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Did Bob Dole help orchestrate Trump-Taiwan phone call?

According to documents filed with the Justice Department, Bob Dole (above) coordinated with Donald Trump advisers to set up meetings between the Trump team and Taiwanese officials.Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images/File 2016

WASHINGTON — Former senator Bob Dole, acting as a foreign agent for the government of Taiwan, worked behind the scenes during the past six months to establish high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and President-elect Donald Trump’s staff, an effort that culminated last week in an unorthodox telephone call between Trump and Taiwan’s president.

Dole, a lobbyist with the Washington law firm Alston & Bird, coordinated with Trump’s campaign and the transition team to set up a series of meetings between Trump’s advisers and officials in Taiwan, according to disclosure documents filed last week with the Justice Department. Dole also assisted in Taiwan’s successful efforts to include language favorable to it in the Republican Party platform, according to the documents.


Dole’s firm received $140,000 from May to October for the work, according to the documents.

The documents suggest that Trump’s decision to take a telephone call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, was less a ham-handed diplomatic gaffe and more the result of a well-orchestrated plan by Taiwan, one that sought to use the election of a new president to deepen its relationship with the United States — with an assist from a seasoned lobbyist well-versed in the machinery of Washington.

Trump’s phone call was a striking break from nearly four decades of diplomatic practice and threatened to precipitate a major rift with China.

The documents were submitted before the call took place and make no mention of it, and it was unclear what role, if any, Dole played in brokering the specific conversation. A spokeswoman at Alston & Bird said Tuesday that the 93-year-old Dole, a former Senate majority leader and the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, had no immediate comment on his work representing the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, Taiwan’s unofficial embassy and the entity that retained him.


The effort to involve Trump’s campaign in a US delegation to Taiwan, and to facilitate a Taiwanese delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, began earlier this year, according to the documents.

Dole also arranged a meeting between Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican whom Trump has chosen to be his attorney general, and Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s envoy to the United States, and convened a meeting between embassy staff members and Trump’s transition team, the documents say.

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said her phone call with Donald Trump should not be interpreted a significant shift in American policy, stressing that both sides see the value of maintaining regional stability, The Washington Post reported.

‘‘Of course I have to stress that one phone call does not mean a policy shift,’’ she told a small group of American reporters in Taipei.

‘‘The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the US election as well as congratulate President-elect Trump on his win.’’

Trump’s phone call with Tsai broke four decades of diplomatic protocol, alarming some commentators who feared it could spark a dangerous confrontation with China.

Others, though, especially Republicans, have welcomed it as a sign that Trump will not be bullied by China, and believe the United States should offer more support to Taiwan’s island democracy.

Sources in Trump’s team said the call was planned weeks in advance to establish the incoming president as a break from the past. Vice President-elect Mike Pence described it as a courtesy call, not intended to show a shift in US policy on China.


China has reacted with relative calm to the call, lodging what it called a ‘‘solemn protest’’ with the US government but also underlining that its economic and diplomatic relationship with Washington depends on the US acceptance of the ‘‘one China’’ principle, which recognizes Beijing as the sole representative of the Chinese nation.

Beijing blocks Taiwan from taking part in almost all international bodies. Tsai’s office said she had told Trump during the phone call that she hoped the United States ‘‘would continue to support more opportunities for Taiwan to participate in international issues.’’