Why you should care
Many wonder whether this convicted pedophile could help connect the dots from Trump Tower to foreign powers.
George Nader wanted a photograph with the president. That would be a challenge for most, but for a longtime shadow diplomat between the Middle East and the United States, it wasn’t such an outlandish request — that is, if he weren’t also a convicted pedophile. And so Nader enlisted the help of Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, who drafted a letter to chief of staff John Kelly.
Nader got his photo op in October, and the Republican National Committee received a $189,000 donation from Broidy a month later. That wasn’t the only peculiarity though. According to emails revealed by The Associated Press this week, the Trump bundler used a telling misnomer to smooth the way for his felonious friend. “One of my companies does deep vetting for the U.S. government,” Broidy reportedly wrote to Kelly. “We ran all databases including FBI and Interpol and found no issues with regard to Mr. Vader.” You read that correctly: Vader.
Though Nader was gone from public life, his influence as an adviser to powerful forces never truly faded.
Darth Vader and Nader, who has emerged as a key witness as Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign extends from Russia to the Persian Gulf, are fitting doppelgängers. It is Nader’s relationship with an emperorlike figure, the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that has drawn Mueller’s interest. And the special counsel has focused in on two meetings Nader helped organize and attended. The first, at Trump Tower, included Donald Trump Jr. and Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater USA and brother to education secretary Betsy DeVos. The second, in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, added Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian financier tied to Vladimir Putin, suggesting the Trump team may have been establishing a back channel to Russia.
At the heart of both meetings? Nader, a 59-year-old Lebanese-American known for his ability to operate in the clouded underworld of the diplomatic community. “He was a very amicable guy. Not particularly impressive, not well-spoken, very awkward in some ways,” says Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor and Brookings Institution senior fellow who knew Nader. “He was not seen as a showman. And frankly, although people were doubtful about his motives, he developed a reputation of being able to deliver.”
Nader moved from Batroun, Lebanon, to the United States as a 15-year-old “with not a word of English,” as he told Lebanon’s Daily Star in a 2000 profile. Yet he quickly showed tantalizing promise. He attended Cleveland State University and started the magazine Middle East Insight at age 20. Publicly, Nader was using his powers for good: He helped craft a deal to free American hostages in Beirut for the George H.W. Bush administration following the Iran-Contra affair, and he tried to broker an Israeli-Syrian peace deal that ultimately fell apart under the Clinton administration. His work earned him a tribute from the halls of Congress. “Because of his reputation for fairness and his remarkable access to key political and business leaders throughout the region, Nader has produced a magazine of distinction and high quality,” Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia said from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
But beneath the surface, there was an undeniable dark side. In 2002, his publication ceased operations, the business dissolved and the website vanished. “And he just disappeared,” says Telhami, who briefly worked as a contributing editor at the magazine before it closed. “We had no idea what happened to him.” The reasons — a series of criminal charges unearthed this year by The Associated Press and Politico — are clearer now. A 1985 count of receiving underage sex films from the Netherlands was dismissed due to an invalid search warrant. Then came a federal charge of transporting German underage porn tapes in 1991 that led to a six-month sentence in Virginia. Finally, a conviction on 10 cases of sexually abusing underage boys in the Czech Republic that led to a one-year prison sentence in 2002.
Though Nader was gone from public life, his influence as an adviser to powerful forces never truly faded. As a magazine editor, Nader interviewed everyone from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. His Syrian relationships led to Israeli ones during the peace process, and also tied Nader to Ronald Lauder — now the Trump-praising president of the World Jewish Congress who has long held close ties to Benjamin Netanyahu. Nader also spent time in Baghdad during the Iraq War, hired by Prince to help secure contracts with the Iraqi government.
Nader emerged again in the 2016 election as an adviser to the UAE, with reports showing he worked with Trump fundraiser Broidy on a number of schemes — from trying to secure an anti-Qatar law in Congress to efforts to create an all-Muslim fighting force in Yemen with America’s help. “To a certain extent, it’s the Emirates getting in over their head and playing in arenas they probably shouldn’t,” says former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, director of the Middle East Institute.
But the same could be said for Nader, who was picked up by a team of FBI agents in January. Could cooperating with Mueller turn out to be Nader’s own turn to the light? Perhaps. But his motives, at this point, are impossible to discern. “What’s driving the guy?” asks Telhami. “Is it money? Or is he working for someone? That’s never been clear, and it’s still not clear.”