Ex-Trump Fundraiser Broidy Pleads Guilty to Illegal Lobbying
(Bloomberg) -- Elliott Broidy, once a top Republican fundraiser, pleaded guilty to illegally lobbying President Donald Trump’s administration to help a Malaysian businessman end a federal investigation into the 1MDB scandal and to seek the extradition of a Chinese dissident from the U.S.
Broidy’s plea Tuesday in federal court in Washington came ahead of an expected criminal settlement with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The bank has agreed to pay more than $2 billion for its role in helping the 1MDB Malaysian development fund raise billions of dollars, according to people familiar with the matter. Much of that money was later illegally diverted. The bank’s deal with the U.S. Justice Department, which could be announced as early as this week, would allow the parent company to avoid a conviction, the people said.
Broidy is cooperating with prosecutors in their investigation of efforts by fugitive businessman Jho Low to squelch a U.S. civil forfeiture investigation into 1MDB and Low’s push on behalf of China for the U.S. to extradite Guo Wengui, a wealthy exile who criticized China’s government, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Prosecutors say that Broidy, a top fundraiser for Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016, illegally cashed in on his connections by plotting to help Low in 2017. Low initially paid $6 million to Broidy and promised $75 million more if he succeeded in persuading the Justice Department to walk away from its civil forfeiture case.
The back-channel efforts failed. Low was indicted in 2018 on charges of conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB. Low has denied wrongdoing.
Broidy, a Los Angeles money manager, admitted that he conspired to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law, which is rarely invoked in criminal cases, requires individuals to register with the U.S. attorney general before lobbying on behalf of foreign nationals.
“You knew it was unlawful to fail to register with the attorney general?,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly asked Broidy, among dozens of questions she posed to him about his crime. “Yes, your honor,” Broidy said.
As part of the plea deal, Broidy agreed to forfeit $6.6 million. He faces as much as five years in prison.
He’s one of several Republican-aligned operatives to be charged with crimes. Steve Bannon, the onetime head of Trump’s 2016 campaign for president, was on Guo’s yacht off the coast of Connecticut when he was arrested in August and charged with conspiring to siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars from a campaign to raise funds for a wall on the U.S. southern border.
Just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Broidy began selling his close access to the administration to foreign nationals. Low reached out to Nickie Mali Lum Davis, a Honolulu businesswoman, who put him in touch with Broidy, he admitted. Court papers referred to Low as Foreign National A. Broidy met in Bangkok with Low, who agreed to pay an $8 million retainer to lobby the Trump administration and the attorney general.
Prosecutors on Tuesday outlined a complex series of encrypted communications and financial transfers between Broidy and Low. Broidy “stated that the money should not come directly from Foreign National A and should be ‘clean,’” according to court papers.
Broidy leaned on his political connections and his ties to Trump’s chief of staff to try to arrange a golf date between Trump and Najib Razak, then the Malaysian prime minister. At the same time, Broidy was also trying to help Low in his goal of arranging for the removal of Guo, he said. Court papers don’t refer to Guo by name, but the description of him as PRC National A matches him.
Prosecutors cited messages between Broidy and Lum Davis, who expressed her displeasure with him and the pressure that Low was applying. In July 2017, she texted that Broidy needed to get a golf date and an update on Guo’s removal.
“We look impotent,” Lum Davis wrote. “Agree,” Broidy responded. “Hammering away.”
The next day, Lum Davis texted: “This date is mandatory today -- we’re getting creamed.” She texted Broidy to urge him to act. “Call everyone so they know u are raging mad.”
Low gave talking points to Lum Davis, who passed them to Broidy to get to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before he met with the Malaysian prime minister in August 2017.
Trump didn’t end up playing golf with the prime minister but met him in the White House in September 2017. A month later, Broidy met Trump in the White House but didn’t raise the 1MDB matter, although he told Lum Davis that he had.
Broidy also traveled to China to meet Low and a Chinese minister in a Shenzhen hotel suite. Broidy agreed to seek Guo’s removal. He sent a memorandum to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, failing to mention his contact with Low, according to prosecutors. The campaign for Guo’s removal also failed.
Prosecutors say that Broidy was paid at least $9 million, although he said Tuesday that he gave some of that money to Lum Davis. Lum Davis has pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme. A former Justice Department lawyer, George Higginbotham, has pleaded guilty to lying about the source of money used in the influence efforts.
Broidy is helping prosecutors investigate another suspected middleman, former rap star Pras Michel, according to a person familiar with the matter. Michel hasn’t been charged in the lobbying case, although he was accused last year with Low over campaign-finance violations related to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election effort. Michel has denied wrongdoing.
Broidy held a top role on Trump’s presidential inaugural committee and was a deputy finance chairman of the RNC from 2017 to early 2018. He stepped down after he agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair. That agreement was brokered by Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
He also worked closely with George Nader, a convicted pedophile and adviser to the United Arab Emirates, to promote issues important to that country, documents seen by Bloomberg News show.
(A previous version corrected references to Malaysia fund in headlines)
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