New US lawsuit accuses Qatari lobbyists of using hacked e-mail in smear campaign

The lawsuit makes the claim that Qatar helped hack e-mails of more than 1,000 people worldwide, including senior US political officials, European defence leaders, FIFA football stars and Indian movie actors.

WASHINGTON — A prominent American political operative who denounced Qatar in 2017 has obtained phone records he claims show lobbyists for Doha leaked his personal e-mail to journalists to discredit and silence him.

Phone records indicate that Qatari lobbyists spoke on hundreds of occasions with influential journalists who were writing damaging stories about Elliott Broidy based on e-mail that the lobbyists allegedly helped hack from his accounts.

Qatar allegedly financed the effort to smear operative Broidy, a major fundraiser with ties to US President Donald Trump and a vocal critic of Qatar for its suspected terrorist links.

The phone records are described in a lawsuit Broidy filed January 24 in US federal court accusing American-based lobbyists for Qatar of running “a scheme of extortion, illegal hacking and unlawful distribution of carefully curated batches of [Broidy’s] private documents.”

“The overarching goal,” the lawsuit adds, “has been to silence Mr Broidy by destroying his credibility, damaging his business [and] causing financial harm.”

Although Qatar is mentioned throughout the 82-page lawsuit, Broidy is not suing the country but rather three of its lobbyists and former lobbyists. Qatar and the lobbyists have denied the accusations.

Qatar’s campaign to discredit Broidy purportedly began in late 2017 after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arabian Gulf countries severed ties with Doha and imposed an economic boycott for its suspected ties to extremist groups and Iran. Broidy was viewed as having influenced Trump to publicly criticise Qatar when the blockade began in June 2017. Trump later moderated his criticism.

The Qatari alleged effort to discredit Broidy was successful. Reporters for leading US news outlets used hacked e-mail to report that Broidy paid $1.6 million to a former model for Playboy magazine who said she became pregnant by Broidy, who is married to another woman. The revelations led Broidy to resign from the Republican National Committee.

Broidy has tried to place blame on Qatar with a series of lawsuits against the country, its lobbyists and other officials. In one lawsuit, Broidy accused a former high-ranking UN official of receiving millions of dollars from Qatar to orchestrate the smear campaign. In December, a US judge dismissed the lawsuit, which named Jamal Benomar, a former UN special envoy to Yemen.

Broidy’s latest lawsuit echoes his earlier complaints but adds new credibility by recounting hundreds of conversations Qatari lobbyists had with journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press.

One lobbyist, Gregory Howard, had more than 200 phone calls with journalists from January-May last year when they were reporting stories about Broidy and his hacked e-mail, the lawsuit says.

“Howard’s phone records show that he orchestrated a sophisticated media and distribution campaign… to place information illegally obtained from the hacking in the hands of journalists, media organisations and public relations professionals,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit revealed messages that two lobbyists for Qatar — Nicolas Muzin and Joseph Allaham — exchanged in January 2018 when reporters began digging into Broidy’s e-mails. “It’s very good,” Muzin wrote to Allaham, his partner in a lobbying firm. “We got the press going after Broidy.”

The lawsuit makes the unsubstantiated claim that Qatar helped hack e-mails of more than 1,000 people worldwide, including senior US political officials, European defence leaders, FIFA football stars and Indian movie actors. Broidy “uncovered the identities of other targets” through computer records, the lawsuit says. The claim does not name the “other targets” or explain why Qatar would have hacked their e-mail accounts.

Although Broidy’s lawsuit covers familiar territory, it takes the unusual step of claiming that Qatari lobbyists violated a law usually used to prosecute organised crime. The law, called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act — better known as RICO — has been used to prosecute leaders of organised criminal gangs for crimes they ordered subordinates to do. Broidy’s lawsuit says the lobbyists who smeared him were part of a “criminal enterprise” of “seemingly legitimate institutions” that engaged in racketeering.

Thomas Frank is a correspondent in Washington.

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