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Behind Trump's Taiwan Phone Chat, A Veteran Washington Insider

Sen. Robert Dole, seated next to then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, receives a standing ovation at the Republican National Convention in July.

President-elect Donald Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan last week, initially characterized by Trump transition staffers and Taipei officials as just a small courtesy, has emerged as part of a lobbying strategy by a quintessential Washington insider.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, a war hero, lion of the Senate and 1996 Republican nominee for president, was an early supporter of Donald Trump, even when other Republican leaders were still wary.

Dole explained his reasons on NPR's Morning Edition in June. Both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton had flaws, he said. "Republicans say, 'Well, I can't vote for Trump.' I have an obligation to the party. I mean what am I gonna do? I can't vote for George Washington."

Dole is the Taipei government's man in Washington — has been, in fact, for 18 years, since Bill Clinton was president.

In official jargon, Dole is a registered foreign agent. The law requires foreign agents to file itemized lists of what they do for their clients. Dole filed his latest six-month report last week, and it shows the phone call wasn't a one-off event.

Since May, Dole has been arranging contacts between Taiwanese officials and Trump campaign advisers. He facilitated a Taiwan delegation's attendance at the Republican National Convention when Trump was nominated. And he helped them get favorable language into the Republican platform.

As for that phone call last week, it came after the report's end date. Dole told The New York Times he helped arrange it. His office couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

"Dole was pushing on a somewhat open door, because talking to the leader of Taiwan was consistent with Trump's stance on China and also his willingness to ignore what might be the conventional wisdom," Jordan Tama, a foreign policy professor at American University, told NPR.

Dole was in a perfect position to give that somewhat open door a shove.

Aside from his nearly two decades lobbying for Taiwan, Dole was also the only Republican former presidential nominee to endorse Trump this year.

"Trump, we have good reason to think, values and rewards loyalty, and so the fact that Dole endorsed him certainly would be something Trump would be aware of," Tama said.

Dole didn't report contacting any other presidential campaign
on behalf of Taipei. Disclosure reports covering November 2015 through October 2016 show that Taipei's Washington office paid his law firm $200,000.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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