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    Mueller’s Focus on Adviser to U.A.E. Indicates Broader Inquiry

    George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, has hovered on the fringes of international diplomacy for three decades. He was a back-channel negotiator with Syria during the Clinton administration, reinvented himself as an adviser to the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and last year was a frequent visitor to President Trump’s White House.
    Mr. Nader is now a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned Mr. Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
    The investigators have also asked about Mr. Nader’s role in White House policymaking, those people said, suggesting that the special counsel investigation has broadened beyond Russian election meddling to include Emirati influence on the Trump administration. The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era.
    How much this line of inquiry is connected to Mr. Mueller’s original task of investigating contacts between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia is unclear. The examination of the U.A.E. comes amid a flurry of recent activity by Mr. Mueller.
    Last month, investigators negotiated a plea agreement with Rick Gates, Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, and indicted 13 Russians on charges related to a scheme to incite political discord in the United States before the 2016 election.
    In one example of Mr. Nader’s influential connections, which has not been previously reported, last fall he received a detailed report from a top Trump fund-raiser, Elliott Broidy, about a private meeting with the president in the Oval Office.
    Mr. Broidy owns a private security company with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the United Arab Emirates, and he extolled to Mr. Trump a paramilitary force that his company was developing for the country. He also lobbied the president to meet privately “in an informal setting” with the Emirates’ military commander and de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan; to back the U.A.E.’s hawkish policies in the region; and to fire Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
    A copy of Mr. Broidy’s memorandum about the meeting was provided to The New York Times by someone critical of the Emirati influence in Washington.
    Mr. Trump has closely allied himself with the Emiratis, endorsing their strong support for the new heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia, as well as their confrontational approaches toward Iran and their neighbor Qatar. In the case of Qatar, which is the host to a major United States military base, Mr. Trump’s endorsement of an Emirati- and Saudi-led blockade against that country has put him openly at odds with his secretary of state — as well as with years of American policy.
    Mr. Nader, 58, made frequent trips to the White House during the early months of the Trump administration, meeting with Stephen K. Bannon and Jared Kushner to discuss American policy toward the Persian Gulf states in advance of Mr. Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, according to people familiar with the meetings. By some accounts, it was Mr. Bannon who pushed for him to gain access to White House policymakers. Others said Mr. Kushner backed him.
    Reached by phone last month, Mr. Nader said he had dinner guests and would call back. He did not, and attempts to reach him over several weeks were unsuccessful. Mr. Nader’s lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
    The White House did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Broidy said his memorandum had been stolen through sophisticated hacking.
    “We have reason to believe this hack was sponsored and carried out by registered and unregistered agents of Qatar seeking to punish Mr. Broidy for his strong opposition to state-sponsored terrorism,” said the spokesman, adding that Mr. Broidy had also made the accusation in a letter to the Qatari ambassador in Washington.
    Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to the United States, declined to comment. Axios first reported Mr. Mueller’s questioning of Mr. Nader.
    Mr. Nader has long been a mysterious figure. In the 1990s, he presided over an unusual Washington magazine, Middle East Insight, which sometimes provided a platform for Arab, Israeli and Iranian officials to express their views to a Washington audience.
    On the magazine’s 15th anniversary, in 1996, a West Virginia congressman praised Mr. Nader on the floor of the House, calling him a “recognized expert on the region” and pointing out that the magazine had been a showcase for prominent figures such as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, and Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
    “He always struck me as a person who really thought he should be in the eye of the storm trying to make things happen,” said Frederic Hof, a former top American diplomat who knew Mr. Nader in the 1990s.
    Late in that decade, Mr. Nader convinced the Clinton administration that he had valuable contacts in the Syrian government and took on a secretive role trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and Syria. Working with Ronald S. Lauder, the American cosmetics magnate and prominent donor to Jewish causes, Mr. Nader shuttled between Damascus and Jerusalem, using his contacts in both capitals to try to negotiate a truce.
    “In the 1990s, George was a very effective under-the-radar operator in the peace process,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel and a member of a team put together by President Bill Clinton to negotiate peace deals between Israel and its neighbors.
    “Then, he disappeared.”
    Indeed, a man with a once very public profile in Washington effectively vanished from the capital’s policy scene, and his magazine ceased publication in 2002.

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