In August of 2016, individuals representing business and political interests from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower to discuss efforts to aid the campaign of his father for president. The meeting is the first indication that foreign efforts to interfere in the 2016 election extended beyond the government of Russia’s.
At the meeting, George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman with long ties to Washington told Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help his father become president.
According to Nader, the leaders resented many of President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East, from his nuclear deal with Iran, to his support for the Arab Spring popular uprisings to his passive approach to the Syrian Civil War.
They also strongly opposed Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s general election opponent and former Secretary of State, and hoped for a leader who would take a stronger stance against Iran and politically Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Also at the meeting was Israeli businessman Joel Zamel, founder and leader of Psy-Group, a company that reportedly employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, and specialized in shifting public opinion through social media campaigns.
According to attendees, Psy-Group had already created a multi-million-dollar proposal for a social-media-manipulation campaign to help elect Donald Trump. It is not clear who solicited the proposal or whether it was accepted or acted on.
The meeting was called by Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater. Prince is a staunch supporter of President Trump’s and has also been linked to a meeting in the Seychelles with officials from the UAE, a byproduct of which was a meeting with a Russian businessman who was also in the Seychelles to meet with the Emiratis.
That businessman, Kirill Dmitriev is the head of a wealth fund controlled by the Russian government, and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We are working hard for your father,” Prince reportedly opened the August 2016 meeting by telling Donald Trump Jr, referring to his family, and then introducing Nader. Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education.
Nader has become close with the Trump White House and has lobbied the President hard about the virtues of a private military force made up of contractors being developed for the UAE. The Emiratis, along with other Gulf nations, have become increasingly concerned with aggressive foreign policies from both Iran and their arch-rival Qatar.
Nader reportedly told Trump Jr. that in the Gulf, the elder Trump was seen as a strong leader would fill the power vacuum left by President Obama in the Middle East and that they wanted to support his father as much as they could.
All involved in the meeting deny anything nefarious was discussed or carried out afterward.
“Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it,” Donald Trump Jr.’s lawyer Alan Futerfas told The New York Times.
“Neither Joel Zamel, nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the U.S. election campaign,” said Zamel’s attorney Marc L. Mukasey. “There was a brief meeting, nothing concrete was offered or pitched to anyone and nothing came of it.”
“Mr. Nader has fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so,” Nader’s attorney Kathryn Ruemmler said.
In December 2016 Nader reportedly paid Zamel $2 million for a presentation detailing the impact social media campaigns had on President Trump’s election victory. The payment was made to another of Zamel’s firms, WhiteKnight.
“WhiteKnight delivers premium research and high-end business development services for prestigious clients around the world. WhiteKnight does not talk about any of its clients,” the company said in a statement.
Photo by Hazel Kenady via Flickr