Donald Trump’s presidency began under a cloud of suspicion that Trump was influenced by foreign interests, from Russia and the United Arab Emirates to Israel and other nations seeking to leverage the U.S. presidency to further their own interests.
The Mueller investigation, initiated to determine what if any links existed between Trump and Russian officials and whether he committed obstruction of justice, ultimately failed to reach a firm conclusion as to whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian officials in the 2016 election.
But foreign influence, and Trump’s willingness to turn a blind eye to its danger, reemerged in one of Trump’s final acts as president: The last-minute pardon of Elliott Broidy, a top GOP and Trump fundraiser who served as the 2016 vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fundraising effort by Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.
During Trump’s term as president, Broidy cashed in, leveraging his ties to the White House to become a highly paid illegal foreign agent for a fugitive believed to be hiding in China, Jho Taek Low, who the Malaysian government accused of playing the central role in the multibillion-dollar theft of assets from the Malaysian government-funded 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
Broidy stood to be paid as much as $75 million if he could use his influence with the Trump White House to end a Justice Department probe into 1MDB, a graft investigation which led to a 2018 federal indictment of Low for his key role in the theft of Malaysia’s state assets.
In October, Broidy admitted to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws in his work on behalf of Low and Chinese government interests which included not only seeking to end the Justice Department’s investigation of 1MDB, but also to persuade the administration to extradite a U.S.-based Chinese billionaire, Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of Beijing.
Broidy forfeited $6.6 million as part of the plea agreement and admitted accepting $9 million from Low — who is reported to enjoy Chinese protection from extradition to Malaysia where he faces extensive criminal charges — to lobby the administration on both 1MDB and Guo’s extradition.
The 1MDB-related crimes, however, weren’t the only instances in which Broidy appeared as a central figure for foreign interests seeking to influence the Trump administration.
Broidy received a $2.7 million payment from George Nader, a convicted pedophile and adviser to the UAE’s ruling family. The funds were reportedly used to help defray expenses for conferences in 2017 sponsored by two Trump-aligned think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that were heavily critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, a UAE regional rival.
Both institutions told the New York Times that the contributions violated their policies — Hudson said it has policies prohibiting donations from foreign governments that are not democracies, and FDD said it bars donations from all foreign governments — but neither organization has added any disclosure to their websites that the conferences were funded by the UAE, via Broidy and Nader.
FDD maintained close ties to the Trump administration by promoting the White House’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, paying the salary of a Trump National Security Council staffer to help oversee that campaign, and enjoying financial support from billionaire Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a major Trump campaign funder whose contributions accounted for about one third of FDD’s annual budgets for the past ten years.
(FDD’s financial ties to Broidy go back much further than what has been previously reported. Broidy donated $5,000 to the group in 2004.)
Throughout his term in office, Trump regularly lashed out against the suggestion that he was controlled or influenced by foreign interests, repeatedly calling the “Russiagate” investigation a “hoax” in his campaign rallies leading up to his defeat on November 3.
Broidy’s pardon marks a bookend to the now ex-president’s battle with persistent rumors and investigations into the role played by foreign governments and individuals in influencing his administration, senior officials and advisers, as well as Trump himself.
It thus seems strangely fitting that, as one of his final acts, Trump pardoned one of the most high-profile unregistered and illegal foreign agents in recent U.S. history, sending the message that well-connected political insiders and donors can peddle their influence with the highest officials in the United States with impunity.
This article originally appeared in Responsible Statecraft.