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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

Buffett eyes slow U.S. progress, but says "never bet against America"

Warren Buffett in New York City in 2017. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Warren Buffett called progress in America "slow, uneven and often discouraging," but retained his long-term optimism in the country, in his closely watched annual shareholder letter released Saturday morning.

Why it matters: It breaks months of uncharacteristic silence from the 90-year-old billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO — as the fragile economy coped with the pandemic and the U.S. saw a contentious presidential election.

Restaurant software meets the pandemic moment

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Food delivery companies have predictably done well during the pandemic. But restaurant software providers are also having a moment as eateries race to handle the avalanche of online orders resulting from severe in-person dining restrictions.

Driving the news: Olo filed last week for an IPO and Toast is rumored to be preparing to do the same very soon.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Technology

How the automation economy can turn human workers into robots

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than outright destroying jobs, automation is changing employment in ways that will weigh on workers.

The big picture: Right now, we should be less worried about robots taking human jobs than people in low-skilled positions being forced to work like robots.