Major Republican Party and Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy pleaded guilty Tuesday to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, admitting to accepting millions of dollars to secretly lobby the Trump administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.
Justice Department officials called Broidy and his co-conspirators’ secret work on behalf of the ringleader of a Malaysian government scandal and a Chinese security official a case study of foreign governments’ efforts to influence U.S. policy while hiding behind politically influential proxies.
“Elliott Broidy sought to lobby the highest levels of the U.S. government to drop one of the largest fraud and money laundering prosecutions ever brought and to deport a critic of the Chinese Communist Party, all the while concealing the foreign interests whose bidding he was doing,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said in a statement.
“Such conduct poses a serious threat to our national security and undermines the integrity of our democracy,” added acting assistant attorney general Brian C. Rabbitt.
Broidy, 64, was charged on Oct. 6 on one felony federal count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutors accuse him of secretly arranging to be paid a bounty of more than $80 million if he successful lobbied to end a U.S. investigation into a multibillion-dollar embezzlement of a Malaysian state investment fund. Broidy acknowledged working for the benefit of a senior Chinese security minister to return outspoken Chinese exile Guo Wengui to his home country from the United States, prosecutors said.
The allegations capped a years-long investigation, accusing Broidy of orchestrating “back-channel, unregistered campaigns” to influence the administration, though the efforts were largely unsuccessful.
According to court filings and people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a pending matter, Broidy made direct entreaties to high-level Trump officials or others close to the administration, including Trump’s then-chief of staff Reince Priebus and former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates. Priebus and Gates have previously declined to comment.
Broidy faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years in prison. Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s public integrity section said they sought his guilty plea now to speed the resolution of pending cases and others that may be charged.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of D.C. released Broidy subject to supervision and allowed him at the request of his defense and the government to keep his passport, to travel internationally to meet business obligations with a court order, and to travel outside his home state of California with notification to court officials.
Broidy, a Los Angeles-based investor, resigned from his RNC post in April 2018 in the wake of a report that he had paid a former Playboy model $1.6 million in exchange for her silence about a sexual affair. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen — another RNC fundraiser — helped arrange the settlement, Broidy acknowledged at the time.
Cohen, who also served as a deputy finance chair of the RNC, also resigned his party position in June 2018 before pleading guilty to bank fraud, tax evasion and campaign finance violations committed on Trump’s behalf. Former casino executive and Trump confidant Steve Wynn, who served as the RNC’s first finance chairman under Trump, resigned in January 2018 after he was accused of sexual harassment and assault, accusations he has denied.
The investigation into Broidy stems from a massive probe of a multibillion-dollar embezzlement from a Malaysian government development fund that has come to be known by the shorthand “1MDB.” In previous civil and criminal cases, federal prosecutors have alleged that much of at least $4.5 billion that was stolen made its way into the United States and was used to buy pricey real estate and even fund the award-winning movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
The alleged mastermind, Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, was indicted in 2018 and accused of funneling tens of millions of dollars into the United States in part to get the investigation dropped. Low, who is believed to be in China, has denied the allegations and called them politically motivated.
According to court documents and people familiar with the matter, Low funded Broidy’s efforts — both to get the 1MDB investigation dropped and to get Guo sent back to China. Guo is a vocal online critic of the Beijing government and is wanted by Chinese authorities on charges of fraud, blackmail and bribery. He has denied those charges and called them retaliatory.
In recent years, Guo has aligned with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chief and top White House strategist. Bannon was on Guo’s yacht off the coast of Westbrook, Conn., when Bannon was arrested in August on charges that he defrauded donors to a group that claimed to be raising money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a related case, Broidy business associate Nickie Mali Lum Davis pleaded guilty in August. Davis admitted she, along with Broidy and former Fugees rapper Pras Michel, met with a Chinese official in Hong Kong in May 2017 and the official asked for Broidy’s help persuading the United States to send Guo back to China. Of $9 million Broidy was paid in the overall scheme, roughly $2.4 million went to Davis, prosecutors said.
Broidy then made entreaties to top-level Trump administration officials and enlisted the help of Wynn, according to the documents and the people with knowledge of the case. An attorney for Wynn has said his client is cooperating with investigators. Michel, who is charged in connection with separate dealings with Low, has denied wrongdoing.
Broidy, according to court documents, tried unsuccessfully to set up a meeting between the Chinese official — whom people familiar with the matter identified as Sun Lijun, then-vice minister of public security — and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Broidy then sent a memo intended for Sessions drafted with information from Sun promising greater law enforcement cooperation if Guo were deported, court documents said. The memo was not passed on to Sessions, according to people familiar with the matter.
Broidy also sought to persuade officials to drop the 1MDB investigation, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. Davis acknowledged that she was paid $1.7 million, that she helped route an $8 million retainer to Broidy for the influence campaign, and that Low offered to pay a $75 million “success fee” as part of a contract with Broidy’s wife’s law firm if the 1MDB case was resolved within 180 days.
According to prosecutors, Broidy met with Trump at the White House in October 2017 and falsely told others that he raised the subject of the 1MDB investigation. In charging papers, prosecutors alleged that in a show of influence, Broidy in June 2017 personally asked Trump to play a round of golf with then-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was later convicted on charges in Malaysia related to the 1MDB scandal and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Najib has denied wrongdoing.
No golf game ultimately took place, though Najib did meet with Trump at the White House, prosecutors said.
Overall, Malaysia and the United States have alleged that more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB. The U.S. government has sought the forfeiture of $2.1 billion in related assets and recovered nearly $1.1 billion.