In a desperate attempt to curry favor with President Trump, the Middle Eastern kingdom of Qatar is withholding possibly damaging information about what is believed to have been a Trump administration back-channel attempt to connect to Russia – which is now the subject of an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
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“Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings,” reported NBC News, “but decided not to give the information to special counsel Robert Mueller for fear of harming relations with the Trump administration, say three sources familiar with the Qatari discussions.
At issue is a secret meeting held in the Seychelles Islands in January 2017, a week before Trump’s inauguration, at which officials of the United Arab Emigres (UAE) met with two businessmen, Lebanese American George Nader and Beverly Hills businessman Elliot Brody, who was a top fundraiser for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The meeting also included Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security company which used to be called Blackwater. who told a Congressional committee and reporters that they were there to discuss business issues with the UAE.
Prince testified to the House Intelligence Committee that at the end of the meeting with the UAE, one of their entourage suggested they go meet with a Russian who was also there for talks with the UAE delegation, Kirill Dmitriev, who is head of a Russian government-controlled wealth fund.
Prince, reported The Washington Post, said they went to the hotel bar, drank beer and spoke for half an hour about oil and gas commodity prices, and Russia’s desire to resume normal trade with the U.S.
“I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joesph Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism,” Prince told the lawmakers, “then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.”
Mueller, however, has heard from another source that the meeting with the Russain all part of a larger plan.
“A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the two countries, according to people familiar with the matter,” reported The Washington Post.
Mueller’s investigators now “suspect that the Seychelles meeting may have been one of the first efforts to establish such a line of communication between the two governments,” The Washington Post also reported, adding it is not “the only evidence about what happened in the Seychelles.”
Brody, who has denied any wrong-doing, is one of the key hosts of a $35,000-per-person dinner tonight in Beverly Hills to raise money for Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign – marking the president’s first visit to California since he took office.
Nader was intercepted at Dulles Airport near Washington in January 2018 when he returned from an overseas trip and was taken into custody, and interviewed by Mueller and his team. Nader is now said to be cooperating with Mueller.
Nader testified before the Grand Jury called by Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“According to sources,” reported NBC News, “the officials have information they claim details Nader’s involvement in a December 2016 meeting that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahaj of the UAE had with Trump officials at Trump Tower, including Kushner, incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn, and incoming chief strategist Steve Bannon.”
Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller and Bannon has been interviewed by Muller and by some accounts will not be cooperating in his investigation as well.
That December meeting was a surprise to the Obama administration when it showed up in intelligence reports because it violated protocol which requires the Prince to notify them when he is in the U.S.
The meeting may have influenced Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner to later side with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt against Qatar claiming it cooperated with terrorists in a dispute which has resulted in a devastating economic and transportation boycott of the Persian Gulf nation.
There has also been reporting Kushner turned on the UAE after they refused to provide funding for his failing real estate deal in New York City.
Qatari officials believe Trump backed a blockade of Qatar as a form of "retaliation"….because Kushner real estate negotiations with Qatari investors had recently fallen apart: https://t.co/vZ84db7QZz
— Alex Wagner (@alexwagner) March 12, 2018
Earlier this year Qatar officials came to Washington and considered spilling what they knew to Mueller but decided against it, reports NBC News, because they believe it was a factor in turning Trump against Qatar prior to the Saudi Arabia visit, and that sharing the information now might only make Trump even more upset with them at a time they are trying to once again curry his favor.
While in the U.S. the Qatar delegation did meet with Trump administration officials. After the meeting, they felt the meeting had been productive and made a final determination not to talk to Mueller.
They also met with Chris Wray, the head of the FBI, but did not share their intelligence with him.
So as Trump sit down to dinner with Brody tonight in Beverly Hills, they may have a lot to discuss, and a shared interest in not going public with much of what they know.
The problem for them is that Mueller has other sources who are telling him what happened and who did what when, and all of that could come back to cause trouble for both Trump and Brody, as well as Kushner and others.
Qatar may think they control this valuable information and that it will help them convince Trump to call off Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, but this is the murky Middle East and the secretive Mueller investigation and things are never going to be that simple and neat for any of them.