Jeff Flake’s South Africa problem

Updated
 

The U.S. Senate race, at least so far, isn’t working out the way Rep. Jeff Flake (R) had hoped. When Flake launched his campaign for the open seat, he was deemed the presumptive favorite, and given the state’s partisan leanings, the six-term congressman appeared to be in good shape.

But the road has gotten surprisingly bumpy. For one thing, Wil Cardon has proven to be a tougher-than-expected challenger in the Republican primary. For another, Flake’s lobbying background is drawing scrutiny and raising uncomfortable questions about his clients.

In this clip, Flake was pressed by an Arizona reporter over the weekend about having lobbied for Namibian uranium mine. The interviewer wanted to know whether Flake “either for an employer or on your own, either indirectly or directly” supported the regime in South Africa.

The congressman offered an immediate, unambiguous answer: “Absolutely not.”

Unfortunately for Flake, there’s reason to question the accuracy of his response.

In 1987, Flake testified before the Utah State Senate in support of a resolution expressing support for the government of South Africa while racial segregation laws were enforced – largely to support U.S. mining interests in the region. In testimony flagged by a Democratic source, Flake opposed sanctions on the regime, arguing they only worsened the living conditions for black South Africans.

Flake said, “as far as the economic sanctions having a … more direct impact on the black community, I overhear we tend to think of every black South African as a radical stone-throwing protestor who will stop at nothing until the government is overthrown,” Flake said according to a transcript of the his testimony. “There are moderate elements there. There have been a lot of polls taken both ways. Most of them come out with about, that there are more moderates, considered moderate, than there are radicals. Those are funny terms and most of them aren’t moderate, they just don’t care one way or another or they don’t know about the situation. It has had a dramatic impact on the black population, the biggest impact is that the companies pulling out, the American companies pulling out…”

In other words, in 1987, when human-rights activists around the globe were calling for more sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime, there was Jeff Flake, lobbying for the opposite.

There’s even an audio clip of Flake’s lobbying in Utah.

What’s more, National Journal’s report added additional details about a related association:

[O]ne of the companies Flake worked for in the 1980s did have ties to the ruling powers of South Africa. Federal records show that Flake worked at Smoak, Shipley & Henry, a law firm that had represented the South African-controlled regime in Namibia during apartheid.

Flake worked for a group called the Namibia News Bureau, run out of the Smoak, Shipley & Henry offices. Anti-apartheid groups had criticized Smoak and Shipley in the 1980s.

A story like this can quickly turn into political quick sand for a candidate. The alleged lobbying ties to South Africa’s apartheid government is scandalous enough, but for Flake to insist on the record and on the air that he had “absolutely” no ties and offered no support to the regime, when there’s evidence to the contrary, suggests he’s made this controversy even worse.

Jeff Flake and Arizona

Jeff Flake's South Africa problem

Updated