Mueller Probe Expands to Hollywood as Trump Arrives for L.A. Fundraiser
Elliott Broidy, a top Trump moneyman, will co-sponsor a lavish dinner for the President as questions swirl about the Republican power broker's own ties to the Special Counsel investigation and a multibillion-dollar Malaysian scandal.
A prominent Los Angeles Republican power broker and fundraiser who has been linked to two ongoing political scandals is co-hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump on the occasion of his first official visit to California as president.
Elliott Broidy, the deputy national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, is set to preside over a $35,000-per-person event for Trump on Tuesday night at an undisclosed location in Beverly Hills.
Broidy and his wife, attorney Robin Rosenzweig, a discreet but powerful couple in Republican fundraising circles, have been tied through a trove of leaked documentation received by media organizations to the multibillion-dollar Malaysian graft scheme that has entangled actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Miranda Kerr, the model and wife of Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. The documents also reveal a series of connections between Broidy and U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into foreign influence-peddling of the Trump administration.
Two Hollywood producers, Steven J. Brown and J. David Williams, had close ties to Broidy and are connected via various business dealings — including film projects — to Rick Gates, an associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is now facing conspiracy, tax and bank fraud charges brought by Mueller. (Gates recently chose to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.) Broidy also has played a role in advising George Nader, a Lebanese-American with longstanding ties to prominent figures in the United Arab Emirates who is now being investigated by Mueller for secret meetings between representatives from the UAE and the Trump team.
In addition to their efforts on behalf of Republican political causes, Broidy and Rosenzweig, who have a home in Beverly Hills and offices in Century City, have a long but sometimes fraught connection to Hollywood, where their efforts at producing and financing film projects have found them in a web of acrimony, lost business relationships and legal peril.
The Hollywood Reporter’s examination of the leaked documents sheds further light on recent revelations about the couple’s trajectory through politics and entertainment.
The bulk of the leaked material, first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later by The New York Times, consists of emails and legal documents purporting to show how Broidy and Rosenzweig were exploring an effort to either close, abandon or stall a Justice Department asset forfeiture case. This proceeding was attempting to retrieve more than $1.7 billion in assets that were acquired with public funds that the DOJ alleges were misappropriated from the 1 Malaysian Development Berhad, a public wealth fund in Malaysia.
The scheme, known as 1MDB, has been known for several years and allegedly involves several high-ranking Malaysian officials, including the Prime Minister, Najib Razak. In 2014, the 1MDB case extended to Hollywood via Red Granite pictures, which was co-founded by Reza Aziz, the Prime Minister's stepson, who allegedly used stolen monies to fund multiple Hollywood projects, including DiCaprio’s The Wolf of Wall Street. (Red Granite recently settled with the DOJ for $60 million.)
Drafts of legal documents from the leak appear to show Rozenzweig was in negotiations to represent Jho Low, the shadowy Malaysian businessman who has been in hiding since the 1MDB case began. One document included an unsigned $8 million retainer fee in addition to a “success fee” rider of $75 million if “the Matter” was resolved within 180 days after the receipt of the retainer fee.
The leak has fueled a flurry of media coverage, including a March 8 report from Qatar-based Al Jazeera detailing a Ukrainian investigation into whether Broidy lobbied on behalf of U.S.-sanctioned Russian bank VTB. While Broidy and Rozenzweig would not answer THR's questions about the leaked documents, in a letter to the Qatari ambassador, Broidy alleges that “registered and unregistered agents” of Qatar hacked the information specifically “to punish me for my strong opposition to state-sponsored terrorism.” The tiny, oil-rich Gulf nation has denied the claim and threatened legal recourse “to protect its reputation.”
The circulated materials reveal Broidy's efforts to combat the Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera. His private security company, Circinus, has contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Qatar’s rival the United Arab Emirates.
Political Power Couple Goes Hollywood
Broidy and Rosenzweig don't boast the daily West Wing access of the Santa Monica-raised Stephen Miller or the media reach of West L.A.-based Breitbart. But the couple, whose chief political issue appears to be support for Israel, have quietly emerged as key L.A. figures in the Trump era, with contacts ranging from the secretive conservative entertainment group Friends of Abe to the White House.
Raised in Southern California, Broidy started his own investment firm in 1991. He served as the finance chair of the Republican National Committee from 2006 to 2008 and his efforts on behalf of George W. Bush’s campaign, where he earned the “Super Ranger” fundraiser title, helped land him a spot on the board of the Kennedy Center and the Homeland Security Advisory Council. His political outreach faltered after a 2009 felony conviction (later reduced to a misdemeanor) for participating in a pay-to-play scheme with the New York state comptroller, for which he was ordered to fork over $18 million in fees.
The scheme was uncovered when then New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo revealed that the state’s comptroller Alan Hevesi had been running a kickback scheme involving a state pension fund. Included in Broidy’s payments was a $300,000 fee for one of the state employee’s brothers, who was producing a movie called Chooch, a 2003 romantic comedy about a group of friends from Queens who get stranded in Mexico. Broidy plead guilty and copped to paying Hevesi “as a reward for giving preferential treatment” to Broidy’s firm Markstone Capital Group LLC.
The conviction didn’t stop Broidy’s political ambitions. By 2016, he was backing both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaigns, before throwing his weight behind Trump and helping raise $108 million for his campaign.
Rosenzweig served for a decade at 20th Century Fox, where she ascended to senior vp in the studio’s international home video division, before refashioning herself as an independent producer. While developing a television series about ballet, she came across a drag-racing script, which would become the 2013 feature film Snake & Mongoose. At the suggestion of her daughter Rachel, the couple hired Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) for one of the lead roles.
Among the co-producers on Snake & Mongoose were Steven J. Brown and J. David Williams, who are now facing federal charges for fraud and misappropriation of investment funds involving their film dealings. In a news release issued in June 2016, then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — who was fired by Trump in March 2017 — said Brown and Williams "allegedly defrauded victims into investing over $12 million with them. Rather than making movies, the defendants perpetrated an advance fee scheme, allegedly using the investors' money to pay themselves and pay other investors back." The case is set to go to trial April 9.
Brown and Williams also had extensive business ties to Paul Manafort associate Rick Gates, which were first reported by McClatchy on Nov. 7 of last year. The government alleged that on at least two occasions Gates, acting at Brown’s direction, transferred funds to a personal expense account controlled by Williams. It goes on to note that Gates and Brown — who have been partners together in several LLCs since 2013, including a small film firm called MAP Global Holdings — might be called as witnesses in each other’s ongoing cases. As for Mueller’s interests, “Brown may have knowledge of Gates’ activities on behalf of foreign principals or other financial dealings.” The case filing notes that Gates and Brown also have over $6 million in assets via various film projects.
As Snake & Mongoose got closer to its premiere date in August 2013, Broidy and Rosenzweig appeared to become increasingly concerned about how the project would be received. Broidy blanched at the cost of a prospective 600-person post-premiere party to be catered by Patina in the W Hollywood's courtyard. (Rosenzweig suggested a 50-person event instead.) Later, when the film screened in early September to negative reviews — the Los Angeles Times sniffed at its "sputtering, cliche-choked treatment" of drag racing — she fumed in an e-mail exchange: "These snooty LA know it alls. I hate them."
Broidy's involvement with Brown and Williams extended beyond Snake & Mongoose. A year earlier, he had announced that Broidy Capital Management would "begin providing strategic advice" to a separate film financing venture run by Brown and Williams called "Panda Fund." Valued at $200 million, according to a news release, the fund was intended to cover print-and-advertising costs for movies and boasted of relationships with companies including Sony, MGM, Open Road and Samuel Goldwyn. But none of those companies ever worked with the fund, according to multiple sources. In 2014, a Canadian law firm filed a civil case against Brown and Williams over embezzled monies in a suit that questioned Panda's legitimacy. "The only thing we can find online about Panda is a Press Release that you issued announcing that some entity referred to as "Panda Media Partners II" was being financed by Broidy Capital Management, whose principal is Elliott Broidy," the suit states. "Speaking of lawsuits, we quickly learned that Mr. Broidy was charged with and pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges."
Rehabilitation of a D.C. Insider
In June 2013, six months prior to the release of Snake & Mongoose, Broidy also teamed up with Brown and Williams for a nonprofit called Bi-Partisan Coalition for American Security that was, according to a source close to Broidy, intended to help Broidy reconnect to a D.C. establishment that had shunned him after his 2009 conviction.
But the nonprofit failed to generate any enthusiasm in D.C. — despite the presence of high-profile board members like Senator Joe Lieberman and then rising star Senator Scott Brown. Emails reveal that Brown remained involved in the effort to rehab Broidy’s image.
Late on Nov. 27, 2012, Steven Brown informed Broidy via e-mail about a highly complimentary post on the right-wing blog The Minority Report entitled “Elliott Broidy: Rock Star,” which argued it was time to forgive him for the New York scandal. “Team Boehner etc all read it,” Brown wrote of the post, before noting: “[the author] is now blasting to Patriot Action Network, Red State, etc.”
Early the next morning Broidy responded with Rosenzweig and prominent crisis management publicist Glenn Selig CC’d: “This is awesome and can be developed…. Let’s get people to write positive thoughtful comments to the blog.” Broidy himself supplied a couple of suggestions to be attributed to others, including “Others involved in the case like Steve Rattner [the financier and Obama administration appointee] were treated far better than Mr. Broidy because they are democrats.” (Robin would also chime in with her own suggestions, such as “Glad the witch hunt against Mr. Broidy has finally ended,” and “One of the greatest RNC Finance Chairs ever!”) Broidy, pleased, continued: “This will play huge with our friends in Congress… Push hard”
Selig died in a Kabul attack on Jan. 20. At the time, his most high-profile client was Gates.
While sources say the relationship between the couple and the producers Brown and Williams eventually soured, the documentation reveals that their Hollywood connections continued to be useful in other ways.
The Malaysian Connection
Last spring, Rosenzweig reached out to Nicky Lum Davis, an aspiring Hollywood producer who once sued VH1 for similarities between the channel’s reality series Love & Hip Hop and her pitch for a program called Hip Hop Wives. Davis’ ex-husband, Joe Shapira, is the founder of popular Jewish matchmaking site JDate. A Jewish Journal story from May 2009 describes how Davis converted to Judaism and, along with Shapira, became heavily involved in pro-Israel philanthropy.
According to the leaked documents, Rosenzweig wanted Davis to help facilitate her communications with Jho Low, the Malaysian businessman who appears to have been interested in having the 1MDB case thwarted. Low’s whereabouts are unknown and he is believed to be shuttling between Thailand and China. U.S. authorities are interested in speaking to him.
After some initial back and forth, Davis appears to have acted as an intermediary between Rosenzweig and Pras Michel, a Haitian rapper and founding member of the trio The Fugees (along with Wyclef Jean and Lauren Hill), and one of Low’s friends. Low appears to have wanted payments to Rosenzweig to pass through Michel, according to the documents.
In December of 2017, Rosenzweig reached out to Davis and sent her two draft documents, including a “retainer and legal fee agreement” between her Beverly Hills law firm, Colfax, and Low; and a separate consulting agreement between Colfax and Davis.
“Colfax needs a contract with Pras regarding the advice on Low Taep Jho and Colfax needs the contract with you regarding your consulting to Colfax,” Rosenzweig wrote in late May.
Davis replied that Pras was “out of the country” but said that when he returned the rapper wanted them all "to sit down and figure out how to best structure the agreements and structure the relationship so everyone feels comfortable and protected.”
It remains unclear how Pras and Low met, or the nature of their relationship. Pras had already aroused the interest of U.S. prosecutors who had been looking at his ties to Jho Low since at least 2012. Through a publicist, he declined to comment.
When reached by phone, Nicky Lum Davis said she hadn’t spoken to either Brody or Rosenzweig. “I can’t talk about this situation,” she said, “I don’t know about it.”
Chris Clark of Latham & Watkins LLP sent THR the following statement on behalf of Mr. Broidy and Ms. Rosenzweig, who runs Colfax Law Office Inc.: "Ms. Rosenzweig’s law firm was engaged by Pras Michel to provide strategic advice as part of a broader team to Mr. Low. During the course of this engagement a number of strategies were discussed with Mr. Broidy, Mr. Michel, and other members of the team. But at no time did Mr. Broidy or Ms. Rosenzweig, or anyone acting on their behalf, discuss Mr. Low’s case with President Trump, any member of his staff, or anyone at the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Clark added that Neither Colfax Law nor Mr. Broidy has ever represented Malaysia or any of its officials “in any capacity.”
“We are concerned that various publications are in possession of internal drafts of documents that were never used, and that were never intended to be shared with third parties. We question the legality and propriety of the manner in which the documents were obtained.”
The Swamp Comes to L.A.
As Broidy now prepares to host Donald Trump on Tuesday, the various looming controversies surrounding his international business dealings will be hard to ignore. But despite the negative press, Broidy's role as a co-host of the event (along with RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and national finance chairman Todd Ricketts) suggests he is still one of the GOP’s most influential power brokers.
Qatar remains Broidy’s biggest antagonist. Roughly a week after the leaks of Broidy’s emails became public, his influence in the realm of foreign policy is still evident in Washington. A March 6 letter signed by Congressional representatives urged Jeff Sessions to consider Al Jazeera as a state-controlled foreign agent that “directly undermines American interests.”
This echoes a Dec. 20, 2017, memo of upcoming initiatives Broidy e-mailed himself in which his first bullet point is "Attacking Al Jazeera." In that memo he observes that new sanctions-related legislation "is being drafted" for presentation to members of Congress. It would target countries or entities that finance media outlets that "allow people to preach hatred and incite violence." He explains, however, that "we will make it absolutely clear that Al Jazeera is the real target of the legislation — that the people on air are are [sic] virulently anti-Semitic and call for the destruction of Israel and the West."
On March 9, Broidy railed on Twitter against Al Jazeera for publishing its article the day prior about his alleged lobbying efforts in support of the Russian bank VTB. He denied the charges and floated a Russia conspiracy of his own: “These documents were peddled by a phony Ukrainian ‘think tank’ working in partnership with a Ukrainian news outlet owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who is still business partners with Gazprom and thus Putin — and that oligarch is linked to the shell company that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to one of Qatar’s registered foreign agents here in the U.S.”
Broidy and Rosenzweig last hosted a sitting president at a fundraiser in 2006. The event was for Bush, at the Bel-Air dream home they built based on the historic Phipps Estate in Old Westbury, New York. It had been constructed over the headline-grabbing objections of neighbors like Nancy Reagan, then-Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio and Johnny Carson's ex-wife Joanna, who felt it was an environmentally insensitive monstrosity.
According to records, Matan Caspy, a former special operation agent with the Israeli domestic spy agency Shin Bet, now resides there.
The couple’s archconservative politics have long been intertwined with their support for Israeli and Jewish causes. Broidy has served on the boards of the Republican Jewish Coalition as well as L.A.’s Hebrew Union College and he and Rosenzweig’s local synagogue, the reform Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
On Oct. 22, slightly more than two weeks after a one-on-one Oval Office audience with Trump (they discussed military and political matters pertaining to the Middle East), Broidy sent his wife a link to a New York Post story about a new book on Leon Lewis, a Jewish attorney who’d established his own spy network to catch American Nazis operating in L.A. in the run-up to World War II.
“Awesome!” Rosenzweig responded. “you could be the next Lewis!”
March 12, 11:10 a.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from a legal representative on behalf of Elliot Broidy and Robin Rosenzweig.