Donald Trump Jr met with an emissary for foreign governments seeking to help his father’s presidential campaign three months before the 2016 election, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Citing several anonymous sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Times said Trump Jr met at Trump Tower on 3 August 2016 with an emissary for the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Also present, the paper said, were an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, Joel Zamel, and Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater.
Zamel represented a firm that employed several Israeli former intelligence officers and specialized in data collection and social media persuasion. At the time of the meeting, the Times stated, “the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr Trump”.
The meeting, which the Times said was facilitated by Prince, is the first evidence that countries other than Russia sought to influence the US election in favor of Donald Trump.
The US intelligence community and the Senate judiciary committee agree that Russian election interference aimed to help Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating that interference and alleged links between Trump aides and Moscow. Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and called the investigation a “witch-hunt”.
During the Trump Tower meeting, the Times said, George Nader, the emissary for the two crown princes, indicated that leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE wished to help Trump. Nader, the Times said, is now cooperating with Mueller.
Under US law, the involvement of foreign governments or individuals in American elections is illegal.
It is not known if anything came of the alleged offer for assistance. The Times stated that Trump Jr responded “approvingly”.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr, told the Times: “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.”
A lawyer for Zamel told the Times neither he, “nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the US election campaign”. The lawyer also said Zamel had “provided full cooperation to the government to assist with their investigation”.
The paper said Prince declined to comment. It quoted a lawyer for Nader as saying he had “fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so”. The report cited “a senior official in Saudi Arabia” who it said denied Nader had ever been authorized to speak for the Saudi government.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
The allegations will bring further scrutiny to Trump Jr’s activities during the campaign. The president’s oldest son emerged as a central figure in the Russia investigation after it was revealed last year that he facilitated a now infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that also involved the Trump aides Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and a group of Russians including a lawyer with links to the Kremlin, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The White House issued a misleading statement about the meeting, claiming it was about adoptions. It was later disclosed that the encounter was arranged when the Russians offered to provide incriminating information about Clinton. Informed of the offer, Trump Jrresponded : “If it’s what you say, I love it”.
The president’s son has said his father was not aware of that Trump Tower meeting. But according to a transcript of his testimony to congressional investigators released this week, Trump Jr was unable to recall if any of three calls he placed to a blocked number before and after the meeting were to his father.
The August meeting reported by the Times was not previously known to the public. Nader became a close ally of Trump officials. He met frequently with Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s first national security adviser.
In November, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the former Russian ambassador to the US. He has been cooperating with the special counsel.
Trump has closely aligned himself with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. His first foreign trip was to Riyadh. Last year, Trump embraced a Saudi-led blockade against Qatar, a key US ally, against the counsel of his foreign policy advisers. Recently, the president withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal – a move championed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
This article provided by NewsEdge.