On Tuesday the Democrats announced that their message for the fall campaign would be "It's the corruption, stupid." Well, not those words exactly, but that's what it adds up to. And it's a smart move. As Adam Serwer pointed out in this widely circulated piece in The Atlantic, corruption is what ties all the Trump scandals together. It's something that even people who don't follow the details can understand accounts for how terribly everything has gone off the rails under President Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it this way, “The swamp has never been more foul and more fetid than it is under this president.” Indeed, corruption and conflict of interest define him as an elected official, just as dishonest hucksterism and bankruptcy defined him as a businessman.
Frankly, it's a tried and true agenda for the Democrats, who last had a winning midterm when they ran against the "culture of corruption" in 2006. In those days, the Jack Abramoff pay-to-play scheme was considered shocking. In the Trump era's volcanic eruption of scandals, that would be a one-day story sharing space with porn stars, Russian agents and billion-dollar deals with shadowy Middle Eastern sheiks. It was a more innocent time.
So far this week we have the president yammering incoherently about spies in his campaign in the middle of delicate Korean nuclear negotiations and tweeting mindlessly about "following the money" after watching his favorite science fiction program, the one hosted by Sean Hannity. That hasn't stopped the flow of new and shocking corruption scandals from TrumpWorld.
The most intriguing so far (and it's only Wednesday) is the report from the AP called "The princes, the president and the fortune seekers," about Elliott Broidy, the former Republican National Committee deputy finance chair and Michael Cohen client. We learn that Broidy and George Nader, another shadowy character who turns up in the Trump scandal circle, parlayed their association with the new president into gigantic consulting contracts with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in exchange for using their influence to isolate Qatar, an American ally.
You may recall that on Monday I wrote about a different influence-peddling scandal involving some of the same people and the same countries: Nader and Erik Prince met with Donald Trump Jr. in August of 2016, along with an Israeli social media expert, to offer to "help" the campaign. Believe it or not, this one is different. Whereas that first story features some suspicious ties to the Russian investigation, this one has suspicious ties to the Stormy Daniels case. I'm not making this up.
The AP reported that Nader and Broidy had "a two-track mission: to carry out a campaign against Qatar that would curry favor with the princes, and to then turn that success into millions of dollars in defense deals, documents show." In fact, the reported worth of the whole deal added up to nearly a billion dollars.
The story is very complicated: In a nutshell, those two put together a lobbying campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign donations, aimed at persuading members of Congress and the president himself to support the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Qatar, their regional rival. In fact, Trump ended up backing the blockade against Qatar, a move nobody much understood at the time. Indeed, there is still no full understanding of what happened with all this, because there are so many sleazy operators involved with these players -- including Jared Kushner, for example, who had financial motives for pushing the anti-Qatar line.
The two schemers had only received a down payment of $36 million on their billion dollars worth of contracts before Nader was stopped by the FBI at the airport and ended up as a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation, reportedly meeting with the investigators and testifying before the grand jury more than once. So the rest of the big payoff never happened.
Broidy's company, Circinus LLC, did make a bundle in 2017 off federal government contracts, however. The Daily Beast reports:
Prior to 2017, Circinus had been paid a total of just $7,501 for its work on various defense contracts. Then, in August 2017 it finally received $3.9 million for a contract it had begun bidding on in 2013 with the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). The INSCOM contract — which is for unidentified intelligence services — nearly doubled the company’s income for the year. The following month, Circinus received $242,011 from the Defense Security Service for a separate contract.
Maybe that was a coincidence, but Broidy was on a major roll at least partly because he was considered a Trump insider. He had several personal meetings with Trump, and that's where the Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels story comes in.
I have previously mentioned a bit of compelling speculation from Paul Campos at New York Magazine, proposing the theory that Broidy had provided a cover story for another Trump payment to another Trump mistress, something Broidy has been known to do for other politicians in the past. That looks even more compelling in light of this new reporting about the billion-dollar lobbying blitz.
Broidy had an important meeting with the president at Mar-a-Lago on Dec. 2, 2017, at which this Qatar business was apparently discussed. Just two days before that, Broidy had wired the first of what were to be eight payments of $200,000 apiece to an attorney representing Shera Bechard, the onetime Playboy Playmate with whom Broidy supposedly had an affair. But the contract for these payoffs was in the name of "David Dennison," the same pseudonym that Donald Trump had used in his hush-money contract with Stormy Daniels. A few days after the Mar-a-Lago meeting, Broidy got word that $600 million in "consulting" contracts had come through.
In his latest article for New York Magazine, Campos writes:
If it’s difficult to imagine Broidy being willing to take the fall for Trump’s affair with Bechard and then paying her a seven-figure sum, it’s much simpler to imagine it simply as a perfectly timed and fantastically profitable bribe.
Or, if you prefer, the Trump term for such deals would be "favors." Yuuuge favors. Whether there was anything illegal going on in all this mess is hard to say. But that toxic, fetid swamp stinks to high heaven.