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Finally, a Dictator Does Something that Lanny Davis Cannot Tolerate

The last time we heard from Lanny Davis, he was doing what he does best: representing a dictator. This was all the way back in 2010, when Davis signed up with the Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, who held on to power after losing an election. Davis claimed there was "documentary evidence" that Gbagbo won. (He—Gbagbo, not Davis—is currently incarcerated in The Hague after nearly starting a civil war over succession).

But Davis was never a one-dictator kind of guy. He liked to spread the wealth. Thus, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the "president" of Equatorial Guinea who has ruled the country for more than 30 years, also featured prominently on Davis's client list. When he started shilling for Obiang, Davis described himself as a "reform counsel" who would help bring democracy and human rights to the country. After all, under Obiang, as Salon nicely put it: 

A March 2010 State Department study reported the following human rights violations under Obiang: unlawful killings by security forces; torture of detainees and prisoners by security forces; life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; official impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention and incommunicado detention; judicial corruption and lack of due process; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association and movement; government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; suspected trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities; and restrictions on labor rights.

It was just the place, then, for a democracy crusader like Davis. Unfortunately, everything went poorly, and Davis claims to have been cheated out of money. And now he has his revenge. As 'The Hill' reports

A U.S. court has ruled that the Republic of Equatorial Guinea must pay Lanny Davis, who served as special counsel to former President Clinton, more than $158,000. In an opinion signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras awarded the sum to his firm, Lanny J. Davis & Associates, for his “unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses” owed by the tiny African country.

I must say, this is certainly justice. Davis is much more comfortable having his bills paid by dictators, and it is indeed shameful one particular dictator tried to weasle out of doing so. The reason I call attention to Davis's little victory, however, is that Davis is still intent on trying to make people believe that his work with Obiang was about democracy promotion and not, oh (just a guess), making money. Here is Davis's lawyer, as quoted in the story: 

He [Davis] was hired to persuade the country to act more democratic, to open up its relations with the United States. The job was to bring established democracy to the people of Equatorial Guinea. Unfortunately, the country not only turned its back on that effort but stiffed Lanny in the process for those out-of-pocket expenses.

I like the way in which the crime done to Davis is included in the same sentence as the crimes done to the country's people. But let's look back at Davis's history with Obiang. As The New York Times wrote in 2010, after a speech in which Obiang claimed the country was democratic (and which Davis was present at), "a journalist asked Mr. Davis what would happen now to political prisoners. He replied, 'If there are political prisoners and no substantive charges against them, they will be freed.'" One has to admire that "if." Davis also turned on his famous charm, joking that he'd "kidded [Obiang] he'd do better to win by 51 percent than 98 percent." Needless to say, Davis kept working for Obiang long after it was clear that the latter was not interested in reform.

Obiang is still in power. But the money he will have to pay Davis, it now occurs to me, could have been spent on human rights violations. Maybe Lanny is really a messenger of peace after all.

Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.