Links Between Gulf Crisis and Trump Campaign Operatives Emerge

A British defense contractor linked to embattled psychographics firm Cambridge Analytica was hired by UAE to push social media posts accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism.

Published Mar 28, 2018

A California congressman has been linked to a snowballing scandal over foreign meddling in American politics by reports tracing the timing of a large sum of cash directed to a Trump fundraiser by a United Arab Emirates adviser and subsequent political contributions to Republican leaders.

According to the Associated Press (AP), George Nader — an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is now a cooperating witness for the Special Counsel-led probe into Russian manipulation of the 2016 United States election — gave $2.5 million to Elliott Broidy, a fundraiser for President Donald Trump. Broidy reportedly began doling out large political contributions to lawmakers "considering legislation targeting Qatar, the UAE’s chief rival in the Persian Gulf," an AP investigation reported.

It is against U.S. law for foreign nationals to contribute to any election. However, the AP said they found no evidence showing Nader's funds were used in the contributions, or that any laws were broken.

Of $600,000 in total donations made, $5,400 went to California Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and whose district spans east Los Angeles and Orange counties. Two months before the contribution, Royce had introduced legislation branding Qatar as a terror-sponsoring state.

Royce spokesman Cory Fritz told us Royce's campaign complies with election law and added that the bill he introduced was not in response to Broidy's donation:

The bill was introduced in May. For years, the chairman has been speaking out about the destabilizing influence of extremist elements in Qatar.

Royce announced in January 2018 that he would not seek reelection. Fritz said neither Royce nor any of his staff have been contacted by Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller or his team. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

Since early June 2017, the UAE and Qatar have been entrenched in an ongoing diplomatic spat, and Broidy isn't the only Trump-linked figure entangled in it. According to federal documents, London-based defense contractor SCL Social, which is best known in the U.S. via its American counterpart Cambridge Analytica, landed a $333,000 contract with the UAE government in September 2017 to pump social media channels full of posts labeling Qatar as a terror sponsor and smearing its state-owned global news network Al Jazeera as "dangerous" and "radical." Qatar is an American ally and home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

In June 2017, the United States dispatched a team of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to Doha amid reports that fake news stories were planted to catalyze the diplomatic crisis in which Qatar was isolated from its neighbors and fears of a military conflict loomed. President Trump took to Twitter and lambasted Qatar, echoing SCL social media posts (and pages of articles) accusing the tiny oil-rich country of sponsoring terror.

Cambridge Analytica and SCL have come under intense scrutiny worldwide for deploying what whistleblower Christopher Wylie has described as "psychological warfare" tools in the form of targeted fake news on behalf of President Trump's campaign. One of the company's key figures is former executive and Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

"This is going to blow up in everyone's faces and I suspect Mueller will be pushing the detonation button," a counter-intelligence expert who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons told us.

In response to the AP report, and another published the same day by McClatchy that cited Broidy's e-mail exchanges, Broidy has filed a lawsuit against Qatar accusing the country of hacking, an accusation that Doha calls a diversion.

In February 2018, Mueller issued a sweeping grand jury indictment accusing the Russian "troll farm" Internet Research Agency and more than a dozen Russian nationals of spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month before the 2016 election on social media posts targeted at American voters with misleading information that sought to sow discord, widen social divides, and ultimately help Donald Trump while damaging the campaign of his rival, Hillary Clinton.

To date, the U.S. Department of State has not provided with a contract between its Global Engagement Center and SCL Group despite a Freedom of Information Act request filed in August 2017 and repeated requests. The State Department claims the firm has been contracted to research terror recruitment methods online.


Butler, Desmond, et al.    "Mueller Probe Witness Secretly Backed UAE Agenda in Congress."   The Associated Press.    26 March 2018.

Wieder, Ben, and Stone, Peter.    "Trump Fundraiser Turned to Foreign Affairs Chair for Help Winning Work in Romania."   McClatchy DC.    26 March 2018.

Kumar, Anita, and Wieder, Ben.    "Steve Bannon’s Already Murky Middle East Ties Deepen."   McClatchyDC.    23 October 2017.

Ainsley, Julia. "The Mueller Effect: FARA Filings Soar in Shadow of Manafort, Flynn Probes."   NBC News. 18 January 2018.

Cadwalladr, Carole.    "The Great British Brexit Robbery: How Our Democracy Was Hijacked."   The Guardian and Observer.    7 May 2017.

Cadwalladr, Carole.    "‘I Made Steve Bannon’s Psychological Warfare Tool’: Meet the Data War Whistleblower."   The Guardian.    18 March 2018.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.