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Democrat Mississippi Senate hopeful misled about $750G lobbying contract with African despot

A Democratic Senate hopeful in Mississippi cashed in $750,000 after lobbying on behalf of an African despot currently on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Mike Espy, a former lobbyist and U.S. agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton, is running against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary successor to longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran after his retirement in April.

Neither Hyde-Smith nor Espy managed to break the required 50 percent of the vote last week, forcing a Nov. 27 runoff election which has largely been forgotten in the wake of Florida’s electoral aftermath chaos. Espy lost to the Republican by less than one point.

The Democrat endured little scrutiny thanks to all the focus on key states like Florida, while the state of Mississippi that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1982 was ignored.

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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., campaigns Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Mama Hamil's Restaurant in Madison, Miss.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., campaigns Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Mama Hamil’s Restaurant in Madison, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

But Fox News can reveal that Espy was paid $750,000 in 2011 by then Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo’s government. The payment appears to contradict Espy’s previous statements that he accepted just a portion of it.

“I have voluntarily suspended it,” Espy told the Hill back in 2011 about the contract with the Ivory Coast government. “Events are spiraling rapidly. It is very difficult to work in that context.”

He said he dropped his three-month contract with the country just a little more than a month on the job and collected just $400,000 of the $750,000 amid the outcry of Washington D.C. lobbyists profiting from a brutal regime.

Yet according to a FARA Supplemental Statement filed with the Department of Justice in 2011, not only did Espy collect the full $750,000 figure, he also dropped the contract just 15 days before it was supposed to end, contradicting his comments.

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“Secretary Espy worked on agricultural issues for international clients,” Danny Blaton, the Espy campaign communications director, told Fox News. “Over the course of that work, he realized one of those clients didn’t pass the smell test, so he terminated the contract, and then reported what he knew to the U.S. government.”

He did not address Espy’s misleading claims that he didn’t take all the money and worked just a little over a month.

According to a FARA Supplemental Statement filed with the Department of Justice, not only Mike Espy collected the full $750,000 figure, he also dropped the contract just 15 days before it was supposed to end, contradicting his comments.

According to a FARA Supplemental Statement filed with the Department of Justice, not only Mike Espy collected the full $750,000 figure, he also dropped the contract just 15 days before it was supposed to end, contradicting his comments.

Espy represented the African ruler who lost the 2010 election, but refused to concede to his opponent, unleashing extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape of his political opponents, according to the U.S. State Department.

He’s currently being tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

At the time of the turmoil, the Ivory Coast government approached Espy to represent him in talks with the Obama administration and the UN.

He acted as an English-speaking mouthpiece for the regime, making pro-government comments on state television and telling the Daily Telegraph in 2010 that the ruler believes the election was “stolen” and any attempts to remove him from power will be met with force.

In this Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 image, former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo arrives for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. 

In this Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 image, former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo arrives for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.  (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

It remains unclear how much he was paid for representation back then, but in 2011 Espy managed to strike a deal for three months with the Ivory Coast government in the midst of ongoing turmoil and violence.

The contract officially involved lobbying for the Ivory Coast’s Cocoa and Coffee Board – directly controlled and funded by the government – concerning its products being blacklisted in the United States.

In a form submitted to the DOJ, Espy said he also engaged in research and advocacy relating to the Ivory Coast’s child labor laws and Ivory Coast cocoa embargoes.

Under the Gbagbo regime, the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry was condemned due to rampant child labor and slaves as young as seven years-old.

Since the ouster of the despotic ruler, the U.S. Department of Labor has found that the government of Ivory Coast made significant progress in eliminating child labor in the country.

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