By SCOTT CANON and DAVID GOLDSTEIN
A father-and-son lawyer team with offices in Springfield and Kansas City tried in April to sign late Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi as a client.
The two had joined forces with an eclectic international collection of people with careers in the law and foreign relations. They approached Gadhafi’s regime as the American Action Group. They listed first among their membership Randell K. Wood, a lawyer who earned his law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and had a long-standing practice in Springfield. Wood lobbied for the Libyans in the late 1980s for the removal of U.S. sanctions.
This spring’s overture to Gadhafi, in a letter that opens “Your Excellency” and closes “Your Obedient Servants,” came in April when the Libyan leader was in a steeped and bloody battle to put down an uprising, and as humans rights advocates were accusing him of pelting the city of Misrata with cluster bombs. The group sought a $10 million retainer from the Tripoli government. Gadhafi was killed by rebels Oct. 20.
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Earlier that same month, his son, Noah K. Wood, wrote to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control seeking an exemption to an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in February blocking financial transactions between Americans and the Libyan regime.
Randell Wood did not return multiple phone calls on Friday. Noah Wood, a 2000 graduate of the Baylor University Law School, declined comment.
At a time when U.S. forces were bombing Libya in concert with NATO, the group wrote to Gadhafi saying they were “worried about the media- and political/military campaign against Libya” and various efforts to “grab the money of the Libyan people, seized by the American and European governments.”
The letter speculated that forces trying to overthrow Gadhafi — a move backed Washington’s diplomatic and military muscle — would be able to buy arms through the seizure of Libyan government assets.
“Our group of Libyan sympathizers is extremely worried about this and we would like to help block the actions of your international enemies and to support a normal working relationship with the United States Government,” the letter to Gadhafi said.
Among those in the group was Neil C. Livingstone, a terrorism consultant at the Washington-based international consulting firm Executive Action LLC. A phone number listed on the website of Executive Action has been disconnected.
Livingstone told The New York Times that he’d heard one of Gadhafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, was interested in more peaceful escape from Libya. Livingstone told the newspaper the group hoped to broker sanctuary for the Gadhafi family in an Arab-speaking country.
“The idea was to let them (the Gadhafis) keep some money in return for getting out,” he told The Times.
Such efforts by private individuals to negotiate safe exits for despots are not unheard of, and can be seen as a way spare a country from protracted combat.
As for the $10 million up-front fee proposed, Livingstone said, “We were not an eleemosynary (charitable) organization.”
The documents soliciting the business, apparently found in Libyan government offices after Gadhafi’s forces were overrun, have become available on the Internet and posted on a Facebook page called WikiLeaks Libya.
They include correspondence on Wood Law Firm stationery asking the U.S. government permission to represent the Libyans in Washington. In that letter, the tone is strikingly different from the message directed at Gadhafi.
Foremost, it offered to play a role to bring Gadhafi’s government in line with United Nations’ resolutions imposing a no-fly zone over the country and calling for enforcement of various human rights demands — none of which is mentioned in the pitch letter sent to Tripoli.
“The services contemplated serve to further the stated strategic objectives of the United States in regard to Libya,” said the letter signed by Noah Wood to a U.S. Treasury department official. The license to represent the Libyans was not granted.
U.S. Justice Department records show that Randell Wood was a registered foreign agent for Libya from 1988 to1990. He aided its effort to remove the freeze on Libyan assets imposed by President Reagan in 1981.
The senior Wood also spoke with U.S. officials about normalizing relations with the Saharan nation, which had no diplomatic ties with Washington at the time, as well as about problems related to Libyans students in this country, according to department records.
Like any lobbyist, Wood’s work included contacting both elected and appointed government officials to enlist their support. His disclosure records show that he reached out to officials at the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce; the Central Intelligence Agency; and Congress.
Among the lawmakers he spoke to were Missourians John Danforth, then a Republican senator, and Richard Gephardt, then a Democratic member of the House who ran for president in 1988.
Randell Wood’s 1988 disclosure records show that he contributed $10,000 to the presidential trust of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who ran for president that year and won.
He charged the Libyans a minimum rate of $250 an hour plus fees. He reported $1.2 million in income from Libya for a six-month period in 1988, disclosure documents show. They note that none of the money came from any of the Libyan accounts blocked by the United States. There is no record of him lobbying for foreign governments over the last two decades.
He did a considerable amount of traveling for his Libyan employers, according Justice records: Zurich, Athens, Malta, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and Chicago were among the cities where he met Libyan government officials and others.
There’s nothing in the records from this year, however, to indicate that Wood or his colleagues actually landed business from Gadhafi while the dictator was struggling to hold control over Libya.
The pitch to Gadhafi was signed by Dick Borgers, a Belgian, and included the names of Randell Wood, Livingstone and former CIA agent Marty Martin. The letter describes Livingstone as “presently politically active on the highest levels of government with the Republican Party.”
Martin, who retired as an officer with the CIA in 2007, Told the Times that he was “not told anything” about the letter and that “we were not there to be lobbyists for Gadhafi.” Borgers, who described himself to The Times as project engineer, said the aim was to “stop the butchering” during the uprising. He also gave Gadhafi credit for advances in Libya during his four-plus decades in power.
“I don’t think he was that brutal a dictator,” Borgers told the newspaper.
On the Wood Law Firm website, Randell Wood is described as a trial lawyer who has “participated in serious injury cases, complex product liability litigation as well as major felony trials across the country.”
It says that before founding his private practice 30 years ago, he was the city prosecutor in Springfield. City officials say they have no records or recollection of him working in municipal offices. The current city prosecutor said it’s possible he could have been assigned a few cases as prosecutor on a temporary basis.
The site also said he represented foreign governments in U.S. courts, negotiated “prisoner exchanges between countries” and worked in local courts on cases ranging from conspiracy to drunk driving.
Noah Wood is described by the website as a specialist in class actions and technology law. It notes he’s a licensed airplane and helicopter pilot. Federal campaign records show he donated $1,300 to the re-election of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.