Broidy charge pulls back curtain on Trump-era sausage-making

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The Department of Justice unveiled a charge of illicit lobbying against former Republican National Committee deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy on Thursday.

The government’s charging document, which builds on the August charge of a Hawaii-based political consultant, sheds new light on an only-in-Donald-Trump’s-America tale of influence-peddling. The convoluted global saga ropes in ’90s-era rapper Pras Michel, Russiagate figure Rick Gates, Steve Bannon’s mysterious Chinese funder, the alleged mastermind of the 1MDB scandal, and a failed effort to set up a game of golf between Trump and a now-former Malaysian prime minister.

Broidy is charged with a single count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act over his alleged efforts to obtain favorable treatment from the federal government on behalf of the accused mastermind of the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, fraud and to facilitate Beijing’s attempted extradition of a fugitive billionaire seeking asylum in the U.S.

Thursday’s release of criminal information signals a plea deal. A spokesman for Broidy, Nate Miller, declined to comment.

The government alleges that Broidy conspired with Michel — best known as a member of the rap group the Fugees — and Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaiian political consultant, to conceal their efforts to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of Malaysian financier Jho Low, an international fugitive from justice over charges related to his alleged role in 1MDB.

Davis pleaded guilty to a FARA violation related to the same effort in August. The Justice Department charged Michel and Low last year with an alleged scheme to funnel foreign money to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. A lawyer for Michel, who pleaded not guilty in that case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FARA violations are rarely prosecuted; most often, the federal government will ask those who fail to disclose their foreign backing when lobbying in Washington to simply update their paperwork. But the Justice Department has stepped up its enforcement of the foreign lobbying law in recent years, an effort led by former special counsel prosecutor Brandon Van Grack.

The charging information, which notes Broidy’s alleged use of Wickr, an encrypted messaging app, alleges that he and his partners stood to make more than $80 million if they quickly secured a favorable resolution for Low, who is identified as Foreign National A throughout.

Much of the charging information revolves around Broidy’s alleged efforts to set up a game of golf between Trump and Malaysia’s then-prime minister, Najib Razak, at the President Bedminster golf course in 2017. The charge sheds new light on the failed effort to set up the game, an episode first reported by the New York Times in 2018.

Broidy allegedly asked Trump to play a round of golf with Razak in June of that year, and told a high-ranking White House official that Trump had agreed to the request, according to the charging document.

The White House official told Broidy that the request was sitting with the National Security Council, according to the criminal information.

The high-ranking official, identified as person E in the indictment, is then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to a person familiar with the matter. Priebus, who is not accused of wrongdoing, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The golf game never came to pass, but Broidy also inserted himself into the saga of Guo Wengui, a mysterious Chinese billionaire claiming dissident status as he seeks asylum in the United States. Guo is best known as the funder of Steve Bannon’s anti-China efforts. When federal officials arrested Trump’s former chief strategist on unrelated fraud charges this summer, he was aboard Guo’s 151-foot superyacht, Lady May.

At Low’s behest, Broidy lobbied federal officials in support of Chinese efforts to support Guo’s extradition to China in exchange for potential concessions like cybersecurity cooperation or the release of American prisoners, according to the information.

Those alleged efforts also failed, and Guo remains in the U.S. In a statement provided by his lawyer, Guo said Broidy and his alleged partners were part of “a [Chinese Communist Party] spy-network that is attempting to exert the CCP’s influence and will on the U.S. government and people.”

“The CCP has incessantly targeted me for exposing their weaknesses,” Guo said. “This case shows the unlimited money and efforts they will take to discredit and silence Chinese whistleblowers like me.”

In both matters, Broidy allegedly enlisted the help of a former Trump campaign aide whom he was paying a $25,000 monthly retainer.

The former aide, identified as Person D, is Rick Gates, Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager, according to a person familiar with the matter. Gates, a longtime Paul Manafort lieutenant, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and to making false statements related to the investigation into Russian election interference.

The reference to a $25,000 monthly retainer matches public information about Gates. After reviewing the information, Gates said he was unsure whether he was Person D. “It could’ve been me,” he said in a telephone interview.

Broidy is best known in recent years for his efforts to build support in Washington for the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf country’s feud with neighboring Qatar. Those efforts were exposed when Broidy’s emails were hacked and leaked to the press, allegedly by agents of Qatar. Broidy’s role in the intra-Arab conflict does not figure in Thursday’s charge.

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