Mueller Investigating Gulf State Influence, Too
Americans actings as agents for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been working hard to manipulate the President.
A story so big the NYT posted it twice under two different headlines: “How a Witness for Mueller and a Republican Donor Influenced the White House for Gulf Rulers” and “How 2 Gulf Monarchies Sought to Influence the White House.”
A cooperating witness in the special counsel investigation worked for more than a year to turn a top Trump fund-raiser into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to interviews and previously undisclosed documents.
Hundreds of pages of correspondence between the two men reveal an active effort to cultivate President Trump on behalf of the two oil-rich Arab monarchies, both close American allies.
High on the agenda of the two men — George Nader, a political adviser to the de facto ruler of the U.A.E., and Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee — was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressing the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of the U.A.E.
Mr. Tillerson was fired last week, and the president has adopted tough approaches toward both Iran and Qatar.
So far, rather ho-hum. That this President has an unusual number of top officials and advisors who have been agents of foreign governments is problematic, to be sure, but that’s a known known. Tillerson was an incompetent manager who not only didn’t get along with the President but got caught calling him a “moron.” Trump denounced the Iran deal throughout the campaign. Qatar is more interesting, I suppose, but could be explained by things other than the fact that lobbyists lobbied.
This is more problematic:
Mr. Nader tempted the fund-raiser, Mr. Broidy, with the prospect of more than $1 billion in contracts for his private security company, Circinus, and he helped deliver deals worth more than $200 million with the United Arab Emirates. He also flattered Mr. Broidy about “how well you handle Chairman,” a reference to Mr. Trump, and repeated to his well-connected friend that he told the effective rulers of both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. about “the Pivotal Indispensable Magical Role you are playing to help them.”
Mr. Nader’s cultivation of Mr. Broidy, laid out in documents provided to The New York Times, provides a case study in the way two Persian Gulf monarchies have sought to gain influence inside the Trump White House. Mr. Nader has been granted immunity in a deal for his cooperation with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to people familiar with the matter, and his relationship with Mr. Broidy may also offer clues to the direction of that inquiry.
Mr. Nader has now been called back from abroad to provide additional testimony, one person familiar with the matter said this week. Mr. Mueller’s investigators have already asked witnesses about Mr. Nader’s contacts with top Trump administration officials and about his possible role in funneling Emirati money to Mr. Trump’s political efforts, a sign that the investigation has broadened to examine the role of foreign money in the Trump administration.
That oil-rich Middle Eastern states are trying to influence US policy is hardly surprising. But accepting foreign campaign funding is illegal.
The documents contain evidence not previously reported that Mr. Nader also held himself out as intermediary for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who met with Mr. Trump on Tuesday in the Oval Office at the beginning of a tour of the United States to meet with political and business leaders.
A lawyer for Mr. Nader declined to comment. Two people close to Mr. Broidy said he has not been contacted by the special counsel’s investigators. In a statement, Mr. Broidy said that his efforts “aimed to strengthen the national security of the United States, in full coordination with the U.S. government.” He added, “I have always believed strongly in countering both Iran and Islamic extremism, and in working closely with our friends in the Arab world in order to do so.”
And, if he has to line his own pockets to make that happen, it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make in the service of his country.
A spokesman for Mr. Broidy has said he believes the documents were stolen by hackers working for Qatar in retaliation for his work critical of the country — a regional nemesis of the Saudis and Emiratis.
“We now possess irrefutable evidence tying Qatar to this unlawful attack on, and espionage directed against, a prominent United States citizen within the territory of the United States,” Lee S. Wolosky, a lawyer for Mr. Broidy, wrote this week in a letter to the Qatari ambassador in Washington. If Qatar was not responsible, “we expect your government to hold accountable the rogue actors in Qatar who have caused Mr. Broidy substantial damages.”
The two men first met during the crush of parties and other events surrounding Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Broidy, 60, a longtime Republican donor and a vice chairman of the inaugural fund-raising committee, got his start in business as an accountant and then as an investment manager for Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell.
Mr. Nader, 58, a United States citizen born in Lebanon, previously ran a Washington-based journal called Middle East Insight, acted as an informal emissary to Syria under the Clinton administration, and, according to a short biography in the emails, later worked for Vice President Dick Cheney.
The two became fast friends, and by February, they were exchanging emails about potential contracts for Circinus with both the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, and also about Saudi and Emirati objectives in Washington, such as persuading the United States government to take action against the Muslim Brotherhood or put pressure on its regional ally, Qatar.
Early in the Trump administration, the two men also noted with approval a successful effort to block a top Pentagon position for Anne Patterson, a former ambassador to Cairo whom the Emiratis and Saudis have long criticized as too sympathetic to the deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood during his one year in office.
Emphasis mine above. Nader definitely gets around.
On March 25, Mr. Broidy emailed Mr. Nader a spreadsheet outlining a proposed Washington lobbying and public relations campaign against both Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. The proposed campaign’s total cost was $12.7 million.
The two people close to Mr. Broidy said the plan was drafted by a third party for circulation to like-minded American donors, and that only some of its provisions were carried out.
Mr. Nader did, however, provide a $2.7 million payment to Mr. Broidy for “consulting, marketing and other advisory services rendered,” apparently to help pay for the cost of conferences at two Washington think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that featured heavy criticism of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hudson Institute policies prohibit donations from foreign governments that are not democracies, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies bars donations from all foreign governments, so Mr. Nader’s role as an adviser to the U.A.E. may have raised concerns had he donated directly.
Both Hudson and FDD are very right-leaning, neither considered a top-drawer shop. Hudson was founded in 1961 by Herman Kahn, a physicist who became a leading proponent of the notion of a winnable nuclear war. Scooter Libby is a vice president there. FDD is a neocon shop, but one with some well-respected experts. As I’ve written about many times before, there’s a huge problem in the think tank world with funding. It’s hard to say No to big money from autocratic governments and plutocrats—and that money almost always comes with strings.
Months later, as Mr. Broidy was preparing for an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Nader pressed him to try to line up a private meeting outside the White House between Mr. Trump and the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, whom he referred to as “Friend.”
“Tell him that Friend would like to come ASAP to meet you SOONEST out of official site, in New Jersey” or Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, Mr. Nader wrote to Mr. Broidy on Oct. 1.
“Again, Again and Again, please try to be the ONE to fix a date for Friend while you are there if at all possible,” he added.
Six days later, Mr. Broidy did just that, repeatedly pressing Mr. Trump to meet with the crown prince in a “quiet” setting outside the White House — perhaps in New York or New Jersey — according to a detailed report on the meeting that Mr. Broidy sent to Mr. Nader shortly after. Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, blocked the request, Mr. Broidy reported.
In a memorandum to Mr. Nader about the Oval Office meeting on Oct. 6, Mr. Broidy reported that he personally urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Tillerson, whom the Saudis and Emiratis saw as insufficiently tough on Iran and Qatar.
Again, this doesn’t necessarily implicate Trump or his team. It doesn’t strike me at all unusual that the President would meet with a top RNC fundraiser. (Although I was under the impression that doing that in the White House is a violation of campaign finance laws.) Obviously, it’s highly problematic that Broidy was working for a foreign government at the same time but there’s no reason the White House should have known that unless he’s registered as a foreign agent under FARA. One presumes he was not.
Later in the fall, Mr. Nader complained that the Secret Service had stopped him from getting his picture taken with Mr. Trump at a fund-raiser. Although the reasons he was kept at bay from the president are unclear, Mr. Nader pleaded guilty in 1991 to a federal child pornography charge and served six months at a halfway house after videotapes were found in his luggage when he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport from a trip to Germany, according to court records released last week. In 2003, he received a one-year prison sentence in the Czech Republic after he was convicted there of 10 cases of sexually abusing minors, The Associated Press reported, citing a court spokeswoman.
Mr. Broidy was puzzled by the Secret Service’s objections. Mr. Nader, in his capacity as an adviser to the ruler of United Arab Emirates, had met several times with senior administration officials in the White House during Mr. Trump’s first weeks in office.
Mr. Broidy was apparently able to deliver: On Dec. 14, he emailed Mr. Nader his photograph grinning next to Mr. Trump.
Again, not good. And it makes even more interesting the earlier news that Nadar was an “unofficial representative” during the Clinton administration, so soon after the child pornography conviction.
Despite the close relations between the White House and the two gulf nations, there have been occasional hiccups, and in January, Mr. Nader twice emailed his friend with another delicate request: The leader of the U.A.E. asked that Mr. Trump call the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to try to smooth over potential bad feelings created by the book “Fire and Fury,” by Michael Wolff. It portrayed the president’s views of the Saudi prince in an unflattering light, Mr. Nader wrote.
“See what you can trigger and do and we can discuss more in person,” Mr. Nader wrote, reiterating once again the “genuine desire” of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates to meet alone with Mr. Trump.
Days later, Mr. Nader wrote to his friend that he was looking forward to an upcoming trip to the United States. Mr. Broidy was arranging for him to attend a gala dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Florida estate, to celebrate the anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration, and the two men were considering a trip Saudi Arabia to try to sell the kingdom’s young and powerful crown prince on a $650 million contract with Mr. Broidy’s security company.
But those grand plans were interrupted. It was on that trip to the United States that, as he touched down at Dulles Airport, Mr. Nader was greeted by F.B.I. agents working for Mr. Mueller.
Also interesting is a related report from The Intercept under the bold headline “SAUDI CROWN PRINCE BOASTED THAT JARED KUSHNER WAS ‘IN HIS POCKET.’”
UNTIL HE WAS stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, presidential adviser Jared Kushner was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified rundown of the latest intelligence intended only for the president and his closest advisers.
Kushner, who had been tasked with bringing about a deal between Israel and Palestine, was particularly engaged by information about the Middle East, according to a former White House official and a former U.S. intelligence professional.
In June, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin, then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and took his place as next in line to the throne, upending the established line of succession. In the months that followed, the President’s Daily Brief contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab, according to the former White House official and two U.S. government officials with knowledge of the report. Like many others interviewed for this story, they declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about sensitive matters to the press.
In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.
What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.
“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.
On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.
Granting that the publication has an agenda, the report comports with others from the Times, WaPo, and other more neutral sources.