A current State Department official helped a top fundraiser for Donald Trump arrange meetings with U.S. senators and Angolan officials in early 2017, according to emails obtained by ProPublica. Neither the official nor the fundraiser registered as a foreign agent.
Aryeh Lightstone helped plan the January 2017 meetings with U.S. senators, high-ranking Angolan government officials and the Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, the emails show. Several months later, Lightstone was appointed by the Trump administration to a top position in the U.S. Embassy in Israel. The involvement of a now-sitting Trump administration official in Broidy’s work has not previously been reported.
Broidy has since been embroiled in scandal, stepping down from his Republican National Committee deputy finance chair post after the revelation that he agreed to pay $1.6 million in a settlement with a Playboy model he reportedly impregnated. (Broidy has said it was just to help her financially, and he stopped paying her after the arrangement became public.)
The Washington Post reported in August that the Justice Department is investigating whether Broidy “sought to sell his influence with the Trump administration by offering to deliver U.S. government actions for foreign officials.” Several news outlets have also reported that Broidy worked for or sought to do business with a Malaysian financier and the United Arab Emirates. (Learn more about Broidy in this “Trump, Inc.” podcast episode.)
Some legal experts argue that Lightstone and Broidy should have registered with the government for the Angolan meetings, though representatives for both dispute that. Work for foreign governments must be publicly reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people conducting business with foreign countries for political purposes to disclose and periodically report details of that work.
“Arranging meetings between a foreign government and U.S. government officials to discuss the foreign policy of the U.S. vis-à-vis a foreign government or to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and the foreign county would in my view count as political activities requiring registration,” said Joshua Rosenstein, a FARA specialist at the law firm Sandler Reiff.
For years, the foreign agents law was sparsely enforced. Recently, the Justice Department has pursued high-profile prosecutions based on the law, most notably of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was paid millions to represent a Ukrainian political party.
Broidy’s attorney said in a statement he “has never done any work, in relation to Angola or otherwise, that would require registration under FARA.” He declined to comment on the Post report of a Justice Department investigation, calling it a “rumor.”
In a statement, Lightstone said he “never worked for or received any compensation from Elliott Broidy, Threat Deterrence, or Circinus,” referring to Broidy’s companies. The statement added that Lightstone “has never engaged in activity that would require him to register under FARA.” The State Department declined to comment.
In January 2017, Angola paid Broidy’s company $6 million for intelligence services, according to the emails and Broidy’s lawyer. The Angolan defense and intelligence minister were in Washington and were “looking forward to fostering a closer relationship with the United States and the Trump Administration,” Broidy’s assistant said in a Jan. 15, 2017, email to an aide for Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
The emails show that Lightstone helped plan the meetings with Cotton and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; the Angolan officials; and Broidy. In one email to Broidy under the subject line “Contacts & next steps,” Lightstone lists several senators and advice for how to approach them.
“Cotton – ideal lunch in Senate dining room,” Lightstone wrote. “My gut is if we can lock in these Senators we have a good showing – plus the group you have on the house side [sic].” He added, “Please advise if I am looking to do anything else?”
In his statement, Broidy’s attorney described the meetings as “simply handshake opportunities and purely introductory in nature” and added that “no substantive matters of any kind were discussed. There certainly were no policy-related discussions.”
In July 2017, several months after Lightstone helped arrange the meetings for the Angolans, he was appointed to the Israel Embassy post. He is now considered one of the most influential people in the embassy as a top aide to Ambassador David Friedman. Lightstone’s connection to Broidy has not been previously reported.
Lightstone and Broidy have long been friends and fixtures in pro-Israel advocacy circles. They co-hosted fundraisers focused on pro-Israel advocacy in the 2016 election cycle for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Lightstone also owns a stake in Broidy’s company, Threat Deterrence Capital LLC, as ProPublica previously reported.
Angola, which is a major oil producer, has military and economic interests with the U.S. government. In May 2017 Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signed a memorandum of understanding with the Angolan defense minister to “enhance the security cooperation” between the U.S. and Angola. That was the same official, João Lourenço, for whom Lightstone helped arranged meetings with U.S. senators. Lourenço is now president of the country.
Broidy’s attorney, Chris Clark of Latham & Watkins, described the emails about Broidy’s dealings with the Angolans as “stolen and likely doctored.” He declined to give specific examples of any emails that had been altered. Broidy this year sued Qatar and several people accusing them of hacking his emails to retaliate against him for working for one of Qatar’s regional rivals, the United Arab Emirates. Qatar has denied the allegations.
The embassy of Angola and the offices of Cotton and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.