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 US 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 US special counsel investigation into foreign meddling in American politics, wired USD 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 of the sensitivity of the matter. They said Nader paid the money to Broidy to bankroll an effort to persuade the US to take a hard line against Qatar, a long-time American ally but now a bitter adversary of the UAE. A month after he received the money, 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. In July 2017, two months after Royce introduced the bill, Broidy gave the California congressman USD 5,400 in campaign gifts the maximum allowed by law.
The donations were part of just under USD 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 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." 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.
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.
In October, Broidy also raised the issue of Qatar at the White House in meetings with Trump and senior aides. The details of Broidy's advocacy on US legislation have not been previously reported. 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 USD 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.