Qatar is pushing back against requests for documents that a Trump ally says would show the Gulf nation hacked his private emails and shared them with the press.
Elliot Broidy, a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump, is suing Qatar and lobbyists working on its behalf after the publication of his personal emails revealed his business ties to the United Arab Emirates, as well as his $1.6 million payment to a Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.
Broidy is also suing an international security firm and two former Western intelligence officials who help run it, accusing them of “helping to coordinate” the hacks.
The FBI is reportedly investigating the hacks into the Trump ally’s email account.
Broidy’s lawsuits and the news stories that generated his allegations are raising questions about US jurisdiction in international civil cybercrime cases. They also touch on a possible thread of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which is looking into foreign influence around some top Trump officials – though there’s no evidence Broidy himself is a target.
Accusations of a “fishing expedition”
The leaked emails have also drawn attention to foreign lobbying laws and the government’s historically loose standards for enforcing them. Broidy, though not a lobbyist, has advised administration officials on Middle Eastern affairs and been a harsh public critic of Qatar and its alleged support for terrorism.
In two new court filings in the Central District of California, attorneys for Qatar and its lobbyist Nicolas Muzin argue that Broidy is on a “fishing expedition” for information about sensitive government business to embarrass Qatar.
The attorneys argue that Broidy hasn’t demonstrated sufficient evidence that Qatar orchestrated the hack and say that Qatar and its registered agents may not be subject to the California court’s jurisdiction.
According to the filing, Qatar plans on seeking a dismissal of the case by proving its immunity.
“A foreign nation’s diplomatic and political affairs is an inherently sensitive realm, which should not be lightly intruded upon by courts,” Mitchell Kamin, of the firm Covington & Burling, said in a filing with Qatar’s other attorneys.
Attorneys for Qatar, in the latest filing, argue that Broidy’s forensics experts have not done enough to connect the government of Qatar to the hacks, using only an IP address in Doha as the source of the criminal activity.
Weaponizing the discovery process
The rules of the road in cyberspace are not well defined across the public and private sectors, leaving private citizens in a difficult position if they believe their reputation has been damaged by a shadowy foreign entity hiding behind computer screens. Proving a specific person or nation-state is behind a cyber-attack can be incredibly difficult to do definitively.
Representatives of the Gulf monarchy also went on the offensive, arguing Broidy was weaponizing the discovery process to damage the defendants.
Attorneys for Muzin and his company Stonington Strategies, named by Broidy as one of the parties that helped facilitate the hacking and dissemination of his emails to the press, said on Monday in a second filing that Broidy is engaging in a “public relations stunt” with the aim of damaging Muzin’s reputation.
Muzin’s attorneys also expressed frustration that his private phone records were leaked to the media. Muzin turned his records over during discovery. His attorneys argued that Broidy or his team gave those records to “friendly reporters” for “the sole purpose of publishing additional hit pieces.”
BuzzFeed News published a news story last week revealing Broidy had obtained Muzin’s phone records, but cited Broidy’s latest public court filing rather than information provided by anonymous sources.
A representative for Broidy told CNN that he denies the allegation that he leaked any documents related to Muzin obtained during discovery.