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Gulf emissary had met Donald Trump Jr with offer to help election campaign

This is the first instance of foreign governments other than of Russia seeking to influence the 2016 election

world Updated: May 20, 2018 12:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Trump election campaign,Donald Trump Jr
A banner featuring an image of US President Donald Trump is seen near a table with official campaign merchandise during a rally in Washington, Michigan, US, on Saturday, April 28, 2018. (Bloomberg)

US president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr had met an emissary of the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with an offer of their help for his father’s presidential campaign three months ahead of elections in 2016, The New York Times has reported.

The meeting took place at Trump Tower, Trump’s home and business and campaign headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, on August 3, 2016.

This is the first instance of foreign governments other than of Russia seeking to influence the 2016 election. And the newspaper reported this meeting was one of the focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign.

The meeting was organized by Erik Prince, a controversial security consultant, and the emissary, George Nader, told Trump Jr that Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the de facto ruler of the UAE, whom he had called “my friends”, had offered to help his father win the election. A third person at the meeting, Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media specialist, had reportedly offered to put together a package for the campaign to shape support for Trump.

The outcome of the meeting was not clear from the report, which, however, noted that Trump Jr had “responded approvingly”.

Nader went on to forge close relationships with other members of Trump’s team such son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner and future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Mueller’s team has interviewed both Nader, who is cooperating with the investigation, and Zamel. FBI agents are reported to have visited Zamel’s firm in Israel and spoken to his employees.

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr told the Times in a statement that “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”.

Trump Jr has been under scrutiny for another Trump Tower meeting in which he and other senior members of the campaign Paul Manafort and Kushner had met a Russian lawyer who had offered political “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, much before WikiLeaks began releasing hacked documents from Democratic party’s computer system.

The Times noted, however, no such evidence had emerged about the August 3 meeting.

Referring to the two crown princes as “my friends”, Nader told Trump Jr they viewed Trump as a strong leader who would fill the vacuum left behind by President Barack Obama and they would be glad to help Trump, the newspaper reported citing persons with knowledge of the meeting.

Once again, it’s not publicly known what transpired after the meeting and how much help was actually extended and accepted, if at all. After taking office, Trump’s first overseas visit was to Riyadh, and threw his support solidly behind Saudi Arabia and UAE in the bitter rivalry against Qatar, which hosts a large American military base, going against the advice of his own defense and state departments.

First Published: May 20, 2018 12:20 IST