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Monday, October 19, 2020

Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, charged in foreign influence case

Broidy was charged with a single count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act as part of an influence operation that prosecutors say sought to use his political ties to help Malaysian and Chinese interests, according to federal court filings that became public on Thursday.

By: New York Times | Updated: October 9, 2020 9:41:30 am
Day-Long Debate Spat Ends Where It Started — Virtual“The commission’s a joke,” the president said in a telephone interview with Fox News on Thursday night. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate.”

Written by Kenneth P. Vogel

Elliott Broidy already had a record when he became a major fundraiser for the Trump campaign in 2016. Now he has become the latest Trump ally to face criminal charges, this time accused of evading foreign lobbying laws while trying to make money off his access to the administration.

Broidy was charged with a single count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act as part of an influence operation that prosecutors say sought to use his political ties to help Malaysian and Chinese interests, according to federal court filings that became public on Thursday.

The case centers on an accusation that Broidy accepted $6 million from a foreign client to lobby administration officials to end a federal investigation related to the looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB. The court filing also accuses him of seeking the extradition of a Chinese citizen from the United States.

He did not succeed in either effort, and at one point sought to deceive his client about having raised the 1MDB case directly with President Donald Trump, the court filing said.

While the foreign client was not identified, people familiar with the case said he was the Malaysian financier Jho Low, who the federal authorities say played a key role in the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB.

Broidy, 63, is expected to enter a guilty plea to the charge, which was filed last week by prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity section and its election crimes branch and unsealed this week.

Broidy’s representatives declined to comment. The charge against him was detailed in a criminal information, which is often filed in cases in which a guilty plea has been agreed to.

The details of the accusations against Broidy are especially striking: They include a promised $75 million “success fee” from Low, and discussions about arranging for Malaysia’s prime minister to play golf with Trump. But they follow a pattern that has become familiar since Trump began seeking the White House.

People who had backgrounds or were pursuing business that was likely to have raised red flags in other campaigns and administrations marketed themselves as intermediaries to individuals, companies and countries wanting something from the Trump administration. They were able to do so because Trump ran for office and came to Washington without the established networks of gatekeepers, lobbyists and fundraisers who typically surround a president.

A number of Trump’s associates have been charged in the nearly four years since he was elected. Among those who have pleaded or were found guilty of charges related to their work for him are Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser whose case the Justice Department is now seeking to dismiss; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser; and Roger Stone, a longtime friend whose sentence the president commuted.

Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, were charged with lobbying and financial crimes that predated their work for the president’s campaign. The two pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, as did Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer.

Cohen, Gates and Manafort had sought to parlay their perceived access to the president into business opportunities.

But few figures seized on the Trump presidency more ambitiously than Broidy, who owns a defense contracting firm.

He had been a top Republican fundraiser for years, but he had retreated from politics after pleading guilty in 2009 to a felony charge, later reduced to a misdemeanor, in an unrelated pension fund bribery case.

After Trump emerged as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, Broidy threw his support behind him at a time when most elite Republican donors were staying away.

And when Trump was elected, Broidy became a leading fundraiser for Trump’s inauguration and the Republican National Committee, as well as a member of Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private resort in Florida.

Broidy enlisted Cohen to arrange a payout to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair and paid Gates to help pursue a contract for his defense firm and administration appointments for his associates.

And Broidy began aggressively promoting his connection to the new administration to politicians, business executives and governments around the world, His defense company won big contracts from the United Arab Emirates and Angola. And Broidy discussed the possibility of a visit to Mar-a-Lago for an Angolan politician from whom he was seeking to collect additional payments.

But the charge against Broidy is not related to his defense company or its clients.

Rather, it stems from his arrangement with Low, a flamboyant Malaysian financier who federal authorities say orchestrated a multibillion-dollar embezzlement scheme from 1MDB.

Low, who is believed to be living in China, was charged in the United States in 2018 in connection with the 1MDB theft, but he has not appeared in criminal court in the United States.

The filing said that Broidy and a pair of associates agreed in 2017 to work for Low “to orchestrate back-channel, unregistered campaigns to lobby the administration,” to “end the 1MDB matters” and to send a dissident back to China.

The Chinese citizen is not identified by name in the filing, but he is known to be billionaire dissident Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of China who has been charged by its government with corruption and is seeking asylum in the United States.

Some of Broidy’s associates have already been charged, including Nickie Lum Davis, a fundraiser who pleaded guilty in August and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Another, George Higginbotham, a former Justice Department employee, pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiring to lie to banks about the source of tens of millions of dollars he funneled into the United States from Low.

In his guilty plea, Higginbotham admitted that he and entertainer and businessman Pras Michel, a former member of the Fugees, a defunct hip-hop group, arranged for millions of dollars of Low’s money to be transferred to a law firm owned by Broidy’s wife to pay them to try to end the 1MDB investigation.

Prosecutors said that Michel received $8.5 million from Low, while Broidy was paid $6 million and Davis $1.7 million, but that they tried to “conceal Broidy’s contacts with and payments from” Low “to maintain Broidy’s credibility with United States officials and to further the illegal advocacy scheme.”

The prosecutors cited a contract with Broidy’s wife’s law firm, which is not named, agreeing that if the Justice Department dropped its civil forfeiture proceedings against Low within 180 days, Low would pay a $75 million fee, or $50 million if the matter was resolved within 365 days.

As part of the effort, prosecutors say Broidy asked Trump in June 2017 “if he would play golf” with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia. Najib is not identified in the charging document, but he was in office at the time and was planning a trip to Washington, despite being under investigation by federal prosecutors for his role in the 1MDB theft.

Broidy and Davis believed that a golf game with Trump “would please” Najib and allow him “to attempt to resolve the matter” of the 1MDB investigation, the filing said.

Najib did meet with Trump in September 2017, but he was denied the customary photograph in the Oval Office with the president, let alone the golf outing, despite Broidy’s repeated lobbying of Trump’s aides. Najib was later convicted in Malaysia of corruption charges related to the 1MDB theft.

In October 2017, the court filing said, Broidy met at the White House with Trump but did not raise the issue of 1MDB. Nonetheless, the filing said, Broidy told Davis that he had raised it, believing she would pass that misinformation to Low and Michel.

The Justice Department did not drop its investigation of 1MDB, instead charging Low and others in 2018 with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB and of paying bribes to officials in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. Low agreed last year as part of a civil forfeiture case to give up his claim to hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury apartments, yachts, jets and artwork that prosecutors said were bought with stolen money.

Prosecutors also claimed that Broidy and his associates traveled to Thailand, Malaysia and China to meet with Low, a Chinese government official and others to negotiate a multimillion-dollar deal to lobby on their behalf.

After one such trip, Broidy drafted a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 about the possibility of extraditing Guo, recommending a meeting with the Chinese official, according to prosecutors. They said the contents of the memo were provided by the Chinese official and Low.

A person close to Broidy has said he never sent that memo, and a Justice Department spokesperson has said Sessions never received it.

Guo remains in the United States, though a company linked to him and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, is reportedly under investigation by federal and New York state authorities.

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