A fascinating story in today’s Washington Post details the story of how, in the mid-1990s, the FBI almost carried out a sting operation against Newt Gingrich based on the allegation that he would take a bribe from a major international arms dealer. The sting was called off because there was no evidence Gingrich had any knowledge of a possible deal (or any intent to make one), and Gingrich hasn’t been accused of anything. Instead, according to the Post, talks of a bribe involved the arms dealer and “a man who said he was acting on behalf of Gingrich’s then-wife, Marianne.” The arms dealer was Sarkis Soghanalian, who, as the Post puts it, “told federal prosecutors and FBI agents in Miami that Marianne Gingrich said during a meeting in Paris in 1995 that she could provide legislative favors through her husband”—namely, lifting an arms embargo against Iraq. But just who was Sarkis Soghanalian?
A 2002 article in The Brown Journal of World Affairs says Soghanalian, who was popularly known as the “Merchant of Death” (he died this past October), was considered by the U.S. government to be “the biggest weapons dealer in the United States.” By the time the article was published, he had been convicted of arms exports violations and wire fraud three times, but he had also aided the U.S. government by, for instance, renting out planes to the CIA. His other exploits included airdropping 10,000 Kalashnikovs into the Colombian jungle (allegedly for the terrorist FARC group)—activities, the article says, which law enforcement authorities considered to be just the “‘tip of the iceberg’ of a wider arms brokering network operating out of Florida […] with activities stretching from Belarus to Colombia.” One with aspirations, it seems, to stretch to Congress as well.