WASHINGTON — After a year spent carefully cultivating two princes from
the Arabian Peninsula, Elliott Broidy, a top fundraiser for President
Donald Trump, thought he was finally close to nailing more than $1
billion in business.
He had ingratiated himself with crown princes from Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates, who were seeking to alter U.S. foreign
policy and punish Qatar, an archrival in the Gulf that he dubbed "the
To do that, the California businessman had helped spearhead a secret
campaign to influence the White House and Congress, flooding
Washington with political donations.
Broidy and his business partner, Lebanese-American George Nader,
pitched themselves to the crown princes as a backchannel to the White
House, passing the princes' praise — and messaging — straight to the
Now, in December 2017, Broidy was ready to be rewarded for all his hard work.
It was time to cash in.
In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of
America's government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting
contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated
Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen
people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men. The
emails reviewed by the AP included work summaries and contracting
documents and proposals.
The AP has previously reported that Broidy and Nader sought to get an
anti-Qatar bill through Congress while obscuring the source of the
money behind their influence campaign. A new cache of emails obtained
by the AP reveals an ambitious, secretive lobbying effort to isolate
Qatar and undermine the Pentagon's longstanding relationship with the
By December of last year, the partners were riding a wave of success
in their campaign to create an anti-Qatar drumbeat in Washington.
Saudi Arabia was finding a new ascendancy following Trump's election.
Broidy sought to claim credit for it, emails show, and was keen to
collect the first installment of $36 million for an
intelligence-gathering contract with the UAE.
It all might have proceeded smoothly save for one factor: the
appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into
allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In many ways, the partnership between Broidy, 60, and Nader, 59,
embodies the insider influence that has given contractors in D.C. the
nickname "beltway bandits."
Both of their careers were marked by high-rolling success and
spectacular falls from grace — and criminal convictions. The onset of
the Trump administration presented an opportunity: a return to glory.
Broidy, who made a fortune in investments, was finance chairman of the
Republican National Committee from 2006 to 2008. But when a New York
state pension fund decided to invest $250 million with him,
investigators found that he had plied state officials with nearly $1
million in illegal gifts while collecting $18 million in management
In 2009, Broidy pleaded guilty to a felony charge of rewarding
"In seeking investments from the New York State Common Retirement
Fund, I made payments for the benefit of high-ranking officials at the
Office of the New York State Comptroller, who had influence and
decision-making authority over investment decisions," Broidy said in
his plea and cooperation agreement.
Andrew Cuomo, then-New York attorney general, called it "an
"This is effectively bribery of state officials, and not just one,"
said Cuomo, who is now New York's governor.
Three years later, Broidy's conviction was knocked down to a
misdemeanor after he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pay back
the $18 million to the state.
Nader's problem was pedophilia.
As a young Lebanese immigrant to the U.S. in the 1980s, he quickly
established himself as a forceful independent operator, founding a
policy magazine called Middle East Insight. By the '90s, he had risen
as a behind-the-scenes player, setting up dinners for Israeli and Arab
dignitaries with Washington power brokers and U.S. lawmakers.
But in May 2003, Nader was convicted in the Czech Republic of 10
counts of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a one-year prison
term, the AP revealed in March.
He served his time in Prague, according to Czech authorities, then was
expelled from the country.
That sordid past was no obstacle as Nader cultivated a formidable list
of high-powered contacts.
After the 2003 Iraq war ended, he re-emerged there, as contractors
were making a fortune helping the U.S. coalition and the post-Saddam
Hussein government rebuild the country and arm its military.
Nader worked with a private military contractor from the U.S., Erik
Prince, whose former company, Blackwater, became infamous after a
shootout in Baghdad in 2007 left 14 civilians dead.
Nader has been living in the UAE, working as an adviser to Sheikh
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi crown prince known as MBZ.
It was Nader's connection to MBZ and Erik Prince that eventually
caught the attention of U.S. investigators in the Russia probe.
Mueller's team was interested in two meetings that took place before
Donald Trump's inauguration.
One was in the Seychelles, a tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean,
which drew scrutiny because it included Prince, an informal adviser to
Trump, and Russian investor Kirill Dmitriev, who has close ties to
Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting has prompted questions
about whether it was an attempt to establish a backchannel between
Russia and the incoming Trump administration.
The other meeting was at Trump Tower in New York.
Nader and MBZ were at both.
Just weeks after those meetings, Broidy and Nader met for the first
time, during Trump's inauguration.
The two men were soon working out their budding partnership. Nader
sent Broidy his private email address on the encrypted ProtonMail
From the start, the men had a two-track mission: to carry out a
campaign against Qatar that would curry favor with the princes, and to
then turn that success into millions of dollars in defense deals,
The two men barely knew each other. But Broidy had the ear of the
president. Nader claimed he had the crown princes'.
On Feb. 7, 2017, Broidy wrote to a staffer for the chairman of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee about a bill aimed at sanctioning
Qatar for alleged support of terrorist groups— part of what Nader
called "hammering Qatar," emails show.
The next day, Broidy forwarded Nader questions about a potential
contract with Saudi Arabia to train Arab troops to fight in the
escalating war in Yemen.
Broidy and Nader proposed multiple plans to the princes for more than
$1 billion of work. One pitch was to help create an all-Muslim
fighting force of 5,000 troops. A second was aimed at helping the UAE
gather intelligence. A third would strengthen Saudi maritime and
border security. Still another was related to setting up
counterterrorism centers in Saudi Arabia.
In a note to Broidy, Nader said the princes were very happy with the
proposed contracts, particularly the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
But first, emails show, they had to focus on the lobbying campaign.
They proposed a budget upward of $12 million to "expose and penalize"
Qatar and get the U.S. to pressure it to "aid in coercive action
against Iran," according to a March 2017 document.
The gist of their plan was to show evidence that Qatar was too close
to Iran and supported Islamist groups, including the Muslim
Brotherhood. Iran is Saudi's main regional rival and on the other side
of the war in Yemen.
Ideally, Broidy and Nader would work to persuade the U.S. government
to sanction Qatar and move a key military base from Qatar to another
location in the Gulf. Broidy said he had a direct line to Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
"Mnuchin is a close friend of mine (my wife and I are attending Sec.
Mnuchin's wedding in Washington D.C. on June 24th)," Broidy wrote to
Nader. "I can help in educating Mnuchin on the importance of the
Treasury Department putting many Qatari individuals and organizations
on the applicable sanctions lists."
The al-Udeid Air Base outside Doha is an important U.S. military asset
in the Middle East. It's the forward operating base for U.S. Central
Command and hosts some 10,000 U.S. troops — a geopolitical arrangement
that Qatar's Gulf rivals would like to change. Amid the fissures in
the Gulf, the base is key leverage for Qatar to maintain influence in
Washington. Unlike other countries, Qatar imposes few restrictions on
base operations and is even building new facilities for U.S. troops.
The UAE's track record is no better. Last year, the AP revealed that
the UAE was operating "black sites" in Yemen, where its soldiers have
tortured prisoners - including, in some cases, tying them to a spit
and roasting them over open fires.
Qatar has a troubled record as well. International human rights groups
have dinged the country for its treatment of migrant workers preparing
the country for the 2022 World Cup. Amnesty International, in a 2013
report, stated that migrants from southeast Asia worked in a state
akin to slavery, "forced labour," and lived in "squalid" housing.
Despite the challenges of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, the
partners' timing was good. Trump and many other Republicans in
Washington viewed Saudi Arabia as a counterweight against Iran.
At the end of March, Nader wrote that he'd had "a terrific,
magnificent meeting" with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Prospects for the billion-dollar contracts were good.
"He was very positive overall," Nader wrote. The prince even asked
them to discuss their contracts with "General Ahmed."
The money for the lobbying was another matter.
At Nader's request, $2.5 million was channeled in two installments
from his company in the UAE through a Canadian company called Xiemen
Investments Limited, which someone familiar with the transaction said
was run by one of Broidy's friends. The money was then routed to a
Broidy account in Los Angeles.
The transaction had the effect of obfuscating that the money for the
political work in Washington had come from Nader in the UAE. Some of
the recipients of Broidy's spending in Washington said they had no
idea that Nader was involved. Broidy previously told the AP that he
did not think to question why the money was routed through a foreign
At that point, Broidy might have realized the dangers of not
registering as a foreign agent — it was all over the news.
Three Trump advisers registered retroactively as foreign agents:
Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who had done
business for Turkey, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his
longtime deputy, Rick Gates, who did business for Ukraine.
Broidy was undeterred. Nader cheered on his anti-Qatar exploits and
told him to "keep hammering the bastards."
Armed with fresh cash, Broidy pitched Nader a media blitz that would
put the fire to Qatar.
He'd persuaded an American think tank, Foundation for Defense of
Democracies, to stage an anti-Qatar conference. Broidy wrote Nader
that his plan included the commission of 200 articles assigned to the
foundation and other think tanks. Mark Dubowitz, the foundation's CEO,
later said that Broidy assured him the funding was not coming from a
foreign government and that he had no contracts in the Gulf.
On April 21, 2017, Broidy sent Nader the draft of an Op-Ed to show the
impact of his campaign. It was marked "Confidential."
Three days later, "The Two Faces of Qatar, a Dubious Mideast Ally" was
published in The Wall Street Journal. The opinion piece, co-written by
retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, who had been the deputy head of
U.S. European Command, called for moving U.S. military assets from the
al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. "The United Arab Emirates would be a
logical destination," wrote Wald.
Two weeks later, in a major escalation of tensions, the UAE, Saudi
Arabia and regional allies launched a travel and trade embargo against
In late September, Broidy arranged for the most coveted meeting for
any lobbyist in Washington: an audience for himself with the president
in the Oval Office.
In advance of the meeting, Nader wrote Broidy a script, an email shows
. There were several objectives: to sell the idea for a Muslim
fighting force, to keep the president from intervening on Qatar and to
arrange a discreet meeting between Trump and the crown prince of Abu
The princes "are counting on you to relate it blunt and straight," Nader wrote.
Nader told Broidy the meeting was potentially historic and to "take
advantage of this priceless asset."
And there was one more thing. Nader asked Broidy to tell the president
about his connections with the crown princes, using code names for all
"Appreciate how you would make sure to bring up my role to Chairman,"
Nader emailed. "How I work closely with Two Big Friends."
After the Oct. 6 meeting, Broidy reported back to Nader that he had
passed along the messages and had urged the president to stay out of
the dispute with Qatar. He also said he explained Circinus' plan to
build a Muslim fighting force.
"President Trump was extremely enthusiastic," he wrote. Broidy said
Trump asked what the next step would be and that he told the president
he should meet with the crown prince from the UAE, adding, "President
Trump agreed that a meeting with MBZ was a good idea."
The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Despite that successful readout, Nader wanted more: He wanted a photo
of himself with the president — a big request for a convicted
Broidy was co-hosting a fundraiser for Trump and the Republican
National Committee in Dallas on Oct. 25. The Secret Service had said
Nader wouldn't be allowed to meet the president. It was not clear if
the objections were related to his convictions for sexually abusing
Broidy drafted an email to Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, asking
him to intervene on behalf of his friend, whom he oddly called "George
Vader" — a misnomer that appears elsewhere in the emails.
"One of my companies does deep vetting for the US government," he
wrote. "We ran all data bases including FBI and Interpol and found no
issues with regard to Mr. Vader."
There was another issue. RNC officials had decreed there would be no
photos with the president without payment. Broidy suggested that Nader
meet the suggested threshold with a donation between $100,000 and
It's unclear exactly how the two issues were resolved. Records from
the Federal Election Commission show no donations from either George
Nader or "George Vader," but on Nov. 30, Broidy gave $189,000 to the
RNC — more than he had given to the RNC in over two decades of
The result: a picture of Nader and Trump grinning in front of the American flag.
Broidy met Trump once again on Dec. 2. He reported back to Nader that
he'd told Trump the crown princes were "most favorably impressed by
his leadership." He offered the crown princes' help in the Middle East
peace plan being developed by Jared Kushner. He did not tell Trump
that his partner had complete contempt for the plan — and for the
"You have to hear in private my Brother what Principals think of
'Clown prince's' efforts and his plan!" Nader wrote. "Nobody would
even waste cup of coffee on him if it wasn't for who he is married
Days after Broidy's meeting with Trump, the UAE awarded Broidy the
intelligence contract the partners had been seeking for up to $600
million over 5 years, according to a leaked email.
The Muslim fighting force contract would be even larger, potentially
bringing their entire Gulf enterprise to more than $1 billion.
In January, Broidy was preparing for a third meeting with Trump, at
Mar-a-Lago, during celebrations of the president's first year in
office. Nader was supposed to join them, but the initial payment for
the intelligence contract was late. He delayed his trip to the U.S.
for a day to make sure it was wired.
On Jan. 17, Broidy reported that he had received the first installment
— $36 million.
"Terrific!" Nader wrote before his flight. "First among many to go!"
Hours after that money transfer, Nader and Broidy discovered that,
despite all their precautions, they had not escaped notice.
When Nader landed at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., a team
of FBI agents working for Mueller was there to meet him. He was
relieved of his electronic devices and later agreed to cooperate. It
is unclear why Nader was detained, but he is a link between the Trump
campaign and the Russian investor who attended the meeting in the
While there is no evidence that Mueller is interested in the lobbying
effort, Nader's detention kicked off a spiral of misfortune for the
In February, the AP, The New York Times and other news organizations
began receiving anonymously leaked batches of Broidy's emails and
documents that had apparently been hacked. News stories linked him to
plans to leverage his White House access for clients in Africa,
Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Broidy fought back. He sued Qatar and its lobbyists, alleging in a
lawsuit filed in March that the hack was a smear campaign.
"We believe the evidence is clear that a nation state is waging a
sophisticated disinformation campaign against me in order to silence
me, including hacking emails, forging documents, and engaging in
espionage and numerous other illegal activities," Broidy said in a
statement at the time.
Qatar responded that it was Broidy who had engaged in a propaganda campaign.
The FBI raided the premises of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen,
seeking information on hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels,
who said she'd had an affair with the president.
Broidy, it turned out, was also a Cohen client. He'd had an affair
with Playboy Playmate Shera Bechard, who got pregnant and later had an
abortion. Broidy agreed to pay her $1.6 million to help her out, so
long as she never spoke about it.
"I acknowledge I had a consensual relationship with a Playboy
Playmate," Broidy said in a statement the day the news broke. He
apologized to his wife and resigned from the RNC. There is no
indication Broidy is under investigation by Mueller's team.