Mueller witness secretly backed UAE agenda in Congress
Washington – A top fundraiser for President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from a political adviser to the United Arab Emirates last April, just weeks before he began handing out a series of large political donations to U.S. lawmakers considering legislation targeting Qatar, the UAE’s chief rival in the Persian Gulf, an Associated Press investigation has found.
George Nader, an adviser to the UAE who is now a witness in the U.S. special counsel investigation into foreign meddling in American politics, wired $2.5 million to the Trump fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, through a company in Canada, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
They said Nader gave the money to Broidy to bankroll an effort to persuade the U.S. to take a hard line against Qatar, a long-time American ally but now a bitter adversary of the UAE. But the transaction was invoiced for consulting, marketing and advisory services.
A month after he received the money routed through Canada, Broidy sponsored a conference on Qatar’s alleged ties to Islamic extremism. During the event, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he was introducing legislation that would brand Qatar as a terrorist-supporting state.
The original draft considered by the Foreign Affairs Committee contained language singling out Qatar. The U.S. has long been friendly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Qatar, which is home to a massive American air base that the U.S. has used in its fight against the Islamic State. But tensions in the Gulf came to a head when the UAE and Saudi Arabia launched an embargo with travel and trade restrictions against Qatar less than two weeks after Royce introduced the sanctions legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to two people familiar with the committee deliberations, both Republican and Democratic staff members reached a consensus after the bill was introduced that because of the tensions in the Gulf, the language would look like the lawmakers were taking sides. They agreed to take it out of the bill. But just before the bill was to be put up for debate ahead of the committee’s vote, Royce ordered the language on Qatar not only reinstated, but strengthened, they say. The bill was approved by the committee in November with the stronger language on Qatar intact.
In July 2017, two months after Royce introduced the bill, Broidy gave the California Congressman $5,400 in campaign gifts – the maximum allowed by law. The donations were part of just under $600,000 that Broidy has given to GOP members of Congress and Republican political committees since he began the push for the legislation fingering Qatar, according to an AP analysis of campaign finance disclosure records.
Broidy has personally given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans over the past decade or more. But he gave nothing during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles and just $13,500 during the 2016 cycle.
While Washington is awash with political donations from all manner of interest groups and individuals, there are strict restrictions on foreign donations for political activity. Agents of foreign governments are also required to register before lobbying so that there is a public record of foreign influence.
The timeline of the influx of cash wired by Nader, an adviser to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the de facto leader of the UAE, may provide grist for U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team as it probes the activities of Trump and his associates during the 2016 campaign and beyond. However, it is not clear that Mueller has expanded his investigation in that direction.
Mueller’s investigators are looking into two meetings close to Trump’s inauguration attended by Nader and bin Zayed. A lawyer for Nader declined to comment for this story.
Broidy said in a statement to AP that he has been outspoken for years about militant groups, including Hamas.
“I’ve both raised money for, and contributed my own money to efforts by think tanks to bring the facts into the open, since Qatar is spreading millions of dollars around Washington to whitewash its image as a terror-sponsoring state,” he said. “I’ve also spoken to like-minded members of Congress, like Royce, about how to make sure Qatar’s lobbying money does not blind lawmakers to the facts about its record in supporting terrorist groups.”
Qatar and UAE have also exchanged allegations of politically motivated hacks. Scores of Broidy’s emails and documents have leaked to news organizations. Broidy has alleged that the hack was done by Qatari agents and has reported the breach to the FBI.
A spokesman for the Qatari embassy, Jassim Mansour Jabr Al Thani, denied the charges, calling them “diversionary tactics.” Representatives of the UAE did not respond to requests for comment.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Royce, said that his boss had long criticized the “destabilizing role of extremist elements in Qatar.” He pointed to comments to that effect going back to 2014. “Any attempts to influence these longstanding views would have been unsuccessful,” he said.
The details of Broidy’s advocacy on U.S. legislation have not been previously reported. The financial transaction and the White House meetings were first reported by The New York Times.
The AP found no evidence that Broidy used Nader’s funds for the campaign donations or broke any laws. At the time of the advocacy work, his company, Circinus, did not have business with the UAE, but was awarded a more than $200 million contract in January.
The sanctions bill was approved by Royce’s committee in late 2017. It remains alive in the House of Representatives, awaiting a review by the House Financial Services Committee.
Associated Press writers Chad Day and Richard Lardner contributed to this report