Bob Dole's role in Trump's Taiwan call

Story highlights

  • Dole's firm has been paid $200,000 to lobby for Taiwan in the past year
  • The former senator said he helped influence Trump's call with the Taiwanese leader

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump's most provocative foreign policy move since winning the presidency played out against the backdrop of a quintessential Washington activity: lobbying.

Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee and a former Senate majority leader, lobbied Trump and his team for months on Taiwan leading up to a controversial phone call between the President-elect and the leader of the island, according to documents.
Dole worked with the Trump campaign on participation in a US delegation to Taiwan, coordinated a Taiwanese delegation to attend the GOP convention in July, pushed for language in the GOP platform, set up a briefing for a Trump campaign policy director, set up a meeting between top Trump adviser and now-Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions and a Taiwanese ambassador, and arranged a meeting between the Trump transition team and Taiwanese staff, a late November disclosure filing from Dole firm Alston & Bird shows.
Over the last year, Alston & Bird has been paid $200,000 to lobby for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, and is on retainer for at least $20,000 per month this year, according to the disclosure forms. The office serves the function of a Taiwanese embassy in the US, which it does not have as it is not recognized as a country independent from China.
The documents were first reported by The New York Times and Politico. Dole's office declined to comment to CNN on his relationship to the Trump transition and his lobbying for Taiwan, as did Trump's.
Over the weekend, Dole told The Times that he played a role in setting up the controversial call between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Trump. The conversation, diverging from a "one China" policy observed for decades by past Republican and Democratic administrations, ruffled feathers in Beijing.
"It's fair to say that we had some influence," Dole said. "When you represent a client and they make requests, you're supposed to respond."
Trump was shunned by much of the national security and foreign policy establishment during the campaign -- many scholars at think tanks and past officials even signed anti-Trump letters -- leaving strategists like Dole who embraced Trump early with an apparently stronger hand in his policy.
Dole endorsed Trump soon after he cleared the primary field, calling on the GOP to unite behind the Republican candidate even as others continued to oppose Trump's nomination through the convention in July. Dole was the only recent former GOP presidential candidate to do so.
Trump spent most of his campaign railing against special interests and pledging to "drain the swamp" in Washington, though his transition team counts plenty of former lobbyists in its ranks.
When Vice President-elect Mike Pence took over as chairman of the transition, he had any current lobbyists either leave the team or terminate their lobbying registrations.  
The conversation with the Taiwanese President set off a firestorm over the weekend. China lodged a complaint with the US over the call, urging the American government to maintain the "one China" policy. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province, and the US has acknowledged that China claims Taiwan as a part of its country since 1979.
Trump's team has not made clear whether the call was an intentional shot across the bow with China. They have maintained that Trump was accepting the congratulatory call of a foreign leader like he has with others around the world. But he has also followed up with tweets swiping at China and has taken a hard line against the country's trade and monetary practices. 
Dole's outreach on Taiwan's behalf has not been limited to Trump. He has communicated with numerous current and former administration officials and members to connect them with Taiwanese representatives and interests, the documents show.
But his most extensive outreach in recent months has been with the Trump campaign, fulfilling a 2014 pledge from Alston & Bird to TECRO to help advance their interests with 2016 Republican presidential candidates and party officials. In that letter from Alston & Bird to TECRO, a contract for 2014 filed with the government, the firm said it would receive a $20,000 per month retainer from the Taiwanese office plus additional costs for their work.