Politics & Government

Trump fundraiser turned to Foreign Affairs chair for help winning work in Romania

Ed Royce/Elliott Broidy/Rick Gates
Ed Royce/Elliott Broidy/Rick Gates McClatchy Illustration/AP Images

Top Donald Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy sought help last summer from the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and lobbyist Rick Gates, a key figure in the Russia influence probe, as a Broidy defense company was trying to win business in Romania.

Broidy, a Los Angeles-based investment manager and venture capitalist, attempted to use a visit by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chairs the House panel, to Romania last August to help his defense firm Circinus and win points with some controversial political allies in Bucharest, according to emails and documents reviewed by McClatchy.

Before Royce’s trip, Broidy offered him some unsolicited advice, and documents suggest that the businessman himself was in Romania at about the same time as Royce.

A spokesman for Royce confirmed that Broidy and Royce discussed the Romania trip, but said that Royce did not take his suggestions.

“Broidy was aware of the trip, and offered unsolicited input,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Royce.

Broidy also sought the assistance of Gates, with whom he had worked on President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, to win a U.S. Commerce Department endorsement for his company as it tried to win work in Romania, according to the materials. Gates is a cooperating government witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election; he pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and making false statements.

Broidy re-emerged as an important Republican fundraiser in 2016, working in turn with the presidential campaigns of Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz before signing on as a vice-chair for the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fundraising effort benefiting Trump’s campaign and the RNC. He’s currently a national deputy finance chair for the RNC. The investor’s political giving had slowed after he pleaded guilty in 2009 to providing nearly $1 million in bribes to New York state pension officials in exchange for their investment of $250 million with his Israel-focused Markstone Capital Partners. Broidy ultimately paid an $18 million fine, but the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor in exchange for his assistance, which led to prison time for former New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Romanian efforts

McClatchy previously reported that Broidy invited two prominent Romanian politicians to several events connected with Trump’s 2017 inauguration, months before Broidy’s defense company, Circinus, opened up shop in Romania seeking a share of contracts valued at more than $200 million.

During the inaugural visit, the two Romanian politicians – then-Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and Liviu Dragnea, speaker of the lower chamber of Romania’s parliament and head of the country’s leading political party – met briefly with Trump and with some potential political allies, including Royce, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Trump’s first National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who has also pleaded guilty in Mueller’s probe and is cooperating.

Dragnea-Royce Facebook
A Facebook post by Romanian politician Liviu Dragnea shows him with Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., during the weekend of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Just two months earlier, Dragnea was charged with leading a “criminal group” that siphoned off funds from public projects, including some funded by the European Union. And at the time of the inauguration, he was scheduled to stand trial just weeks later for creating fictitious government jobs; that trial is ongoing. He can’t be prime minister because he was convicted of vote-rigging in a 2012 presidential recall election. Efforts by Dragnea’s party to weaken the country’s anti-corruption laws led to massive protests in Romania soon after Trump’s inauguration.

Before Royce’s trip to Romania last year, Broidy tried to convince him not to meet with Romania’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, who has brought charges against Dragnea and several other politicians connected to his party, the emails show. The emails suggest that Circinus hosted an event with Royce and that Broidy met with the U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Hans Klemm, around the same time.

After the trip, Circinus CEO Alan Blaine Stone drafted a letter that Circinus officials hoped Royce would send to the Romanian economic minister, Mihai Fifor, touting the company’s efforts to win defense contracts there.

Broidy donated $5,400 – the maximum allowable – to Royce’s campaign two weeks before Royce went to Romania, Federal Election Commission records show. And Royce was a featured speaker at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s November 2017 California Bash, which was co-hosted by Broidy, who’s on the national board of the pro-Israel advocacy organization.

At the time of Broidy’s donations in July 2017, the lawmaker faced a difficult re-election campaign in a district that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Royce announced his retirement from congress in January 2018.

Royce’s spokesman said that the lawmaker did, in fact, meet with the anti-corruption prosecutor and did not advocate for Circinus during the trip or write a letter endorsing the company to the economic minister after the trip.

On top of his Romania projects, Broidy was in talks to work on behalf of a Malaysian businessman to kill a Justice Department corruption investigation and appeared to have prepared talking points for the Malaysian prime minister ahead of a U.S. visit, the Wall Street Journal reported. Broidy also has advocated with Trump on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and against the UAE’s regional rival Qatar, according to the New York Times.

In a statement, Broidy defended Circinus’s efforts and said that the company has complied with U.S. law.

“I acquired Circinus in 2015 and I moved quickly to bring in the best people, including a number of former flag officers,” Broidy said. “We have been particularly adept at and are uniquely positioned to compete in markets that have required highly specialized national security and counterterrorism expertise. Our company ensures that all of our efforts are in full compliance with U.S. and international laws."

The Times reported that Broidy was in frequent contact with George Nader, a political adviser to the UAE, who helped Circinus win defense contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars there and worked with Broidy to promote to Trump policies that favored the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including the removal of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Nader, who was convicted in the Czech Republic in 2003 of multiple counts of sexually abusing minors, is now yet another cooperating witness in Mueller’s Russian influence probe.

Gates, too, lent a hand to help Broidy win foreign defense work.

The messages and documents reviewed by McClatchy show that Gates was involved in Circinus’s efforts to win an endorsement last year from the Advocacy Center of the Commerce Department, which helps U.S. businesses win contracts from foreign governments. It’s unclear exactly what his role was in the effort but Circinus ultimately received the endorsement.

Gates and Broidy were seen dining together at the Trump International Hotel late last year according to a GOP fundraiser who knows them both.

Middle East machinations

McClatchy received the messages and documents from an anonymous e-mail account.

Broidy’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky, said in a statement that Broidy believes Qatar hacked Broidy’s computer and disseminated the information.

“There was hostile attack on computer servers belonging to Broidy Capital Management and the theft of electronic data. The computer hack and related activities have caused Mr. Broidy substantial damages,” Wolosky said. “Irrefutable forensic evidence ties Qatar to this unlawful attack on, and espionage directed against, a prominent U.S. citizen within the territory of the United States.”

Broidy sued Qatar Monday, seeking an injunction "to prevent the further accessing, use, and dissemination" of the allegedly stolen materials and monetary damages. He said in the lawsuit that he was targeted by Qatar for his public claims that the country supports terrorism.

Qatar’s embassy did not respond to requests for comment by McClatchy, but Qatari officials have denied the claims previously.

McClatchy reported last year that Broidy was one of the sponsors of an event at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, entitled “Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood.” Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was one of the speakers there.

Old Friends

The documents also show that Broidy’s defense company was in talks to partner with a controversial Romanian businessman and a movie producer who played a key role in the New York state pension scandal.

A draft agreement would have paid a company connected to Romanian businessman Cristian Burci and movie producer Steve Logiscli a portion of any business they helped Circinus secure in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Azerbaijan.

The agreement was never formalized, according to a person with knowledge of Circinus business operations, and Circinus has yet to win any contracts in Romania.

Burci is one of the wealthiest men in Romania, with media and transportation holdings, among others. He was questioned in 2016 by Romanian prosecutors on suspicion of evading millions in taxes.

Burci and Broidy were at an event together in Washington with Fifor, the Romanian official Broidy had hoped Royce would contact on Circinus’s behalf, according to media reports in Romania.

Burci’s company did not respond to requests for comment about its relationship with Circinus.

Broidy knows Steve Loglisci from way back. He’s the brother of David Loglisci, the former chief financial officer of New York’s state pension fund and one of the officials involved in the pension pay-to-play scandal.

Among the nearly $1 million in bribes Broidy admitted paying was $300,000 that helped fund a forgettable movie called “Chooch,” produced by Steve Loglisci.

Peter Stone is special McClatchy correspondent.