Dhaka, Wed, 19 Sep, 2018

The princes, the president and the fortune seekers

22 May, 2018 17:40:00

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 $1bn in business.

He had ingratiated himself with crown princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who were seeking to alter US foreign policy and punish Qatar, an archrival in the Gulf that he dubbed "the snake".

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 president's ears.

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 US 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 long-standing relationship with the Gulf country.

A lawyer for Broidy, Chris Clark, contended the AP's reporting "is based on fraudulent and fabricated documents obtained from entities with a known agenda to harm Mr Broidy."

"To be clear, Mr Nader is a US citizen, and there is no evidence suggesting that he directed Mr Broidy's actions, let alone that he did so on behalf of a foreign entity," Clark said.

The AP conducted an exhaustive review of the emails and documents, checking their content with dozens of sources, and determined that they tracked closely with real events, including efforts to cultivate the princes and lobby Congress and the White House.

The cache also reveals a previously unreported meeting with the president and provides the most detailed account yet of the work of two Washington insiders who have been entangled in the turmoil surrounding the two criminal investigations closest to Trump.

Lobbying in pursuit of personal gain is nothing new in Washington - Trump himself, in fact, turned the incestuous culture into a rallying cry when he promised to "drain the swamp."

"I will Make Our Government Honest Again -- believe me," Trump tweeted before the election. "But first, I'm going to have to #DrainTheSwamp in DC."

Broidy's campaign to alter US policy in the Middle East and reap a fortune for himself shows that one of the president's top money men found the swamp as navigable as ever with Trump in office.

Nader's lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, declined comment. A senior Saudi official confirmed that the government had discussions with Nader but said it had signed no contracts with either Nader or Broidy.

Neither Broidy nor Nader registered with the US government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law intended to make lobbyists working for foreign governments disclose their ties and certain political activities.

The law requires people to register even if they are not paid but merely directed by foreign interests with political tasks in mind.

Violating the federal law carries a maximum $10,000 fine or up to five years in prison.

Broidy has maintained he was not required to register because his anti-Qatar campaign was not directed by a foreign client and came entirely at his own initiative.

But documents show the lobbying was intertwined with the pursuit of contracts from the very start, and involved specific political tasks carried out for the crown princes - whose countries are listed as the "clients" for the lobbying campaign in a spreadsheet from Broidy's company, Circinus LLC.

"I have represented Mr Broidy for many years. He has complied with all relevant laws, including FARA," Clark, Broidy's attorney, said in a statement to the AP.

Summaries written by Broidy of two meetings he had with Trump - one of which has not been disclosed before - report that he was passing messages to the president from the two princes and that he told Trump he was seeking business with them.

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 instalment of $36m 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.

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