The Trump crime family cashes in before the Special Counsel closes in

Most of you are already familiar with the three emoluments clause cases filed against Donald Trump for profiting off of foreign governments at his properties as president.

The first case filed by the ethics group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) was dismissed for lack of standing, but that case is currently on appeal.

In the second case brought by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia (No. 8:17-cv-01596), U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte of the District of Maryland ruled that D.C., Maryland can proceed with lawsuit alleging Trump violated emoluments clauses. Judge Messitte rejected an argument made by critics of the lawsuit — that, under the Constitution, only Congress may decide whether the president has violated the emoluments clauses. But Messitte’s ruling also narrowed the lawsuit’s scope to the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., saying that the District and Maryland had standing to sue because they could plausibly claim to have been injured by Trump’s receipt of payments from foreign and state governments.

The third case was filed by more than 200 Democratic members of Congress, Blumental et. al v. Trump in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:17-cv-01154), and is presently scheduled for a hearing on a motion to dismiss on June 7, 2018.

The Trump Hotel is only the tip of the iceberg according to reporting over the past week.

It was a week ago Sunday that Trump tweeted about saving jobs at the Chinese telecom company ZTE, a company sanctioned by the United States for violating U.N. sanctions on North Korea and Iran, and the Pentagon banned sales of ZTE phones on military bases, following warnings from intelligence agencies that the Chinese government may be using the company’s products to conduct espionage.

Trump’s shocking tweet comes after China loaned $500 million to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia just days beforehand. Trump Indonesia project is latest stop on China’s Belt and Road:

A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to US President Donald Trump has become the latest project in China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project – just as Washington and Beijing are tussling over trade.

A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia’s MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project, the company said on Thursday.

The project includes Trump-branded hotels, residences and a golf course, as well as other hotel, shopping and residential developments.

The deal is the latest to raise questions about the extent of Trump’s financial exposure to Beijing.

Helaine Olen at the Washington Post says this is Trump’s latest violation of the emoluments clause:

Making money from a development that is dependent on foreign-government money for financing almost certainly appears to veer into this territory.  As Norm Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics chief, tweeted out: “This is a violation of the Emoluments Clause. A big one. See you in court Mr. Trump.”

Paul Krugman of the New York Times posed the obvious question about ZTE, Did China Just Bribe Trump to Undermine National Security?

There is also Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as Krugman reminds us:

Back to ZTE: Was there a quid pro quo? We may never know. But this wasn’t the first time the Trump administration made a peculiar foreign policy move that seems associated with Trump family business interests. Last year the administration, bizarrely, backed a Saudi blockade of Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation that also happens to be the site of a major U.S. military base. Why? Well, the move came shortly after the Qataris refused to invest $500 million in 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled property owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

And now it looks as if Qatar may be about to make a deal on 666 Fifth Avenue after all. I wonder why?

Business Insider adds:

Jared, who remains a stakeholder in his family business despite leaving it to work in the White House (where he leads Middle East policy), lost his top-secret security clearance in February amid concerns that he is vulnerable to foreign influence as a result of his business dealings.

If this deal is finalized, it will likely raise new concerns about Jared’s potential conflicts of interest.

Step back from the details and consider the general picture. High officials have the power to reward or punish both businesses and other governments, so that undue influence is always a problem, even if it takes the form of campaign contributions or indirect financial rewards via the revolving door.

But the problem becomes vastly worse if interested parties can simply funnel money to officials through their business holdings — and Trump and his family, by failing to divest from their international business dealings, have basically hung a sign out declaring themselves open to bribery (and also set the standard for the rest of the administration).

Jared Kushner also sought Chinese investors for his 666 Fifth Avenue property during the presidential transition. Mueller is reportedly investigating Jared Kushner’s efforts to seek foreign financing for his family’s business.

And let’s not forget that last year Jared Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump won Chinese trademarks the same day she dined with China’s president, and his sister Nicole Meyer courted Chinese investors with a much-criticized federal visa program that provides a path toward obtaining U.S. green cards. Jared Kushner’s sister woos China’s “golden visa” investors. And these are just the things that were discovered and reported. What other deals do we not know about?

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Donny Jr. was not just conspiring with the Russians at Trump Tower to win the 2016 election, but Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election as well:

Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly [as he did to the Russian offer], according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

* * *

It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the Emirates may have provided. But two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.

* * *

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.

The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election. The interactions are a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, who was originally tasked with examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.

Mr. Nader is cooperating with the inquiry, and investigators have questioned numerous witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere about what foreign help may have been pledged or accepted, and about whether any such assistance was coordinated with Russia, according to witnesses and others with knowledge of the interviews.

The interviews, some in recent weeks, are further evidence that special counsel’s investigation remains in an intense phase even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers are publicly calling for Mr. Mueller to bring it to a close.

* * *

The August 2016 meeting has echoes of another Trump Tower meeting two months earlier [in June], also under scrutiny by the special counsel, when Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign aides met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. No evidence has emerged suggesting that the August meeting was set up with a similar premise.

The revelations about the meetings come in the midst of new scrutiny about ties between Mr. Trump’s advisers and at least three wealthy Persian Gulf states. Besides his interest in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Mr. Mueller has also been asking witnesses about meetings between White House advisers and representatives of Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival.

* * *

Mr. Nader had worked for years as a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, and Mr. Zamel had worked for the Emirati royal court as a consultant as well. When Mr. Trump locked up the Republican presidential nomination in early 2016, Mr. Nader began making inquiries on behalf of the Emirati prince about possible ways to directly support Mr. Trump, according to three people with whom Mr. Nader discussed his efforts.

Mr. Nader also visited Moscow at least twice during the presidential campaign as a confidential emissary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, according to people familiar with his travels. After the election, he worked with the crown prince to arrange a meeting in the Seychelles between Mr. Prince and a financier close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. See, Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel.

Companies connected to Mr. Zamel also have ties to Russia. One of his firms had previously worked for oligarchs linked to Mr. Putin, including Oleg V. Deripaska and Dmitry Rybolovlev, who hired the firm for online campaigns against their business rivals.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, was once in business with the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty in the special counsel investigation to charges of financial crimes and failing to disclose the lobbying work he did on behalf of a former president of Ukraine, an ally of Mr. Putin. Mr. Rybolovlev once purchased a Florida mansion from Mr. Trump.

Mr. Nader’s visits to Russia and the work Mr. Zamel’s companies did for the Russians have both been a subject of interest to the special counsel’s investigators, according to people familiar with witness interviews.

Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nader were together at a Midtown Manhattan hotel at about 4 p.m. on the afternoon of Aug. 3 when Mr. Nader received a call from Mr. Prince summoning them to Trump Tower. When they arrived, Stephen Miller, a top campaign aide who is now a White House adviser, was in Donald Trump Jr.’s office as well, according to the people familiar with the meeting.

* * *

“There was a brief meeting, nothing concrete was offered or pitched to anyone and nothing came of it,” said Mr. Mukasey, the lawyer for Mr. Zamel.

By then, a company connected to Mr. Zamel had been working on a proposal for a covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign to help elect Mr. Trump, according to three people involved and a fourth briefed on the effort. The plan involved using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy on platforms like Facebook.

The Special Counsel has already Indicted 13 Employees of Russian ‘Troll Farm’ Internet Research Agency for the same interference in the U.S. election. Joel Zamel and his company Psy-Group faces a similar indictment if they carried out a similar social media attack or worked with the Russians.

Mr. Zamel, the founder of Psy-Group and one of its owners, has been questioned about the August 2016 meeting by investigators for the special counsel, and at least two F.B.I. agents working on the inquiry have traveled to Israel to interview employees of the company who worked on the proposal. According to one person, the special counsel’s team has worked with the Israeli police to seize the computers of one of Mr. Zamel’s companies, which is currently in liquidation.

In the hectic final weeks of the campaign and during the presidential transition, several of Mr. Trump’s advisers drew Mr. Nader close. He met often with Mr. Kushner, Mr. Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, who took over as campaign chairman after Mr. Manafort resigned amid revelations about his work in Ukraine.

* * *

After the inauguration, both Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nader visited the White House, meeting with Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon.

* * *

Since entering the White House, Mr. Trump has allied himself closely with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. His first overseas trip was to Riyadh. He strongly backed Saudi and Emirati efforts to isolate their neighbor Qatar, another American ally, even over apparent disagreement from the State and Defense Departments.

This was part of Jared Kushner’s play to extort Qatar into financing his 666 Fifth Avenue Tower, discussed above.

This month, Mr. Trump also withdrew from an Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran that both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had campaigned against for years, delivering them their biggest victory yet from his administration.

Could it also have had something to do with this? Saudis spent $270K at Trump hotel amid lobbying efforts, and Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia during campaign: report, and EXCLUSIVE: Trump eyes UAE, KSA and Qatar hotels?

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