As far as presidential inaugurations go, Trump’s has turned out to be quintessentially Trumpian – unprecedentedly expensive, and now under investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors over pay-for-play and misallocation of funds allegations.
But the inaugural committee’s legal troubles have the potential to tie the myriad Trump administration scandals together – linking investigations into GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy’s alleged pay-for-play schemes with allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
Broidy, a Los Angeles-based financier with a 2009 bribery conviction under his belt, jumped into Trumpworld from the Cruz campaign as a bundler in May 2016, before being named as a finance vice-chair for Trump’s inaugural committee after the election.
Joining Broidy on the inaugural committee was his friend Rick Gates, the former Paul Manafort associate who pleaded guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and flipped against his former boss. Broidy and Gates both worked under committee chair, billionaire real estate developer, and Trump confidant Tom Barrack Jr. A spokesman for Barrack denied that he was a target of the investigation.
It’s Broidy who – in many ways – ties things together.
Amid the Russia collusion scandal and the myriad other forms of swampiness unleashed by the Trump administration, Broidy’s alleged wrongdoing has managed to go relatively unnoticed. But the accusations against Broidy are both breathtaking and simple: that he allegedly sold promised policy changes to foreign officials and interests from the Middle East, Malaysia, and China for tens of millions of dollars.
As alleged, it’s a simple pay-for-play scheme, but it’s unclear if the investigations into whether the same type of graft occurred at the inauguration involve Broidy. (Christopher Clark, an attorney for Broidy, did not reply to repeated requests for comment.) But Broidy played a key – and public – role at the inauguration, which ended up taking in $107 million, more than double Obama’s $53 million record in 2009.
At the inauguration, Broidy reportedly met Middle Eastern fixer and convicted pedophile George Nader. The two men formed a business relationship, and that partnership continued until early 2018, when FBI agents intercepted Nader at Washington-Dulles airport for testimony in the Mueller investigation.
The special counsel is reportedly interested in Nader in part due to his presence at key meetings during the presidential transition, including a Seychelles summit in January 2017 that included Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Russian Direct Investment Fund chief Kirill Dmitriev, and Emirati crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Trump’s inaugural committee appeared to serve as a conduit for Republicans and others who had sat out the Trump campaign, expecting him to lose, to pay for a way back in. “Now anybody who wasn’t in, they need to find a way in,” the Boston Globe quoted an anonymous Republican fundraiser as saying.
“It’s a well-worn path for anyone who was on the wrong side,” a member of the inaugural committee told the newspaper. “If you do the million-dollar package, you’re going to come to a lot of events where people are close to the administration.”
Manhattan federal prosecutors are now reportedly investigating whether foreign officials and interests were able to pay for similar access – and policy changes.
The committee assembled a team of billionaires and bit players in the Trump universe to fundraise for and oversee the inauguration. That group included people like Broidy, Gates, and others. At the head of the group was Barrack, who Broidy credited with unifying “establishment Republicans” behind Trump in a January 2017 CNN article.
It was on a yacht trip chartered by Barrack in August 2016 that Manafort sailed to decompress following his ignominious departure from the Trump campaign. Both SDNY and special counsel prosecutors have reportedly asked about the cruise, where Manafort and Barrack met the former head of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.
Much of what is known about Broidy’s alleged influence peddling comes from a massive hack of his email account, the contents of which were released in March 2018. The emails seem to show Broidy soliciting payments to his defense business while offering access and policy changes in the Trump Administration.
Broidy sued Qatar in March, accusing the Persian Gulf state of hacking his email account and using the contents to run a massive smear campaign. Broidy’s defense company – Circinus – has a $200 million contract with the UAE, a regional rival of Qatar.
Qatari or not, the fruits of that hack have been rich: They appear to show Broidy arranging for Congolese dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso to attend a candlelight dinner with Trump and Pence in the run up to the inauguration, before invoicing Sassou-Nguesso’s office for $2 million the next day.
Liviu Dragnea, a Romanian member of parliament, posted a picture on his Facebook one day before the inauguration at a dinner with then-president-elect Trump. Dragnea, under investigation for his own corruption allegations in Romania, came on Broidy’s invitation, while Circinus was reportedly in negotiations with the Romanian government.
Broidy and Gates worked together on the campaign and inauguration, and Gates has reportedly been cooperating with the SDNY investigation. However, there are fewer clear examples of Gates’ involvement.
Yahoo News reported that Gates was the “shadow” chief of the inauguration, with an anonymous Republican fundraiser calling him “Barrack’s guy” in managing the inaugural.
As Gates faced indictment in October 2017, he reportedly sent an email to his friends and associates, calling the charges “highly politicized.”
Broidy reportedly replied quickly, expressing his condolences to Gates.
But after flipping to the prosecutors’ side in 2018, Gates admitted during testimony at the Manafort trial that he may have pocketed money from the inaugural committee. Gates said that he “possibly” overcharged the inauguration for his services.
Other elements of the inaugural committee appear to have suffered from sloppiness, with multiple revisions on the organization’s FEC filings and scores of donors still undeclared.
It remains unclear how far the investigations into the Trump inauguration have gotten. A tax filing for 2017 recorded $500,000 in legal expenses.