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An Operative With Trump Ties Was Once Indicted on an Obscenity Charge

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Updated at 8:26 p.m. on March 8, 2018

A political operative who frequented the White House in the early days of President Trump’s administration, George Nader, was indicted in 1985 on charges of importing to the United States obscene material, including photos of nude boys “engaged in a variety of sexual acts,” according to publicly available court records. Nader pleaded not guilty, and the charges against him were ultimately dismissed several months after evidence seized from Nader’s home was thrown out on procedural grounds. “Mr. Nader vigorously denies the allegations now, as he did then,” a lawyer representing Nader said.

Nevertheless, the indictment raises questions about what the White House knew, if anything, about Nader’s past while senior officials were meeting with him. The Trump administration is already under fire for failures to vet members of the president’s inner circle. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nader’s name has surfaced in recent days with reports that he is a cooperating witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation.  

The Secret Service runs a check on every White House visitor, said Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national-security law. “It’s just due diligence on the part of the White House to do a simple search,” he said. That includes a check of criminal databases. “I’d be very surprised if they didn’t know,” Zaid said.

“This appears to be a federal criminal record and the charge was a felony charge,” said Laura Terrell, a lawyer who works with clients in the national-security community and advises on background investigations. The decision on whether to grant a person entry is ultimately up to White House lawyers or the chief of staff, Terrell said. “That said, this charge was in 1985, and given that date—when many records were not electronic—there is also the possibility [officials] didn’t have the information,” she noted. Neither the White House nor the Secret Service immediately returned a request for comment.

Reports that Nader is now involved in the special counsel’s investigation add a new dimension to the Russia scandal that continues to plague the presidency. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Nader—a 58-year-old businessman and close adviser to the effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan—is now a cooperating witness in Mueller’s inquiry.

Nader often visited the White House in the months after Trump was inaugurated, Axios reported earlier this year. On January 17, he was en route to Trump’s Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, to celebrate the anniversary of the inauguration when he was served a grand-jury subpoena at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C.

Nader, an influential yet under-the-radar operative who edited a foreign-policy magazine in the 1990s, had “remarkable access to key political and business leaders throughout” the Middle East, former West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall said in 1996, according to a Congressional Record transcript of his remarks. In May 1987, for example, Nader described a meeting he had attended with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, along with “leaders of the Afghan mujahedin, some senior officials of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, and some Islamic fundamentalists from Egypt.”

Nader seemed to consider himself a mediator. In May 2001, for example, Nader and his deputy at Middle East Insight, Jonathan Kessler, “practiced a little private diplomacy” by inviting Arab American businessmen to meet with the then-prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, at the home of former Bill Clinton adviser Mark Penn. Penn described the gathering as “prospecting for peace on the Potomac.” Republican Representative Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American, was among the guests. The magazine ceased publication in 2002.

The White House has come under scrutiny in recent weeks over interim-security clearances granted to high-level administration officials despite entanglements or allegations that could make them vulnerable to blackmail. Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary, was recently accused by two ex-wives of domestic abuse. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had his interim clearance revoked late last month.

The charges filed against Nader in 1985 have not been publicly reported. But they were also not a secret. One source, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, described wanting to warn a former boss, a top Arab official, to “keep his kids away from Nader,” who would pay occasional visits to the official’s D.C. residence earlier this decade. “I was told about the charges by a friend of his,” this person said. “But I never obtained the docket so I couldn’t prove it. It wasn’t a well-kept secret, though.”

There’s little known about Nader’s recent visits to the White House. The Times reported that Nader has been questioned about his meetings there with Kushner and Stephen Bannon, a former Trump adviser. Bannon did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Nader’s reported ties to Kushner raise additional questions related to the Mueller probe. Kushner’s communications with the Emiratis are now under scrutiny as part of a broader investigation into whether any policies Kushner promoted were influenced by his business interests. Mueller’s investigators are now examining whether the United Arab Emirates funneled money into Trump’s campaign in return for political influence—an inquiry that could make Nader, who one person with knowledge of their relationship described as the crown prince’s “messenger,” a valuable witness.

According to federal court documents, the charges brought against Nader in 1985 stemmed from a package delivered to his company, International Insight. The package, which was opened by a U.S. Customs inspector on suspicion that it had been imported illegally, contained two pictures and two magazines that depicted nude boys, according to the court ruling. It also included a film, four magazines, and an advertisement, materials that “depicted nude boys engaged in a variety of sexual acts.” The Customs inspectors soon obtained a search warrant for Nader’s home to seize both the materials in the package as well as any “other photographs, magazines, writings and documents which are evidence of violations of” two federal obscenity laws.

The government argued that the search was justified because Nader, “a suspected pedophile, was likely to seek to contact children.” But, 18 months later, the court ruled that the latter part of the warrant was impermissibly general, and threw out additional evidence that had been seized from his home. The evidence that was discarded included material that was described in the court ruling as obscene.

“The allegations were made over 30 years ago, and they did not even make it past a preliminary stage,” Nader’s lawyer said. “The court found that Mr. Nader’s constitutional rights had been flagrantly violated, and the case was thrown out in its entirety before trial.”

A docket for the case shows that the charges against Nader were ultimately dismissed on the eve of his trial. The lead prosecutor on the case declined to comment.

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