Pro-Russian separatists in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) scored a major victory earlier this summer when they hired a pair of Trump campaign officials to help them lead their efforts to crack up BiH.
Now, one of these lobbyists, Mike Rubino, has decided to take his talents to an even more prestigious destination: the White House.
First flagged by Open Secrets DC’s Anna Massoglia, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that Rubino would be joining HHS as a senior adviser. As a press release announced, Rubino “joins HHS from the private sector, where he worked in public policy, communications, and crisis management.”
Trump campaign alum Mike Rubino—who recently formed a new lobbying firm headquartered at Corey Lewandowski's DC rowhouse & registered as a foreign agent of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, a Serbian political party—has joined the Trump admin as HHS senior adviser. pic.twitter.com/rPMyeyCNFl
— Anna Massoglia (@annalecta) September 18, 2018
Among Rubino’s work in the private sector: stumping for BiH’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). The SNSD — which is currently steering BiH’s Republika Srpska (RS), a Bosnian Serb enclave — remains one of the most notorious political entities in the Balkans. The party is currently headed by Milorad Dodik, a politico sanctioned by the U.S. in 2017 for his efforts at “actively obstructing” the Dayton Accords, which helped settle the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s. For good measure, the U.S. also sanctioned SNSD Vice President Nikola Spiric — as well as Spiric’s immediate family — earlier this month, citing his “significant” corruption.
SNSD’s primary plank over the past few years appears to be the wholesale fracturing of BiH, and the integration of the RS into Serbia proper. As Dodik said earlier this year, “Serb people have two states — Serbia and Republika Srpska — and we want to be one.” More recently, Dodik expressed the opinion that a second term for President Donald Trump would offer those pressing for Serbian expansion their best hopes of success. (Serbian officials have been discussing border changes over the past month with Kosovo as well.)
Indeed, the SNSD has been trying to make inroads with those close to Trump for months. RS Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic has met with a number of White House officials already, including Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who has himself worked closely with Rubino in the past. Cvijanovic also had a recent sit-down with former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon. Bosnian media reported that Bannon and Cvijanovic discussed “relations between Serbia and America.”
“Washington’s posture in those areas appears to be for sale,” Jasmin Mujanovic, a lecturer at Elon University and recent author of a book on political dynamics in the Balkans, told ThinkProgress. “There is no strategic reason for the U.S. to allow these kinds of lobbyists, working on behalf of governments whose leaders and key officials are under U.S. sanctions.”
Seriously? What good could an ex-lobbyist who represented pro-Russia groups possibly be doing at @HHSGov?
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 18, 2018
SNSD upped its efforts at cultivating the Trump administration in July, when it officially hired Rubino’s Twin Rocks Global, LLC, to lobby on SNSD’s behalf. Twin Rocks Global, LLC, is based out of Lewandowski’s property in Washington.
Federal documents show that Rubino, who helped lead state-level operations for Trump’s 2016 campaign, had been hired as a “consultant” by the SNSD. According to FARA, Rubino would “engage in political activities” on behalf of the SNSD.
The FARA database shows that Rubino is still listed as working as a lobbyist for the SNSD.
“[Rubino’s hiring] only makes sense if there is a lack of coherent U.S. foreign policy and/or if part of the foreign policy apparatus is being monetized for these Second-World kleptocrats,” Mujanovic added. “I fear both are occurring.”
Update, 21 Sept. 2018: A spokesperson with HHS told ThinkProgress that Rubino “has terminated all lobbying registrations for former clients,” including the pro-Russia separatists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.