The top spokesman at the Democratic National Committee has claimed he never lobbied on behalf of a group that promotes normalizing ties with Cuba, but nonetheless was advocating on behalf of the group and helped to set up at least one congressional meeting while in his job at the party committee, according to internal DNC emails contained in the latest WikiLeaks trove.
Luis Miranda worked at the White House as President Obama's director of Hispanic media outreach before joining the DNC in last fall. In between those stints, he helped launch Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.
In late April of this year, while in his job at the DNC, Miranda reached out to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz' Chief of Staff Tracie Pough to help facilitate a meeting between Engage Cuba and the Florida Democrat, who has publicly opposed the Obama administration's diplomatic thaw with Cuba.
"Hi Tracie, this organization — for full disclosure — is one I helped launch and that advocates for greater opening with Cuba," Miranda wrote in an email. "They want to meet with the congresswoman's team on her congressional side. Who should I connect them with?"
"There is a PAC component, so if there's a different contact on the campaign side (Paikowsky?) let me know on that end too. Thanks," Miranda added.
After Pough gave Miranda the name and email of Wasserman Schultz' congressional contact, Miranda sent several additional emails connecting the two offices with Addie Bryant, Engage Cuba's director of policy advocacy and chief of staff.
On Engage Cuba's website, the group's president, James Williams, takes credit for leading an "under-the-radar $3 million national campaign to successfully convince the Obama administration to reform U.S.-Cuba relations."
No one at Engage Cuba, including Williams and Miranda, ever registered to lobby on Cuba issues. Instead, the group hired Fierce Government Relations to lobby Congress and the administration to lift the trade embargo, and paid them $70,000 a quarter for their lobbying work.
Miranda in May told the Washington Examiner, off the record, that he didn't do any work for the Cuba campaign that required registering as a lobbyist. That email communications between the Examiner and Miranda went public this week after WikiLeaks posted more than 20,000 internal DNC emails online.
The emails also show that Miranda sent a "heads up" email to top officials at the DNC, including Pough, complaining about the Examiner's questions and arguing that he never lobbied on behalf of Engage Cuba while working as a "consultant" for it.
"Republicans are looking for anything to mess with us on, so the Washington Examiner today at the White House briefing tried to bring me up as an example of someone who left the White House and then lobbied — allegedly against [sic] the administration's stated policy — on Cuba," he wrote.
"To be clear, I didn't lobby during my consulting tenure. I provided public affairs services, strategic communications and press engagement," Miranda told the DNC officials in an email. "To the extent I was in touch with the White House, it was to be supportive of what the White House was already doing. Any lobbying was handled by my clients without me."
"I'll keep you posted if anything else develops, but it is a bogus story," he added.
Miranda sent the same email to a lawyer at Perkins Coie, who works on behalf of the DNC.
The lawyer, Graham Wilson, didn't dismiss the issue out of hand. Instead, Wilson alerted Bob Bauer, a partner at the firm and one of the top Democratic lawyers in Washington who previously served as Obama's White House counsel and the top attorney on his 2008 campaign.
Wilson also asked Miranda if he wanted to give him a call to "go over the details on the timeline of when you left the WH, and then who you spoke to at the WH, when you spoke to them, and what you spoke to them about."
"... We can confirm whether there are any issues here under the ethics pledge or statutory post-employment restrictions," Wilson wrote.
"Sure," Miranda responded. "I'll give you a call."
The lawyer then asked whether Miranda was a "senior employee" while at the White House and asked for his salary during his time there to confirm, noting that "senior employees are subject to more restrictions."
While Miranda acknowledged that he was considered "special exempted service," he stressed the point that he was "NOT a Commissioned Officer" that had to fill out personal financial disclosure forms by law.
Plus, he said, "even by the end I only made [a] thin $82. Very sad," Miranda wrote, referring to his $82,000 White House salary.
"My joke was that I wasn't a Senior Administration Official but I played one on TV," he wrote.
The lawyer then acknowledged that the salary was indeed "sad," "but good for this issue."
"I think we should be okay," he said, promising to get back to him later this evening.
A White House aide first tipped Miranda off to the Examiner's questions, saying that they didn't plan to engage further.
Miranda tried to assure the White House aide that he didn't "lobby."
"I provided public affairs services, and to the extent I was in touch with the White House, it was an ally, being supportive of what the White House was already doing," he said. "Any lobbying strategy was handled by my clients without me."
He then promised to "push back on this bulls—t."
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, previously told the Examiner that there are so many loopholes to federal lobbying laws that its difficult, if not impossible, to enforce the law.
Williams, Miranda, and others who worked on the $3 million Cuba campaign, she said, would be required to register as lobbyists only if they made two or more contacts with Capitol Hill or the executive branch.
If either limited their time on the Cuba campaign to less than 20 percent of their overall work-time, then they also could avoid registering to the lobby.
Many times, McGehee said, big advocacy campaigns use other groups to be the public spokespersons. Such a scenario allows them to stay under the radar under current law.
"This is just one example of why the current Lobbying Disclosure Act needs to be strengthened," she said.