Former Republican National Committee finance official Elliott Broidy has opened a new front in his legal war with Qatar over his claims the Persian Gulf state orchestrated the hacking and release of his emails in retaliation for his work for rivals in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Broidy’s prior efforts to sue the Qatari government have foundered after the country invoked the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that insulates foreign governments from suits in U.S. courts.
Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Qatar’s immunity. And, in June, the Supreme Court declined to take up the issue.
In another shot at the emirate, Broidy’s attorneys have seized on a suit filed against him in August by an obscure travel company that asserted its Qatar-focused business was damaged by what the firm said was misinformation Broidy spread about Qatari ties to terrorism.
In a legal filing late Thursday, Broidy’s attorneys argue the Delaware-based company — Mosafer — is acting as a front for the Qatari government. Broidy’s team contends that makes the suit a vehicle for him to countersue Qatar over its alleged role in the hacking and distribution of his emails to the media in 2018.
“In an extraordinarily bold abuse of the U.S. legal system, Mosafer, an obscure luggage seller, seeks to stand in the shoes of a foreign government to seek an injunction silencing an effective critic of that government. Mosafer, like the Wizard of Oz, is asking this court to ignore the obvious and ‘pay no attention that man behind the curtain’ — the State of Qatar,” wrote Broidy’s attorneys from law firm McGuireWoods. “This complaint is nothing more that Qatar’s latest attempt to muzzle one of its most outspoken critics. .The disguise is so thin as to be wholly transparent.”
An attorney for Mosafer, Stephen Larson, denied that Mosafer is acting on behalf of the government of Qatar.
“Our client is a private individual whose business and livelihood was negatively affected by the actions of the defendants and the blockade of his home state,” Larson said in an email to POLITICO. “He filed this case purely to get compensated for his huge financial and moral losses. Unfortunately, as per his usual practices, Mr. Broidy is trying to politicize a commercial lawsuit that is filed by a private individual and private business with no political agenda and no connection to any government whatsoever.”
Spokespeople for the Qatari embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While it seems evident that the travel company’s interests are closely aligned with Qatar’s government, Broidy’s new submission contends there is evidence that Mosafer and Qatari officials have been coordinating in an effort to target critics of Qatar.
Broidy’s countersuit points to more than two dozen “John Doe” legal actions Qatar’s official government communications office filed in U.S. courts starting in 2018 in an effort to identify individuals anonymously criticizing the emirate online.
The new court filing alleges that Qatari officials used the litigation to obtain the identities of the companies and a Washington-area communications specialist involved, Matthew Atkinson, then passed that information to Mosafer.
Mosafer’s suit alleges that falsehoods spread by Broidy and others about Qatar’s support for terrorism damaged the firm’s travel business, but Broidy contends there’s little evidence the business actually handles such travel and that travel to Qatar increased during the time period at issue in the suit.
Mosafer’s case claims Broidy is liable for damages in part because he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to register in connection with his work for the United Arab Emirates, which is at odds with Qatar over a variety of issues.
Broidy pleaded guilty last October to conspiring to violate FARA in connection with his work for Malaysian interests. The facts Broidy admitted to in that plea did not include his work for U.A.E. or against Qatar, but the government agreed as part of the deal not to bring charges against him over those issues.
Prosecutors indicated they planned to raise the subject at Broidy’s sentencing, but just before leaving office, former President Donald Trump pardoned the prolific fundraiser and political ally.
The law firm representing Mosafer in the current litigation, Larson LLP, was founded by former Trump National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, who now holds the title of partner emeritus at the firm.
O’Brien is not listed as an attorney of record in the case, which is assigned to Los Angeles-based U.S. District Court Judge Mark Scarsi, a Trump appointee.
A former acting legal adviser at the State Department, Mark Feldman, said the countersuit appears to be an effort to take advantage of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allows judges to override sovereign immunity when a country is already trying to act through what Feldman called an “alter-ego” in U.S. courts.
“It’s a very important precedent,” Feldman said, adding that Broidy likely faces an uphill battle to prove that Mosafer is essentially a front for Qatar. “It sounds very tangled. It also sounds very imaginative and tenuous to me.”