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Ayla Sayyad is a journalist at the Wall Street Telegraph. She was at the center of exposing the money laundering scandal involving Raymond Tusk, Xander Feng, and the White House, which ultimately contributed to the attempted impeachment and later resignation of President Garrett Walker.
Except for mentioning of her Iranian roots, nothing particular is disclosed of her biography prior Season 2.
Spotsylvania and the WTO leak
In early May 2014, Sayyad was part of the press pool following VP Frank Underwood in Spotsylvania County, Virginia at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Spotsylvania, one of the major battles of the American Civil War. Unbeknownst to her and other White House correspondents, the real reason for the vice president's presence there was to participate in a Raymond Tusk-arranged diplomatic back channel with China via Xander Feng, a rich and powerful Chinese billionaire with connections in the Chinese government, while the official US-China economic summit was simultaneously going on in D.C. where the U.S. side was represented by Secretary of State Cathy Durant.
Meeting Feng, a strong ally of Tusk, for the first time, Underwood (who came in with his own personal agenda of weakening Tusk's grip on the President) discussed upcoming US-Chinese economic project proposals. First item on the list, a rare earth elements refinery in China that the Chinese government had been keen to offer to Tusk via 40-year lease, went off without a problem as it was a foregone conclusion that Tusk's company Clayton West would be winning the contract though Underwood warned Feng that the process would have to be opened up to official bidding for external appearances purposes. Second item was the Port Jefferson Bridge linking Port Jefferson, New York and Milford, Connecticut over the Long Island Sound — a project of major importance to the President's domestic agenda — which the U.S. government's Committee on Foreign Investment had been planning to let a Chinese company build in return for a 25-year toll collecting contract. Expecting another easy item, VP Underwood was very much taken aback when Feng informed him that the Chinese side was prepared to kill the bridge project unless U.S. continues its currency manipulation lawsuit against China in front of the Trade Organization World Trade Organization (WTO). Feng went on to state to still somewhat shell-shocked Underwood that open, free-flowing currency is inevitable and that he and other "forward-thinking people" within the Chinese establishment had finally managed to convince the naysayers. Underwood then asked Feng if things are as he says they are then why doesn't China just end its currency interventionism instead of waiting for the WTO ruling. Feng answered it has to do with the right external appearances — claiming it's important to China to make it appear to its domestic public that its hand was forced by the U.S. instead of the appearance that it caved in by itself.
To Underwood, something was fishy here immediately. Figuring that the Chinese government's potential end to interventionist yuan (¥) foreign exchange policies could free up interest rates and reduce inflation in China, all of which both Feng and Tusk would profit from, Underwood was doubtful as to whether Feng's request for the U.S. to keep on with its WTO suit was really coming from the Chinese government or it was just Feng's own self-serving ploy (and by proxy Tusk's). As a way of throwing a wrench into Feng's and Tusk's potential plans, Underwood decided on the spot not to relay Feng's original request to Secretary of State Durant in D.C. at the official summit, but to relay the exact opposite — that the Chinese won't do the bridge project unless the WTO suit is dropped. And to further keep Feng and Tusk off balance, he also decided to have his chief of staff Doug Stamper leak the information of U.S. dropping its WTO suit along with a hint that the info is coming from a person on the Chinese side close to the summit negotiations (knowing the Chinese press would likely connect that description to Feng) to someone from the gathered press pool as soon as Durant has presented it at the summit.
Rather than carrying out the task himself (figuring it exposes himself and Underwood needlessly), Stamper decided on the spot to have Claire's communications director Connor Ellis who also traveled with the vice president to Spotsylvania do it. Ellis, in turn, went to Ayla Sayyad, telling her the information is coming from a businessman close to the Chinese delegation with ties to the Standing Committee who is back-channeling the summit. Although skeptical, Sayyad reported the news in the Wall Street Telegraph after checking the info with the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) thus getting a bit of a scoop although the U.S. government went public with it the next day anyway.
Once Sayyad's Telegraph story got to China, their press quickly connected the mentioned leak to Feng, identifying him as the back-channel all of which got Sayyad interested in the billionaire businessman as she never heard of him up to that point. Discovering that he's been charged with corruption twice already in China, with charges dropped both times, she was dismayed that the Chinese would send someone like him to be the back-channel at an important economic summit and mentioned as much to Ellis next time she ran into him around Spotsylvania. Ellis for his part was clueless about the specifics of Feng's story as he had just heard of him for the first time too, since Stamper only filled him in on the bare minimum so he couldn't answer any of Sayyad's question all of which got her thinking Ellis is dodging and got her even more skeptical as to what was really going on.
As White House Correspondent for the Wall Street Telegraph, Sayyad was often present in the White House Press Room. However, after harassing Frank Underwood during a conference regarding the arrest of LGBT activist Michael Corrigan, Sayyad was removed from the White House Press Corps by Seth Grayson.
- The current real seat in White House Press Corp for the Wall Street Journal (non-fictional base for The Wall Street Telegraph) is taken by Carol Lee.