Michael Petruzzello is the Managing Director of the international public relations firm Qorvis Communications. He is also a longtime accomplice of the Saudi Arabian government. Petruzzello founded the D.C.-based firm in 2000 and has been on the Saudi government's payroll since the 9/11 attacks against the United States. In this role, Petruzzello has contributed to the Saudi government's abuses by ensuring continued U.S. military support for it, helping avoid accountability and scrutiny for its role in Yemen's humanitarian crisis and its murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He has misrepresented the Saudi government's human rights record in particular by promoting communications for organizations that whitewash Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Not all of the members of the Qorvis team supported Qorvis' decision to represent Saudi Arabia; three of the firm's founding partners quit the firm on December 4, 2002 because of their ethical concerns about working for the Saudi government in the wake of the 9/11 attack on our homeland.
Since 2001, Qorvis has received, by far, the most money of any lobbyist or public relations firm working for the Saudi government: an astonishing $124,096,489.62. Petruzzello has guided this relationship from the beginning and served, effectively, as a representative and spokesman for the Saudi government. In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform subpoenaed Petruzzello to appear in congressional hearings concerning the abduction of American children to Saudi Arabia. The Chair of the Committee, Dan Burton (R-IN), noted that the Saudi Embassy Spokesperson refused to testify, so "we subpoenaed their top lobbyist, Michael Petruzzello." Burton also noted that the Saudi government was paying Qorvis $200,000 a month. Petruzzello's name appears a staggering 497 times in the published record of these hearings, showing his centrality to the Saudi government's lobbying efforts with the U.S. government.
Qorvis and Petruzzello stood by the Saudi Arabian government during this controversy as well as others. Shortly after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Qorvis and Petruzzello ran a campaign deceiving hundreds of U.S. combat veterans into lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The Saudi government opposed JASTA because it paved the way for families of the victims of 9/11 to pursue civil damages against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the attacks. Through Qorvis, the Saudi government mobilized veterans as sympathetic messengers to counter the voices of families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Using Qorvis as a conduit, the Saudi government paid for hundreds of veterans to visit DC and advocate on Capitol Hill against JASTA.
However, the veterans said they did not know that the Saudi government was footing the bill for the project. Qorvis convinced the veterans to participate in this lobbying effort by leading them to believe that under this legislation, U.S. soldiers could face similar prosecution for their conduct during wartime, which is misleading at best. This sparked a formal complaint from the 9/11 victims' families to the U.S. Department of Justice about possible FARA violations.
Qorvis and Petruzzello also have lobbied on behalf of the Saudi government to improve its image following its disastrous military intervention in Yemen in 2015, misrepresenting and omitting the facts about Saudi Arabia's unlawful wartime conduct. Here, tactics have included handling the communications of a Saudi "humanitarian organization" funded by the Saudi government that claims it helps to dismantle landmines in Yemen, without any mention of the Saudi government's disastrous humanitarian harm caused by its military intervention in Yemen. Qorvis also created "Operation Renewal of Hope", a decidedly pro-Saudi government website that attempts to put a positive spin on the war and reiterates the Kingdom's documentedly false commitment to abide by international humanitarian law in its military operations. The website does not mention that Saudi Arabia's reckless and unlawful bombardment and siege of Yemen have caused Yemen to experience the worst humanitarian crisis in the world or that a U.N. report published in 2020 concluded that Saudi Arabian officials should be referred to the International Criminal Court for actions that could constitute war crimes.
And while many lobbyists and public relations firms dropped their contract with the Kingdom following the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, Qorvis and Petruzzello stood pat, stating that they would "wait for all the facts to become known." Even after these facts became known, and the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Saudi agents acting under the instruction of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salma were responsible for the torture and assasination, Qorvis remained a client.
To date, Qorvis maintains a platform on its website to "educate" the United States about Saudi Arabia, while misrepresenting and omitting critical information about the government's horrendous human rights record at home and abroad. Accordingly, an October 2019 HuffPost article concluded, "Qorvis is likely the most important node in Saudi Arabia's sprawling network of influence in the United States. The firm stuck with the kingdom even as, particularly following the Khashoggi killing, similar companies have said they will no longer represent Riyadh, and it's been rewarded for it."
Petruzzello founded Qorvis in 2000. Before that, he was chief executive officer of Shandwick North America (now Weber Shandwick), where he was a member of the Global Executive Team and chaired the Mergers and Acquisition Task Force. Petruzzello was president of Shandwick Public Affairs before becoming its CEO.
Before his work at Shandwick, Petruzzello was a partner at Bozell Sawyer Miller and executive vice president at E. Bruce Harrison Company. Petruzzello began his career as political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, serving as White House liaison for the Chamber's Board of Directors. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America.
By continuing to promote the interests of the Saudi government, Petruzzello and Qorvis Communications are contributing to, and benefitting from, the Saudi government's human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Their ongoing support of the Saudi government despite its egregious crimes and continuous violations of human rights is especially troubling and helps to embolden the nefarious actions of the Saudi government and protect it from scrutiny and accountability.
DAWN calls on Petruzzello and Qorvis Communications to drop the contract with the Saudi Arabian government and to decline representation of any foreign government where there is credible information implicating the government in the commission of gross violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. Consistent with international and domestic legal responsibilities, see DAWN's detailed recommendations to Congress, lobbyists, and U.S. State Bar Associations on our Lobbyist Hall of Shame webpage.