Thu. Aug 22nd, 2019

How a Trump Ally Tested the Boundaries of Washington’s Influence Game

pleaded guilty in 2009 to giving nearly $1 million in illegal gifts to New York State officials to help land a $250 million investment from the state’s pension fund.But on a fall day in 2017, Mr. Broidy was ushered into the West Wing. For about two hours, he met with a handful of the most…

How a Trump Ally Tested the Boundaries of Washington’s Influence Game

pleaded guilty in 2009 to giving nearly $1 million in illegal gifts to New York State officials to help land a $250 million investment from the state’s pension fund.

But on a fall day in 2017, Mr. Broidy was ushered into the West Wing. For about two hours, he met with a handful of the most powerful people on earth, including President Trump, his chief of staff, his national security adviser and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, discussing everything from personnel recommendations to the Republican Party’s finances.

Mostly, though, according to a detailed account he later sent to an associate, Mr. Broidy talked about the Middle East, a subject that had long been important to him personally and was becoming increasingly important to him financially.

As he sat with Mr. Trump, Mr. Broidy promoted a plan for a counterterrorism force backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which he said would be supported by his private security and intelligence company, Circinus, under the leadership of Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired Army general and former commander in Afghanistan.

And at a time when Mr. Broidy was running a multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign to turn Washington against Qatar, a regional rival of the Saudis and the Emiratis, he took the opportunity to tell Mr. Trump that Qatar was part of an “axis of evil,” according to his account of the meeting.

That meeting was one of the high points of a comeback by Mr. Broidy, who after having been shunned by some Republicans in the wake of his 2009 guilty plea had worked himself into Mr. Trump’s inner circle as a top fund-raiser for his 2016 campaign and inauguration.

The stature he suddenly assumed when Mr. Trump won the election allowed him to position himself as a premier broker of influence and access to the new administration. In the process, his international business came to overlap with his efforts to influence government policy in ways that have now made him the subject of an intensifying federal investigation.

But Mr. Broidy’s tour through the White House that day was also further evidence of how Mr. Trump — who initially lacked an established network of high-dollar fund-raisers, held unformed positions on many issues and had difficulty attracting top-tier talent — came to rely on people whose backgrounds and activities would have raised red flags in other campaigns and administrations.

Among them were Paul Manafort, who was the chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign and was later indicted for lobbying and financial crimes, and Mr. Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, who also helped run Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Prosecutors are still investigating whether the chairman of the inaugural committee and a close friend of the president, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., violated lobbying laws.

Few figures exploited the moment more ambitiously than Mr. Broidy, whose Oval Office meeting was just one element of a sophisticated effort to amass and exert influence in Mr. Trump’s Washington.

Bolstering his own access to the administration, Mr. Broidy enlisted a host of prominent figures to advance the interests of his companies, his clients or his causes. In addition to General McChrystal, there was the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon; former defense secretaries including Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta; David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director; and the longtime diplomat Dennis B. Ross. They gave paid speeches to groups he was funding, wrote op-eds or advised Mr. Broidy, wittingly or unwittingly becoming public faces of his efforts.

While Mr. Broidy seemed to find a sympathetic audience for his positions in the upper reaches of the administration, including his campaign against Qatar, other efforts appeared to yield little action, like an arrangement to help a Malaysian financier with legal problems in the United States. And some of Mr. Broidy’s proposals, like his plan to help set up the counterterrorism force in the Persian Gulf, went nowhere.

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CreditSteven Senne/Associated Press

The Justice Department has been investigating, among other issues, whether Mr. Broidy violated the law by not registering as an agent of foreign interests at a time when he was promoting their causes and being paid by them, and whether, in one case, he was paid with laundered money to lobby. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, requires Americans to disclose efforts to shape government policy or public opinion on behalf of foreign governments and political interests. Enforcing FARA has become an increasing priority for the Justice Department.

While Mr. Broidy’s advocacy efforts could have benefited his paying clients, his representatives say the efforts were not directed or funded by those clients in a way that would require FARA registration.

“Elliott Broidy has never agreed to work for, been retained or compensated by, nor taken direction from any foreign government directly or indirectly for any interaction with the United States government, ever,” said his lawyer, Chris Clark. “Any implication to the contrary is a lie.”

But the full scope and intensity of Mr. Broidy’s activities, and the investigations into them, are only now coming into focus. Interviews and records show that:

• Federal investigators are homing in on the question of whether his involvement with the government of the United Arab Emirates and the Malaysian financier may have run afoul of FARA.

• Investigators are exploring the financial links between Mr. Broidy, the government of the United Arab Emirates and one of that government’s advisers, George Nader. According to previously unreported banking records, Mr. Nader was paid millions of dollars by the United Arab Emirates as he was working closely with Mr. Broidy on two fronts: to win security and intelligence contracts from the Emirate and Saudi governments, and to direct and fund the campaign in Washington against Qatar.

• Other banking records show that the government of the United Arab Emirates continued to pay Mr. Broidy’s company tens of millions of dollars, including a payment of $24 million in late March, even as it became public that prosecutors were looking into his activities.

• Officials from one country with which Mr. Broidy has worked, Angola, say they believed his company was being paid to lobby on their behalf, rather than to provide private intelligence services, as Mr. Broidy’s representatives say.

• His efforts to help his clients in Washington were more extensive than previously known. They involved not just prominent political figures but also payments to influential think tanks, lobbyists and a nonprofit conservative media outlet that produced articles promoting his clients’ agendas and criticizing their rivals.

Four people Mr. Broidy worked with on business or advocacy efforts have been indicted. He resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee last year after it was revealed he had agreed to pay $1.6 million in hush money to a former Playboy model he impregnated, in a deal arranged by Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer.

Mr. Broidy’s current situation is a sharp turnabout from two and a half years ago, when he helped raise a record $107 million for Mr. Trump’s inauguration. He offered to arrange inaugural tickets for politicians from Angola, the Republic of Congo and Romania — countries from which he sought intelligence contracts worth as much as $266 million, documents and interviews show.

He greatly increased his giving to Republicans. He socialized with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he was a member.

Business was good. Mr. Broidy’s company won deals worth more than $200 million from the United Arab Emirates alone. The company established an office there that employs 60 people who compile intelligence reports for the U.A.E. government.

After The New York Times, The Associated Press and other news media outlets revealed last year that he had marketed his access to the Trump team to prospective foreign clients, his company lost lucrative United States government subcontracts. Members of Congress returned donations, as did the Hudson Institute, a think tank, which returned funding for a research project on Qatari influence. Mr. Ross returned $20,000 in consulting fees he had accepted in early 2018, when he was advising Mr. Broidy on how to pursue contracts with foreign governments and how to shape American foreign policy toward those governments.

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CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

“There was a cloud that was created, and it made sense just to dissociate,” said Mr. Ross, who worked on Middle Eastern policy for administrations of both parties.

Some of the activities of Mr. Broidy and his associates are detailed in hundreds of documents and emails from the private accounts of Mr. Broidy and his wife, which were distributed to reporters anonymously starting in early 2018. Mr. Broidy sued Qatar and some of its lobbyists, accusing them of orchestrating the theft and dissemination of those documents, which Qatar denies.

Mr. Broidy’s spokesman, Nathan Miller, said those documents “have been altered and cherry-picked out of context to present a false narrative about his business activities and public educational efforts that were entirely legitimate and legal.”

But this account also relies on dozens of interviews, banking records provided by people familiar with Mr. Broidy’s work and other documents submitted in court cases or obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“He was certainly trying to influence the administration to adopt a policy that served his political preference,” Mr. Ross said in a July interview with The Times about his work with Mr. Broidy, some of which was subsequently reported by The Daily Beast. “Was he doing it because it would serve his business interests as well? Presumably yes.”

Mr. Broidy, 62, made his own fortune. He grew up middle class in Los Angeles, and paid his way through the University of Southern California by operating a laundromat. After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, he went to work for an accounting firm, before he was hired to handle the personal i

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