Updated May 17, 2022 - 3:50 pm
The Justice Department sued former Wynn Resorts Chief Executive Steve Wynn on Tuesday, seeking to compel him to register as a foreign agent following its allegation that he lobbied President Donald Trump and his administration on behalf of China.
The department has asked Wynn repeatedly since 2018 to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but he has declined to do so, the agency said in a Tuesday release. While the Justice Department has pursued criminal cases for people who don’t register as foreign agents, the civil suit against Wynn is unique, it said.
“The filing of this suit — the first affirmative civil lawsuit under FARA in more than three decades — demonstrates the department’s commitment to ensuring transparency in our democratic system,” Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in the release. “Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know.”
The department alleges that Wynn acted as an agent to Sun Lijun, the former vice minister for public security in China and the country itself in the summer of 2017. The complaint alleges Wynn conveyed the country’s request to remove a Chinese national who had sought political asylum in the U.S. to then-President Trump and his administration.
At the time, Wynn’s company owned and operated casinos in the Chinese territory of Macau. Justice Department officials allege he lobbied U.S. officials to protect his business interests there because the government had restricted the number of gaming tables and machines that could operate at Wynn’s casino. He was rescheduled to renegotiate the casino operation licenses in 2019, according to the complaint.
Wynn’s lawyers said on Tuesday that they would contest the suit.
“Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said a statement from attorneys Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”
Wynn conveyed the Chinese government’s desire to have the national removed from the country or have his visa denied to Trump at a dinner in June 2017 and provided the person’s passport photos to Trump’s secretary, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. He allegedly attempted to organize meetings with other White House and National Security Council officials through August and again brought the issue up to Trump over the phone.
The efforts to have the Chinese national removed were ultimately unsuccessful. Though prosecutors did not identify the person, the situation matches the description of Guo Wengui, The Associated Press reported. Guo left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that ensnared people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offenses, and have sought the return of the self-exiled tycoon.
FARA requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they advocate, lobby or conduct public relations work in the U.S. for a foreign government or political entity.
Wynn stepped down from his company in 2018 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. He has denied any improprieties.
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.