A former Justice Department attorney told the jury that he met with the Chinese to increase their illegal pressure campaign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former U.S. Justice Department attorney told a jury on Thursday that he simultaneously worked on behalf of hip-hop artist Brass Michel as part of an illegal foreign influence campaign to persuade the Trump administration to reinstate a dissident from China.

George Higginbotham testified that he made side money while working for the Department of Justice by giving legal advice to Michael, an old friend. His duties included facilitating some of Michel’s dealings with Jho Low, a businessman who prosecutors say misappropriated billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Higginbotham is the last witness to testify for the government in the criminal trial against Michelle, who is accused of accepting millions of dollars to carry out three different illegal lobbying campaigns on Low’s behalf.

Other witnesses so far include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former Republican National Committee official Elliott Broidy.

Higginbotham said he felt uncomfortable when Michel asked him to pass a message to the Chinese embassy in 2017 that the Trump administration was working on their request to extradite dissident Guo Wengui. But he did it anyway, telling the jury that he had let his friendship with Michelle cloud his judgment.

He told the jury he remembered thinking “This could get me into a lot of trouble,” adding that his actions were “definitely outside official lines.”

Higginbotham, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to his role in the foreign influence campaign, testified that DOJ investigators later found out about his meeting and questioning.

A few months later, he agreed to travel to Hong Kong for a follow-up meeting with Law, after Michel assured him that he would “never have to worry about the Ministry of Justice again”.

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“Unfortunately, that is clearly not the case,” Higginbotham added.

Higginbotham’s behavior has since been highlighted in the Department of Defense’s encyclopedia of moral failure.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch) Editing by Andy Sullivan and Stephen Coates

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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