Last week, The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was in Bahrain, trying to land some security consulting work from the Middle Eastern kingdom.
The story was part of an ongoing look at how insiders profit from the Trump administration.
Giuliani, the former New York City mayor turned Trump defender, told the Times the meeting was arranged by a man named Robert Stryk, whom the Times described as "a lobbyist who had worked with Trump campaign officials and has emerged from relative obscurity to become an influential behind-the-scenes deal-maker in Mr. Trump's Washington."
Stryk's name may ring a bell in Oregon. His "relative obscurity" included a recent stretch in the minor leagues of this state's Republican politics.
How Stryk, 44, went from Roseburg to Bahrain in just three years is one of the stranger tales of the Trump era, in which political influence often has a through-the-looking-glass quality.
In 2015, Stryk's firm, the Sonoran Policy Group, worked in Oregon to elevate the profile of Dr. Monica Wehby, a former GOP nominee for U.S. Senate.
Stryk is originally from Arizona. He interned for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), later worked on Capitol Hill and lobbied in Washington from 2005 to 2012.
In Oregon, he worked with a young lawyer named Jacob Daniels, who'd lost a House GOP primary in Lane County in 2012.
Wehby has said she met Stryk at a fundraiser he held for her at his vineyard near Roseburg when she was challenging U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in 2014.
Despite a lopsided loss to Merkley, Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and former president of the Oregon Medical Association, was still interested in becoming a political player. She was looking for savvy consultants to help her.
In April 2015, Wehby established MonicaPAC, a political action committee. Daniels served as treasurer, while Stryk's firm provided what it called "consulting, research, database management and technology services." The PAC quickly raised more than $225,000.
Wehby launched her new operation with great ambition. "MonicaPAC has embarked on the largest voter identification and turnout effort ever seen in Oregon," Wehby wrote in an op-ed for The Oregonian on July 10, 2015. "We spent hundreds of hours in the months leading up to our launch developing 'Trusted Messenger,' our advanced, proprietary data-aggregation and influence-targeting program."
Trusted Messenger was a digital program supposed to divine voter sentiment from social media and other data. But the results fell short of Wehby's hopes.
Rather than buying advertising for Wehby or contributing to other candidates to build her influence, however, MonicaPAC spent much of its money paying Sonoran $106,000 and three of its associates $33,000 in total. By the end of 2015,
MonicaPAC had stopped raising money and spent nearly all it had raised.
To Republican insiders, Wehby's PAC overpromised and underdelivered. "It was a disaster," says Elaine Franklin, a GOP political consultant and spouse of former U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.). (Wehby didn't respond to a request for comment.)
"I don't think anybody took it very seriously," says Jim Pasero, another GOP political consultant who worked with Daniels, the MonicaPAC treasurer, on a 2014 campaign.
In 2016, Daniels landed a job as the only paid Trump staffer in Oregon, a position he told the Eugene Register-Guard Stryk had helped him obtain. There wasn't much to do in a state where Democrat Hillary Clinton would breeze to victory.
But Daniels moved to Michigan for the final six weeks of the race and, as the No. 2 Trump campaign official there, basked in the glow of Trump's upset win.
Meanwhile, Stryk turned his attention to his vineyard. Court records show a distribution company and the Roseburg Country Club won court judgments against him in 2016. The records show he hadn't paid his tab at the club and, more importantly, failed to reimburse a bonded wine warehouse for state and federal excise taxes.
But with Trump's victory, Stryk's fortunes soared.
Trump came from outside the GOP establishment and so didn't have long-standing political relationships. Foreign governments, who expected Clinton to win, didn't know much about him.
Stryk and Daniels, who left SPG in July, did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but Stryk told The New York Times last year a chance meeting right after the election with a New Zealand diplomat desperate for an introduction to Trump provided him his first foreign client.
Others followed. Beginning in April 2017, records show Sonoran inked deals to represent no fewer than a dozen foreign governments, anchored by Saudi Arabia, which agreed to pay his firm $450,000 a month (see chart above for other clients).
The contracts, which WW has reviewed, show the Sonoran Policy Group provides a variety of services. It's supposed to "cement and deepen relations between Kenya and the U.S. government," for instance, "work with the Albanian opposition to build an anti-narcotics and anti-organized crime strategy," and assist the Democratic Republic of Congo on "issues pertaining to counter-extremism, foreign direct investment, security cooperation, environmental and public health issues."
The Sonoran Policy Group also agreed to help two men who'd been barred from entering the United States: Saro Spadaro, a Caribbean hotelier who claimed in a federal lawsuit he'd been banned because federal officials wrongly linked him to organized crime, and Slobodan Tesic, whom the U.S. Treasury has labeled "among the biggest dealers of arms and munitions in the Balkans."
Sonoran's newest client—Somalia—is also paying the firm to "reverse the inclusion of Somalia on the list of travel ban countries." The cost: $100,000 a month.
Senate filings show Sonoran now also lobbies for a variety of corporations, including an Irish pharmaceutical company, a startup liquor manufacturer, and a subsea cable company. The sovereign clients agreed to pay Stryk's company more than $7 million in the past two years, the corporations hundreds of thousands more. (The firm's only Oregon client appears to be Holt International, a Eugene nonprofit.)
In a New York Times profile last year, Stryk said he knew his cachet might be short-lived. He wanted to expand into branding and marketing and even establish a multibillion-dollar private equity fund.
"Our goal is to take an environment that was created by the president," he told the Times, "and use it to do some good.''