Who Is George Nader? Mueller Investigating Whether Magazine Editor Helped UAE Buy White House Influence

A "shadowy" Lebanese-American businessman spent decades ingratiating himself with people in power in D.C. and across the Middle East before reportedly surfacing in the special counsel's Russia probe.

George Nader, 58, has been questioned by Robert Mueller's team about his ties to the United Arab Emirates, the New York Times reported Saturday. The special counsel's team is reportedly looking into Nader's ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, and whether the Emiratis tried to buy influence in the Trump White House.

Related: Former Trump aide says Mueller can arrest him for ignoring subpoena

Before he became the latest subject of intrigue relating to Mueller's probe, Nader ran a magazine on Middle East policy and positioned himself as a go-between in Middle East peace negotiations. Interviews with more than two dozen friends and associates of Nader illustrate a mysterious man who by some accounts has for decades quietly aided people in power, or by other accounts is a huckster always looking for a new way in. "He wanted to be a player," Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Program at the Institute of World Affairs, told Newsweek. Nader faded from the public eye in the early 2000s, only resurfacing in the recent reports.

The team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, pictured here during a testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013, has reportedly interviewed George Nader, a mysterious foreign policy expert. Alex Wong/Getty

Nader was born and raised in Lebanon before moving to the United States as a teen. He didn't know any English other than "Hello" and "How are you?" according to a 2000 profile about him in Lebanon's The Daily Star. Nader went on to attend Cleveland State University. But he didn't last: Nader dropped out in 1980, according to a 1981 article, to start International Insight Inc. and a magazine of the same name. It was soon renamed Middle East Insight. The journal sought to "provide a spectrum of views on the Middle East, to enlighten public opinion and to promote better understanding between the American people and the peoples of the Middle East," according to its website.

Middle East Insight became well-known in policy circles, though insiders debate its level of influence and its motivations. At its height, the magazine featured original interviews with U.S. lawmakers including Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and then-Senator Joe Biden. Nader's writers also interviewed world leaders such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and a who's who of Middle Eastern leaders, including Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Nader's conferences appeared on C-SPAN; Then-U.S. Representative Nick Rahall once praised the magazine as "comprehensive, insightful and balanced."

Nader seemed to have a knack for connections. In 1987, he found himself amid Afghan mujahideen, Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists and Hezbollah leaders in the home of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of Iran. Nader was the only Western journalist, and he knew his presence there was unusual. "We were silent, except for those who wept," Nader wrote in an article for The Washington Post three months later. "Each was conscious of the powerful presence of a man who had dramatically changed the history of the last quarter of this century and perhaps beyond."

He developed a reputation as a "shadowy" figure, said Shibley Telhami, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Maryland. "It was hard to know if he had a political agenda, whether this was a political opportunist or whether he was trying to make money," he said. "He wanted to connect with power and clearly reach out to people he thought were power players."

Other times, he would use those connections to offer services. Nader showed up at Israeli government offices, said Nimrod Novik, then the chief adviser on foreign policy to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, dropping names and offering to connect the Israelis with the Syrians and the Lebanese. The offers "never fully materialized," Novik told Newsweek.

But sometimes they did. During the Clinton administration, Nader had connections to people at high levels of both Israeli and Arab governments, which was unusual at the time because of tensions between Israel and Lebanon. "He wanted to put himself as a useful go-between, as a useful carrier of messages, and he did that successfully between Syrians and Israelis," said Hisham Melhem, a columnist for the Lebanese daily An-Nahar and a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Melhem recalled that Nader arranged the first interview between Syria's former foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa and Israeli television.

Multiple efforts to reach Nader for comment by phone and mail were unsuccessful.

In the late 1990s, he helped lead back-channel negotiations between Syria and Israel, Daniel Pipes, a writer and academic known for his controversial views on Islam, wrote in The New Republic in 1999. Nader brought the Syrian views to the table, while Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics company executive and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, brought the Israeli views, according to Pipes. But Nader also had ties to pro-Israel interests: Jonathan Kessler, who worked under Nader as executive editor of Middle East Insight, had come from the lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). (Multiple attempts to reach Kessler, who returned to work at AIPAC, were unsuccessful.)

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on May 15, 2017. George Nader reportedly has advised bin Zayed. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

And then, in the early 2000s, Nader and Middle East Insight disappeared.

"Poof," said Melhem, the Lebanese columnist. "He was gone…. He just disappeared completely without saying goodbye to anybody I know." Associates said they stopped hearing from him or seeing him around Washington. The business license for his company dissolved and his website went offline, its archives with it. There were rumors that he fled the country or moved back to Lebanon. "Last time I heard from him was after the American invasion of Iraq, when he called me from Kurdistan to discuss an article I wrote," Melhem said.

Nader was away for so long that a bank foreclosed on his Washington apartment, according to court records and his lawyer at the time, Carol Blumenthal. A couple bought the apartment through the foreclosure process; Blumenthal said the couple moved in and tossed Nader's stuff to the curb. (Nader took the couple to court in 2003, and eventually won his apartment back. He still owned the unit as of late February, according to property records.)

When he stepped away from the publishing world, Nader appears to have gone deeper into dealmaking.

Nader reportedly tried to leverage his ties to Syrian officials into contacts with the Obama administration, and later became an adviser to bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, the Times reported. The Emirati prince allegedly also met with former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe in December 2016. Bin Zayed allegedly helped coordinate another meeting, between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian national, for the purpose of establishing unofficial lines of communication between the Trump operation and Russia. (In testimony before congressional investigators, Prince denied the allegations.) Prince once hired Nader, the bin Zayed's supposed adviser, as a "business development consultant" in Iraq, the Times reported.

Nader introduced bin Zayed to Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser and the owner of a private security company, according to the Times. Broidy's security company reportedly later signed contracts with the United Arab Emirates. Last October, Broidy provided Nader with a memorandum about a sit-down he had with Trump, during which they discussed Trump's possibly meeting privately with bin Zayed, according to the Times.

All the while, Nader didn't reach out to former colleagues in D.C., who told Newsweek they hadn't heard from him in years. The Times reported that he'd made connections in the George W. Bush and possibly the Obama administrations, but multiple foreign policy advisers from both told Newsweek they had never heard of him.

Nader appeared to have escaped the public eye until the news outlet Axios first reported about his White House visits in January. The report described Nader as an "associate" of Bannon who also met with Kushner. But four people close to Bannon told Newsweek they didn't know about him. A publicist for Bannon did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the White House. A spokesman for Kushner wouldn't comment, and his lawyer did not respond to a request.

But those who knew Nader said any involvement he might have in the current administration did not surprise them. As Novik, the former Israeli adviser, put it, "That's the way he does [it]. He found a new angle."