Anybody who’s been paying attention to the twists and turns of the various Russia probes has probably realized by now that, though SOME evidence that’s surfaced in the many leaks and public statements would suggest that Russia did intentionally tried to sabotage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, the notion that Trump actively conspired with the Russians is a fantasy (and even the former assessment isn’t as conclusive as many Americans believe it to be).
While it was never all that solid to begin with, the Russia narrative had mostly unraveled by late summer. Around the same time, leaks about the Mueller probe shed light on a prosecutorial pivot to focus on financial crimes of Trump associates, instances of perjury and whether Trump committed obstruction of justice (something former FBI Director James Comey publicly ruled out while testifying in front of a Congressional committee and millions of viewers) instead of Russia.
The week has barely begun, but already we’ve seen the most conclusive evidence yet about Mueller’s latest pivot: expanding the net of possible conclusion to include the possibility that Trump or members of his inner circle were vulnerable to being bribed of manipulated by foreign powers. So far, this investigation has focused on Russia, Israel and, again today, the United Arab Emirates.
Last week, reports emerged that Trump advisor (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner backed a blockade of Qatar after the Qatari minister of finance refused to invest in 666 Fifth Ave. following a meeting with Kusher’s father last April.
And today, the BBC published a batch of emails outlining an illegal lobbying effort on behalf of the UAE in favor of pushing out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for failing to support the UAE during this summer’s gulf war spat. Many will remember the reports (since proven false) late last year (published by the New York Times, no less) that Tillerson was preparing to resign after the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.
The emails belonged to UAE-linked businessman Elliott Broidy, who said he was hacked by Qatar.
Some of the pressure was exerted during in-person meetings between Broidy and President Donald Trump in October 2017, when Broidy reportedly urged him to sack Mr Tillerson.
In the emails, Broidy calls Tillerson “weak”, a “tower of Jello” and added that “he needs to be slammed.”
Broidy said some of the emails “may have been altered” but didn’t say what, specifically, might’ve been changed.
The UAE is reportedly angry with Tillerson for advising Trump not to get involved during the Gulf state crisis that erupted this summer when Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar, and most of its regional allies followed suit, claiming that Qatar had supported Iran’s efforts to fund terrorism in the region.
In the emails, Broidy calls Qatar “a television station with a country” – alluding to broadcaster Al Jazeera – and says it was doing “nothing positive”.
He said he touted a regional counter-terrorism force being set up by the UAE that his company was involved with, and suggested that the US president “sit down” with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a top UAE military commander.
“I offered that MBZ [the crown prince] is available to come to the US very soon and preferred a quiet meeting in New York or New Jersey. President Trump agreed that a meeting with MBZ was a good idea,” Mr Broidy wrote in an email.
He also said he advised the president on Mr Tillerson – who was “performing poorly and should be fired at a politically convenient time”.
Mr Tillerson had criticised the blockade of Qatar and called for it to be eased, in comments that contrasted with Mr Trump’s support for the move.
Emails between Broidy and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader were also published. Nader, like Broidy, is quickly becoming wrapped up in Mueller’s investigation.
[Broidy] emailed a detailed account of his meeting with the president to George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman with decades of experience serving as an interlocutor between the Middle East and Washington.
Sources familiar with the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, tell the BBC that Mr Nader has become a person of interest and has been questioned in recent weeks.
Investigators questioned Mr Nader and other witnesses on whether there were any efforts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, according to a New York Times report.
Broidy also shared details about a meeting he had with Kushner…
After Mr Broidy criticised Qatar extensively to Mr Kushner, “Jared’s demeanour was very passive and pleasant but he seemed to not want to engage on this issue,” he wrote to Mr Nader.
Kushner Companies – owned by the family of Jared Kushner – is reported to have in April 2017 sought financing from Qatar for its flagship property at 666 5th Avenue, New York.
However, Mr Kushner has maintained that he has had no role in his family’s business since joining the White House last year.
Though Mueller might be hard-pressed to link Broidy and Nader to Russia, the New York Times reported Sunday that the two men are people of interest in Mueller’s probe. According to the NYT, Nader was a “frequent” visitor to the White House last year and in recent weeks, the special prosecutor has started asking witnesses about Nader’s relationship with the president and his role in policy making.
All of this suggests a broader investigation into Trump and his associates’ contacts with foreign officials during the campaign – regardless of whether or not they’re suspected of trying to influence the US election. Nader’s relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, has apparently raised flags at the FBI given the intelligence leaks about discussions had by foreign officials about how they might manipulate Trump son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, and specifically how to use his family businesses’s well-publicized money problems (the company is facing a massive multibillion dollar debt payment on its mortgage for 666 Fifth Ave. next year) as leverage.
Because of these concerns – and several omissions on his initial application – Kushner was recently stripped of his top secret security clearance (though he still has access to all but the most sensitive classified intel). It’s worth noting that the UAE was one of four countries listed in the report about officials trying to manipulate Kushner.
We imagine more details about foreign countries efforts’ to influence the Trump administration will be forthcoming during the coming days. It’s notable that Kushner and Trump’s relationship with Israel has also been a source of controversy – particularly given this week’s visit by Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife to the White House amid a worsening corruption scandal back home.
This would also jibe with the increasing scrutiny of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who, as the Trump Organization’s lawyer, is privy to all of the business’s foreign entanglements – particularly (no surprise here) the stalled Trump Tower Moscow, which is quickly becoming an object of fascination for Mueller.