Looking back on Donald Trump’s single term as president, his repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp” would seem to be right up there with his promise to get Mexico to pay for a border wall. The wall remains far more promise than reality, and what has been built has been charged to US taxpayers. As for the miasma of corruption around the nation’s capital, and the odor that has wafted over the White House and Congress for centuries, the so-called swamp is now far more extensive and malodorous than ever, its gases spreading into most every governmental agency and permeating the White House itself.
Had Trump remained in office, next year’s Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn would no doubt have to be canceled due to alligator sightings.
Many of the palookas Donald Trump brought into his inner circle or his administration are now in jail, awaiting trial, already pardoned, or praying for pardons. Their names are known to anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention. One of my favorites is Steve Bannon, Trump’s former top campaign adviser and White House chief strategist, who has recently been charged with defrauding investors intent on helping Trump build The Wall. Bannon solicited money for the project, promising that 100 percent would go straight into construction, and then pocketed a good share of it. This makes Bannon unique in holding up to ridicule Trump’s promises on both The Wall and The Swamp at the same time.
And there are others: Roger Stone, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, George Nader, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Erik Prince, Elliott Broidy … the list goes on and on. There are so many other shady characters in Trump’s extended crime family about whom we will likely hear more in years to come. One wishes Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino were all young enough to play some of them in a new mob movie.
One of these Trump supporters, Elliott Broidy, recently came into much sharper focus when his name appeared in a new Justice Department probe into bribes paid in exchange for pardons. An unusually venal influence peddler, Broidy began as an accountant, became an investment manager, and now runs a private military contracting service. He is a person of interest not just because he has been a Trump fundraiser, donor, and adviser, and not just because he is a disgraced former high official of the Republican National Committee, but because of speculation that he may have helped the president cover up yet another sex scandal — this one while Trump was in office. Given Broidy’s reemergence in the public eye, those suspicions are worth revisiting, as we will attempt below.
Broidy first came to the attention of law enforcement, not to mention the nation, for paying a $1 million bribe to New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and his aides, in return for Hevesi’s commitment to place $250 million of New York’s pension fund with Broidy’s investment firm in 2009. News of this blatant kickback scheme was shocking at the time and sent Alan Hevesi straight to jail, where he would spend the next 20 months. Broidy was also convicted, but he was able to save himself by pleading guilty, paying an $18 million fine, and giving crucial evidence against his co-conspirators.
Fifteen years ago Broidy had been a respected Republican fundraiser known for helping the political campaigns of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. The Hevesi scandal might have driven a better man offstage altogether, but swamp creatures are known for rematerializing through the mists.
A few years later a smiling Broidy popped up in the middle of the 2016 presidential races, raising funds for Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Ted Cruz before turning his attention to Trump. His ability to raise funds for the future president was such that a month after the inauguration the Republican National Committee would name Broidy one of two deputy national finance chairmen.
How Low Can You Go?
In a textbook case of how the swamp works, Broidy set to work capitalizing on his access to the new Trump administration. In short order he would be hired by a Malaysian money-laundering financier named Jho Low to get the Trump Justice Department to back off of an investigation into an international scandal known as 1MDB; he would work closely with a convicted child pornographer named George Nader to exert his Oval Office influence on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, principally in getting the US to look the other way while the UAE and Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar, a US ally; and he would lobby Trump officials on behalf of the Chinese government to have a wealthy dissident named Guo Wengui returned to China from the United States, where he was seeking asylum. (If that name seems vaguely familiar, it is because Steve Bannon was arrested for his Build-the-Wall scam while staying on Guo Wengui’s 152-foot yacht in New York Harbor.)
Broidy was like Zelig — a shadow in the background, everywhere you looked. When not lobbying, he was giving out advice. Jeff Sessions asked him for recommendations to staff the Justice Department, and Trump sought his opinion of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Broidy said he should be fired). He attended the June 2017 wedding of a friend, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin.
Throughout all of his influence-peddling Broidy never registered as “an agent of foreign principals” as required by law. Nor did he inform any of the White House principals how much he stood to gain from the actions they might take on his recommendations. The stakes were, in fact, enormous. Had Broidy proved successful in his various overseas machinations, he could have grossed close to $100 million. And that was only the appetizer.
Piggybacking on their lobbying efforts for the Saudis and the UAE, Nader and Broidy were at the same time pitching the Saudis on multiple lucrative business contracts. Taken altogether they were worth one billion dollars. In one proposal, Broidy, through his private military contracting business, envisioned assembling an all-Muslim fighting force of 5,000 troops for Saudi and UAE efforts in Yemen. Their proposals were well received by the Saudi and UAE principals, including Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Broidy’s frenetic influence-peddling eventually placed him in the crosshairs of the Justice Department. This fall, Broidy pled guilty to conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In his plea Broidy admitted that he had illegally agreed to lobby President Trump, the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security, and other high government officials. In a press release issued by the Department of Justice, Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt said: “This case demonstrates how foreign governments and principals seek to advance their agendas in the United States by hiding behind politically influential proxies.” Broidy’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 2021.
Lower and Lower
Before that embarrassment Broidy had been caught up in yet another scandal, this one a sexual liaison with Playboy model Shera Bechard. Bechard was not just another Playboy centerfold but Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend — his pick from all of the gorgeous women who populated his magazine empire and his pleasure domes. Bechard was chosen as Playmate in both the November 2010 and November 2011 issues. The story as told by both parties in the ensuing Non-Disclosure Agreement was that Broidy and Bechard had met in 2013 at a restaurant and had begun an illicit affair — Broidy was the married father of three. The affair ended in 2017 when Bechard got pregnant and reached out to a lawyer named Keith Davidson to negotiate settlement terms with Broidy.
Davidson had represented another Playboy model named Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had a long romantic relationship with Donald Trump. It was Davidson who would arrange to sell McDougal’s story in August 2016 to the National Enquirer for $150,000 in what would become known as a catch-and-kill operation — the Enquirer would pretend to buy her story for publication while in truth only intending to secure the exclusive rights so that it could be buried forever as one of the tabloid’s many favors for Donald Trump.
Keith Davidson, you might also remember, represented Stephanie Clifford, far better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, the porn star who threatened to go public with her tryst with Trump during his run for the White House. Davidson would work out the details of Stormy Daniels’s NDA directly with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. In 2017 the same team, Davidson and Cohen, would work out the NDA for Bechard and Broidy, after Broidy hired Cohen as his lawyer.
Taking Broidy’s story at face value, it seems disturbing enough. President Trump’s personal lawyer helped arrange the payment for an abortion for a top donor’s mistress. Certainly the hypocrisy is striking. Bechard’s abortion would have been illegal had all of Trump’s promises come true. He has put much of his political effort into stacking the Supreme Court with judges whom he believes will one day overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that currently makes abortion legal. From the beginning, that was Trump’s pro-life nod to the evangelical community upon which so much of his support would depend.
But perhaps we should not take this story at face value. There are so many parallels between the Broidy sex scandal and the twin Trump sex scandals — the Playboy model and the porn actress — that New York Magazine writer Paul Campos would raise the question in early 2018: Could Broidy have paid hush money to Bechard on behalf of Donald Trump as a way to curry favor? In addition to using the same lawyers, Campos pointed out, the NDA between Trump and Clifford and the NDA between Broidy and Bechard use the exact same language. The aliases for the men in the documents are the same — “David Dennison”— as they are for the women — “Peggy Peterson.”
Is this just laziness on the part of the lawyers, or is David Dennison in fact Donald Trump in both NDAs?
We know Trump has long been fixated on models and Playmates; we know he is drawn in particular to large-breasted blondes; we have learned — though we really did not want to know — that he has unprotected sex; we know that he prefers that everyone he meets sign an NDA. So taken together this all begs the question: Had Broidy gone from an “influential proxy” for foreign governments, in the words of the Justice Department, to a convenient proxy for his new best friend, Donald J. Trump, in yet another sex scandal?
In a subsequent article in New York Magazine, Campos described some of his back and forth with Broidy’s representatives, who insisted to him that his conjecture regarding Trump was wrong. Yet Campos goes on to write this amazing sentence:
“Repeated attempts on my part to get Broidy to go on the record with a statement that he had a sexual affair with Shera Bechard have failed to elicit any such statement from either Broidy himself or his representatives.”
Why on earth not?
A columnist named Will Bunch posted additional support for this theory in the Philadelphia Inquirer in May 2018, in which he follows the money. “We now know that the first installment of Broidy $1.6 million-over-two-years payments to the Playboy model was last December 1 — one day after his $189,000 check to the RNC and one day before his second Oval Office confab with Trump,” writes Bunch. “Is the timing a remarkable coincidence, or does it somehow tie into the anxiety of Broidy and his new partner Nader to strengthen their bond with the White House at the very moment that the $1 billion payday of a lifetime was on the line, halfway around the world?”
It certainly seems strange for someone to pledge $1.6 million in hush money for an affair one never had, given that any disclosure of such an agreement would — and in the event, did — bring shame on the false confessor. But what if that person was shameless and had already been convicted of greater crimes? For a swamp rat like Broidy, taking one for the team might have seemed more than worth the risk with so much money riding on his continued access to President Trump.
There is even a precedent in Broidy’s past for such third-party payments. In order to get Alan Hevesi to agree to take on his investment firm as part of the New York state pension scandal, Broidy not only paid off Hevesi directly but also paid money to others, all the better to ingratiate himself, including, as Campos pointed out, paying off the girlfriend of one of the officials he was bribing.
The timing of Bechard’s abortion is crucial. In order for Trump to be responsible for this pregnancy — the abortion occurred in October 2017 — the liaison would have to have occurred several months after the inauguration. A fling with a porn star, or even a long affair with a Playboy model years before his presidential run, was one thing — further proof, as if any were necessary, that Trump continued to be a lecherous Lothario throughout his three marriages. But impregnating a former Playboy model while in the White House — and then arranging to hush it up and pay for an abortion — could have spelled the end of his presidency, or at least have guaranteed an impeachment. Just ask Bill Clinton.
Could that explain why so much hush money was required? Abortions are still legal and not that expensive. Assuming for the moment that Trump is involved, could the difference between his modest payment to Stormy Daniels ($130,000) and the huge payment to Bechard ($1.6 million) simply be the difference between running for the presidency and being the president? Clearly the stakes had gone up considerably. As well as the potential for blackmail.
While we consider the possibilities, it is fair to ask: could Trump really have pulled off an affair while in the White House? On the one hand, JFK not only had sexual flings but managed a prolonged love affair with Mary Meyer, who was murdered not long after his assassination, some believe for what she knew. Bill Clinton also managed an affair, though not well. On the other hand, in this tell-all, see-all age of bare-knuckle journalism, is it even possible? Perhaps. Trump is often out of the office, on the road, enjoying his many properties, where he demands total loyalty. And his calendar is often almost blank.
Finally, what does Michael Cohen say? He was Broidy’s lawyer, and he was Trump’s lawyer. He is the man who knows most everything. Yet he has said nothing. Perhaps he is like the clue in the murder mystery, the dog that did not bark.
It will escape no one’s notice that the foregoing is based on conjecture. Indeed, conjecture upon the conjecture of others, all hedged with caveats and submitted respectfully. It would seem hard even for Trump’s most ardent followers to object, as throughout his term the president has advanced the most outrageous conspiracy theories on most every topic, all based on less circumstantial evidence than that cited above.
To wit: That Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was not born in the US; that Ted Cruz’s father had been caught up in the JFK assassination plot; that climate change is “a very expensive hoax” invented by the Chinese; that the Access Hollywood videotape “was not my voice”; that the Clintons may have been involved in Jeffrey Epstein’s death; that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough murdered one his staffers in 2001 while thousands of miles away (she died of medical causes); that the 2020 presidential election “is about great fraud, fraud that has never been seen like this.”
Given that broad context within which to consider possible conspiracies, is it really so farfetched to wonder whether there are other Trump sex scandals out there, and whether a prominent donor might have helped him cover one of them up?
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Toglenn / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and the White House / Flickr.