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Qatar’s Efforts to Influence American Jews Continue to Unravel

As a new lawsuit draws attention to lobbyists, one key advisor ends his relationships with the Gulf state

Armin Rosen
June 13, 2018
Photo: Twitter
Nick Muzin (second from left), with Victoria Coates and Ted Cruz at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018.Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter
Nick Muzin (second from left), with Victoria Coates and Ted Cruz at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018.Photo: Twitter

On Wednesday, Nick Muzin, the political strategist and former senior staffer for Republican Senators Tim Scott and Ted Cruz whom Qatar hired to help improve the gulf kingdom’s reputation in the U.S. Jewish community, announced that his work on behalf of his most controversial client had come to an end. “Stonington Strategies is no longer representing the State of Qatar,” Muzin tweeted. “I am proud of the work we did to foster peaceful dialogue in the Middle East, to increase Qatar’s defense and economic ties with the United States, and to expand humanitarian support of Gaza.” According to FARA disclosures, the Qatar contract was worth $300,000 a month for Muzin’s consulting firm.

Muzin’s tweet concluded a tumultuous nine months representing Doha. In September of last year, Muzin largely failed in attempts to facilitate public meetings between U.S. Jewish communal figures and high-ranking Qatari officials during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. He was more successful in quietly mediating between the Qataris and American activists concerned over Al Jazeera’s potential release of video that a British national named Anthony Kleinfeld collected while infiltrating Jewish and pro-Israel groups in Washington over the summer of 2016 (the documentary still hasn’t been released yet, and the editor who oversaw the project has taken a sabbatical from the network). In November and December of 2017, Mort Klein, Alan Dershowitz, prominent Orthodox Rabbi Menachem Genack, and Religious Zionists of America President Martin Oliner, traveled to Doha on trips that Muzin helped organize. Although Klein and Dershowitz both told Tablet this past February that they went to Qatar partly confront the country’s leaders over their alleged support for Hamas and other terror groups, the trips were still proof that some of the most pro-Israel voices in America were willing to visit the country.

Given the circumstances, Muzin’s tweet is likely to mark the end of Qatar’s latest efforts to court American Jews. Muzin is currently one of the defendants in a lawsuit that Elliott Broidy, a businessman, major Republican donor, and critic of Qatar brought against Qatar, Muzin, and various other defendants. Broidy alleges that Muzin participated in the dissemination of emails that Qatari-hired hackers unlawfully obtained and had operational knowledge of the hack. The hacked emails formed the basis of stories in the Associated Press and The New York Times purportedly documenting Broidy’s behind-the-scenes advocacy with the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, a regional opponent of Qatar’s where Broidy has business interests.

In an amended complaint filed on May 24th, Broidy’s legal team claims that Muzin “exhibited inside knowledge of the attacks on Plaintiffs, and disclosed foreknowledge of future attacks to at least one other potential victim to warn him against taking public positions adverse to the State of Qatar;” it also alleges Muzin’s “company (Defendant Stonington) was among the vehicles used by the State of Qatar to funnel funds to others involved in the attack.” Broidy’s lawyers have already raised concerns that Muzin and Qatar are ending their relationship in order to complicate the lawsuit’s ongoing discovery process. In Muzin’s contract with Qatar, he pledges he “will not use confidential information for any purpose other than performance of this Agreement, and…will return the information upon request.” That contract provision could provide a rationale for Muzin returning documents to the Qatari embassy in Washington, where they would be beyond the court’s subpoena power.

So far, Qatar, Muzin, and others related to the Broidy lawsuit have been cagey about relinquishing documents. In a June 4th memorandum in support of a motion to stay discovery, Muzin’s lawyers claimed that the defendant and his company were entitled to “derivative sovereign immunity” and to “immunity as diplomatic agents of Qatar.” Even though he’s a US citizen, and Stonington Strategies is a US entity, Muzin believes he should be protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which shields foreign governments from certain US legal exposure.

Muzin’s argument was echoed in the State of Qatar’s own motion to stay discovery, also filed on June 4th. “Plaintiffs’ already-served discovery seeks sensitive materials exchanged between a sovereign government and its agents regarding matters of foreign policy,” Qatar’s lawyers write. “For example, two of the first document requests to Defendants Muzin and Stonington Strategies are for ‘[a]ny and all documents concerning or constituting Communications with any person regarding Your retention by Defendant State of Qatar’” and ‘Communications regarding Plaintiffs with Defendant the State of Qatar or with its officials, agents, or any persons acting on its behalf.’” Joey Allaham, a businessman and former kosher restaurateur who helped connect Muzin to his eventual Qatari clients and who is not a defendant in the Broidy lawsuit, was “directed to comply with the subpoena within 72 hours” by the court on June 6th.

It’s legitimate to use any permissible tactic to avoid having to share sensitive personal information with one’s legal adversaries. Still, the Broidy lawsuit is subjecting Qatar’s outreach campaign to the Jewish community to unprecedented public scrutiny (After all, journalists do not have subpoena power). The Broidy case threatens to reveal the architecture of Qatar’s influence operation in the United States—as well as how American Jews factored into it.

The disclosures are already coming. On Thursday, Allaham claimed to Politico that he was decisively breaking with Qatar, saying the government “enjoys portraying themselves as the purveyor of peace in the region, but this could not be further from the truth.” More importantly, he told the publication that he planned on making a retroactive Foreign Agents Registration Act disclosure with the Department of Justice about his various efforts on Qatar’s behalf, raising the possibility that he was working as an undeclared Qatari agent during the period of Doha’s attempted outreach to the US Jewish community. The next day, Qatar’s legal team wrote a letter to judge Katherine Forrest, who is presiding over the case, asking to review whatever documents Allaham turned over as a result of her June 6th order that Allaham comply with an earlier subpoena. According to the letter, the review was necessary in order to “protect diplomatic documents” that might have ended up in Allaham’s possession. Startlingly, the letter acknowledges that Allaham “was subcontracted by Nicolas Muzin in connection with Muzin’s retention by the Qatari Embassy for diplomatic outreach.” Allaham’s name appears nowhere in Muzin’s various FARA disclosures, meaning Qatar’s lawyers are now claiming one of the country’s own lobbyists wasn’t being entirely transparent with the Department of Justice.

All of the defendants, including Muzin, disputes the substance of Broidy’s lawsuit, claiming that the case is an attempt to distract from the substance of the emails themselves. “Movant Elliott Broidy currently faces legal scrutiny over his lobbying activities on behalf of various Middle East nations with which he does business,” the Qatari legal team’s letter reads. “In response to this scrutiny, Broidy concocted a conspiracy theory in which the State of Qatar allegedly masterminded a global network of operatives and ex-CIA agents to hack and publicize Broidy’s e-mails.”

When Allaham was reached for comment, he directed Tablet to his assistant, Emma Hitchcock, who issued a statement on his behalf: “When I started my work with Qatar, there was no fixed start date, no written contract, and their attorneys never told me whether I had to register with FARA. So I don’t know if I ever was a so-called legal agent of Qatar, but I do know that as of Friday I am not anything with them. So I am filing a combined FARA registration and termination report–it may not be required but I want the public record to be clear that I am no longer affiliated with them.”

The fact that Allaham spoke with Politico just 48 hours before the deadline to comply with the Broidy team’s subpoena could be happenstance. In the statement Hitchcock sent to Tablet, Allaham claims as much: “The Broidy case and ending my work for Qatar are not related. I had planned for a while on announcing my resignation this Friday. The Broidy case sped up faster than a lot of people thought, so it’s a coincidence the two things are happening in the same week.” But it’s just as possible that there are more revelations on tap about Allaham’s work with Qatar—and about Muzin’s. For instance, phone records revealed during the discovery process showed over 1,000 calls between Allaham and Klein’s numbers during a year-long period ending in mid-May; phone records also show 36 calls between Muzin’s number and Klein’s home phone number, along with roughly 100 calls and texts between the two men’s cell phones over a 9-month period ending in May (When asked to comment, Hitchcock replied that Mr. Allaham and Mr. Klein are “old friends who speak regularly on a variety of topics”).

On June 6th, Klein released a lengthy statement explaining his rationale for traveling to Qatar before decrying the country’s “alarming steps backward.” Klein told Tablet he wrote the statement because of developments over the past week, including an honor given to the Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Al-Jazeera’s coverage of violence at Israel’s border with Gaza, which he described as “almost Nazi-ike in promoting the murder of Jews.” When Tablet asked about the timing of the statement and why he thought these developments represented such a significant change in behavior on Qatar’s part, Klein replied, “What does that have to do with it? Why are you asking stupid questions?,” and said, “I’m not going to answer questions that don’t make any sense.” He added that he didn’t learn that Qatar and Muzin parted ways until earlier on Thursday. He declined to discuss his relationship with Allaham. When asked about the call records showing how frequently they had spoken, Klein said, “I don’t discuss things that have to do with legal cases.” When asked if he had in fact talked to Allaham 1,000 times over a year-long period he replied, “Really, what’s wrong with you? I just told you i’m not discussing anything that concerns that case.”

Phone records also indicate that Muzin spoke with Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a Qatari who carried a diplomatic passport identifying him as a “consul general” throughout 2017 and a defendant in the Broidy case, over a dozen times in June of 2017—a few months before Muzin began his work on behalf of the emirate. According to the amended complaint filed last month, Al-Rumaihi, who until 2016 was head of a $100 billion subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, “worked with unregistered Qatari agent Joey Allaham to identify Defendants Muzin and Stonington to assist in the State of Qatar’s campaign to influence the Jewish community in the United States.”

Two sources confirmed to Tablet that Rumaihi presented his diplomatic passport as his primary form of identification to business partners on the West Coast later that year. Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s media attached in Washington, said in a May 16th statement that “Since March 2017, Mr. Al-Rumaihi has not represented the State of Qatar in official matters.” Still, Rumaihi was listed as a “C/O” on the Qatari government’s June 2017 lobbying contract with a law firm owned by former attorney General John Ashcroft.

A spokesperson for Sport Trinity, Rumaihi’s current company, said that “Mr. Al-Rumaihi is a private citizen and he does not have a role with the government. The fact that the passport he got when he worked as consul general has not expired yet is not notable. You are not required to return diplomatic passports when you stop carrying the title. You can remain in possession of them after you leave the position.”

Rumaihi, who met with transition officials in Trump Tower in December of 2016 is a crucial figure in Broidy’s case against Qatar and Muzin. In the amended complaint, Broidy’s lawyers claim Rumaihi was part of an “unlawful conspiracy” to target their client, and acted as an “architect” of efforts to discredit American critics of his country. Rumaihi strategically built contacts throughout the US Jewish community: He was present at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual gala in November of 2017, and was spotted at an AIPAC event in Los Angeles in January of this year. Some of his other outreach efforts were more fanciful: Rumaihi was an investor in the Big 3, a 3-on-3 basketball league co-founded by the rapper Ice Cube. One of Rumaihi’s business cards included the Big 3 logo and listed him as a “director” of the league.

The Big 3 insinuated a former Qatari diplomat within a business endeavor that involved athletes, musicians, and other American celebrities. Rumaihi had recognized the messaging potential in something that would appear to be totally apolitical and disconnected from any overt Qatari interests. Doha’s Jewish outreach campaign isn’t all that different. Few would accuse Qatar of being especially close with Israel, and its foreign policy is less aligned with the Jewish state’s than the UAE or Saudi Arabia’s, two countries that imposed a blockade on Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood last year. Muzin’s work shows that Doha believed it could use supporters of Israel to advance its interests without meaningfully changing any of the emirate’s policies. Thanks to Muzin’s efforts—and perhaps because of the constant threat of Qatari state media revealing undercover footage of the Washington pro-Israel world—the project seemed to pay off for a time.

But the Big 3 echoes Qatar’s efforts with American Jews for another reason. Rumaihi’s basketball investment ended in an April lawsuit that Ice Cube and league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz filed against Rumaihi and other Qatari investors, alleging that the Qataris stiffed them on several million in promised funding and that Rumaihi was using his participation in the league in an attempt to bribe former White House advisor Steve Bannon. According to the Broidy lawsuit, Muzin wasn’t just advancing Qatar’s case in the American political sphere, but helping coordinate a hack on one of Doha’s loudest US critics, and then using leading US media outlets to boost the attack’s impact. Allaham, meanwhile, wasn’t merely a business and social fixer with high-powered Qataris in his network, but someone engaged in undisclosed “diplomatic outreach” on behalf of a foreign government. (When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Rumaihi told Tablet that “The allegations in the Broidy complaint related to Mr. Ahmed Al-Rumaihi are false.”)

In each instance, pro-Qatar forces, including the ones most eager to influence US Jews, are alleged to have skirted the boundaries of normative public advocacy. Even if Broidy’s lawsuit turns out to be unfounded, as the case progresses we’re likely to learn more about how and why Qatar’s Jewish outreach took place.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.