wynn is accused of acting on behalf of Sun Lijun, former Vice Minister for Public Security in China, and the Chinese government itself.
At the time, Wynn was the CEO of Wynn Resorts, a company with a casino interest in Macau. The DOJ alleges Wynn was motivated to act as a lobbyist to protect his business interests. At the time, Macau government officials had placed restrictions on slot machines and table games at its resorts and licensees were set in 2019 to renegotiate their operating agreements.
Wynn never got that far. He resigned from Wynn Resorts in 2018 amid a litany of sexual-misconduct allegations.
Wynn has denied the misconduct allegations and, through his attorneys this week, also denied acting as a foreign agent for China. According to the federal complaint, he was informed in 2018, 2021, and 2022 of his obligation to register, and his failure to file constitutes a violation of FARA.
“Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” Wynn attorneys Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig said in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”
Although not named in the complaint, previous reporting has identified the Chinese exile as Guo Wengui, a successful businessman who left China in 2014 ahead of corruption charges. Wengui is a longtime associate of Trump administration insider Steve Bannon.
This is one more court case in which Wynn finds himself mired after tumbling from the top of the casino world. At 80, the former living symbol of celebrity success in the gaming industry has lawsuits pending in multiple states and jurisdictions.
Wynn was introduced to the lobbying scheme by Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, whom he’d met while working with the RNC. Broidy pleaded guilty in 2020 in connection with an illegal lobbying campaign and was later pardoned by Trump.
What emerges from the federal complaint is not only Wynn’s persistence in attempting to send a message on the part of the Chinese government, but also his willingness to use wife in the effort.
Broidy, according to the complaint, communicated with Wynn several times via texts to the phone of his wife Andrea.
After much effort, the plan to have the Chinese national removed from the country failed. At that point, Wynn attempted to “exit the situation gracefully, preserve his business interests in China, and avoid offending anyone,” the complaint states.
Which may be the greatest example of unintended humor I’ve read in many years.