Let’s face it: it’s tough keeping track of the stream of sleaze surging around the Trump White House.
The sheer volume — the plea deals and co-operating witnesses, the raids on lawyers’ offices, the porn stars, Russians, the new faces and names emerging weekly — has become numbing and exhausting.
We may delight in the revelations, but many of us just don’t have the time for the details and slow drip of legal manoeuvres. Wake us when it’s over, whenever that is.
Which might explain why the story of fundraiser, the child pornographer and the Playboy playmate has failed to catch on.
Got your attention now?
Elliott Broidy is a well-connected Republican fundraiser and influence peddler around Washington. Like all lobbyists, his value is in his relationships (real or perceived) and access to power – in this case, to the new president.
During the inauguration festivities, Broidy met George Nader, a Lebanese-born lobbyist working on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. The pair struck up a friendship, and Nader began pressing Broidy to reach out to Mr Trump on behalf of the UAE in their efforts to isolate and punish fellow gulf state Qatar and, by extension, Iran.
Nader (who pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in 1991) pressed Broidy hard to do the UAE’s bidding, and for good reason: the two stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from the UAE, whose princes were eager to influence Trump.
Broidy, according to an exhaustive report by The Associated Press, launched all manner of anti-Qatar activities – congressional bills, think-tank forums and donations to members of Congress. Despite Broidy and Nader’s denials, the AP suggests all these efforts were paid for by the UAE, which would violate US law.
(Broidy, no stranger to the dark arts of achieving influence, was convicted in 2009 of bribing New York State officials relating to a pension fund).
By the end of 2017, Broidy and Nader were on the verge of a US$600 million contract from the UAE. It was at precisely that moment that two things occurred: Broidy met Mr Trump at the White House, and he began making a series of secret transfers to bank accounts associated with Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s attorney/fixer.
Several months later, following the raid on Mr Cohen’s offices in New York, The Wall Street Journal revealed that a total of US$1.6 million was shovelled by Broidy into the accounts to pay off Shera Bechard, a Playboy playmate.
When confronted by Journal reporters, Broidy – who, let’s remember, just forked over US$1.6 million in hush money – confessed immediately to having had an affair with Ms Bechard and paying for an abortion. He was summarily bounced from his finance job at the Republican National Committee.
It gets curiouser. Documents found in Mr Cohen’s offices show that the payments to Ms Bechard include the same alias – David Dennison – used in Mr Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Mr Trump. The documents also show the involvement of Keith Davidson, Ms Daniels’ former attorney, who she later fired believing he was in cahoots with Mr Cohen.
Is there a connection between Broidy’s meeting with Mr Trump and the subsequent payments to Ms Bechard? Simply put, did he agree to be the fall guy for a Trump hush payment in exchange for access to the Oval Office and a UAE windfall? (Broidy and Nader, it should be noted, received the US$600 million contract.)
The hard evidence tying Mr Trump to the Broidy payments is, so far, only speculative, which helps explain why it hasn’t gotten more traction in the press.
Ms Bechard is not talking, and prosecutors who raided Mr Cohen’s offices aren’t revealing what they found there. Curiously, neither the AP investigation nor the Journal story questioned Broidy’s explanations about the affair.
But only a fool could deny the apparent connections – Mr Cohen, the aliases, etc. And let us not forget that, in addition to Ms Daniels, Mr Trump has already been accused of having an affair with another Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal.
He likes what he likes.
In any other administration, the revelations about Broidy and Nader’s influence peddling alone would warrant intense news coverage.
That US foreign policy could so nakedly be changed (President Trump did support the UAE/Saudi blackballing of Qatar, despite objections from some of his staff) with the help of oil money washing through DC is scandalous.
It also puts the lie to Mr Trump’s exhortations about “draining the swamp”. In his Washington, the swamp just keeps spreading.
But these are not ordinary times.
It remains to be seen what Mr Mueller’s probe thinks of the Broidy affair. Should it emerge that Broidy is charged by Mr Mueller, or is said to have become a co-operating witness, that would be bad news for Mr Trump.
But in a country so inured to his bad behaviour, it’s anyone’s guess if it will matter.
Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a current contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America