A tale of billions of dollars, Middle Eastern politics, and a Trump-Russia connection
In recent weeks, a series of revelations about the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller have brought in links between Donald Trump’s inner circle and countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
*Jared Kushner, his father Charles, and Kushner Companies pursued loans from Saudi and UAE entities for a troubled New York City building project on which $1.9 billion is due in early 2019
*An advisor, George Nader, to a UAE sheikh brokered a meeting between close Trump ally Erik Prince — the founder of the paramilitary firm Blackwater — and a Russian official in the Maldives in early January 2017
*Kushner, who fashions himself as the Trump Administration’s top diplomat, maintains a close relationship with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
*Nader is now cooperating with Mueller and his team
As Mohammad bin Salman visits Washington, David Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times connect some dots:
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 advisor to the de facto ruler of the UAE, and Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee — was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex 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 UAE.
Mr. Tillerson was fired last week, and the president has adopted tough approaches toward both Iran and Qatar.
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 UAE 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 Mueller, 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.
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 had 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.”
The documents, which included emails, business proposals and contracts, were provided by an anonymous group critical of Mr. Broidy’s advocacy of American foreign policies in the Middle East. The Times showed Mr. Broidy’s representatives copies of all of the emails it intended to cite in an article. In his statement, Mr. Broidy said he could not confirm the authenticity of all of them, noting that The Times was able to show him only printouts and not the original emails.
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 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.”
Making the Connection
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 UAE 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.
In one message to Mr. Nader in March 2017, Mr. Broidy referred to Secure America Now, an advocacy organization that he suggested had campaigned against Ms. Patterson, as “one of the groups I am working with”. The two people close to Mr. Broidy said he had not raised money for the group or campaigned against Ms. Patterson.
The Saudis and Emiratis have had particularly warm relations with the Trump Administration. Mr. Trump at times has appeared to side with the Arab monarchies against his own cabinet secretaries — including in the bitter regional dispute against neighboring Qatar. Also in concert with the Saudis and Emiratis, Mr. Trump has taken a far more hawkish stance toward Iran than either his cabinet or President Barack Obama, threatening to “rip up” the Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Obama brokered in 2015.
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.