A former U.S. Department of Justice attorney told a jury on Thursday that he simultaneously worked on behalf of hip-hop artist Pras Michel, as part of an illegal foreign influence campaign to persuade the Trump administration to return a dissident to China.
George Higginbotham testified that he made money on the side while working at the Justice Department by offering legal advice to Michel, a long-time friend. His duties included facilitating some of Michel’s dealings with Jho Low, a businessman whom prosecutors say embezzled billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
Higginbotham is the latest witness to testify for the government in the criminal trial against Michel, who is accused of accepting millions of dollars to carry out three different illegal lobbying campaigns on Low’s behalf.
Other witnesses so far have included actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former Republican National Committee official Elliott Broidy.
Higginbotham said he felt uncomfortable when Michel asked him to pass along 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 so anyway, telling the jury he let his friendship with Michel cloud his judgment.
“This could get me in a lot of trouble,” he told the jury he recalled thinking, adding that his actions were “definitely outside of official lines.”
Higginbotham, who pleaded guilty in 2018 for his role in the foreign influence campaign, testified that Justice Department investigators later found out about his meeting and questioned him.
A few months later, he agreed to fly to Hong Kong for a follow-up meeting with Low, after Michel assured him he “would never have to worry about DOJ again.”
“Unfortunately, that is clearly not the case,” Higginbotham added.
Higginbotham’s conduct has since been highlighted in the Department of Defense’s Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure.