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Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow. Photo: Kirill Kudryavutsev/AFP/Getty Images

Axios has obtained a lobbying disclosure form showing President Trump's former Pennsylvania campaign director, David Urban, will be working to free Paul Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia since December 2018. A source with direct knowledge said Urban will be working pro-bono for Whelan's family.

Why this matters: Russian authorities have accused Whelan of espionage — a charge he denies. Whelan could be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in a Russian jail, according to the New York Times.

  • Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has described himself as the victim of "an absurd political kidnapping." Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton seemed to echo that sentiment when he tweeted in June that "Russia has provided no evidence of any wrongdoing."
  • Whelan's family is deeply concerned about his health. They are trying to press the Trump administration to prioritize his case in the midst of a diplomatic vacuum following the departure of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on Oct. 3.

Between the lines: In Urban, the Whelan family now has one of the best-connected advocates in Trumpworld. Urban is a confidant of President Trump's and has longstanding friendships with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Urban, Pompeo and Esper graduated from the same West Point class in 1986 and Trump frequently calls on him for advice.

  • "We're grateful Mr. Urban has volunteered to throw his considerable influence and strategic thinking behind the effort to free Paul," said David Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan. "His support means a great deal to us and we hope it will spur U.S. officials to further prioritize Paul's release."
  • "Paul is isolated and ill, deprived of any norms of due process and basic human rights. He's done nothing wrong and he should come home now," Whelan added.

Go deeper

Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Getty Images

The state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in an attempt to block the enforcement of its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Why it matters: The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to exempt the state's National Guard from the mandate.

Congress passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate voted 69-28 to pass legislation Thursday night to fund the government until February 18.

Why it matters: The move staves off a government shutdown but lawmakers still have a busy month ahead: Congress needs to work out a deal to raise the debt ceiling in a few weeks and Democrats are trying to pass their behemoth social spending bill.

DiDi to delist from NYSE under Chinese govt pressure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese ride-hail giant DiDi said it will delist from the New York Stock Exchange, following a Chinese government crackdown on foreign listings.

Why it matters: This reflects how geopolitical tensions are bleeding into the capital markets.