US president's embattled lawyer Michael Cohen sought a payment of 'at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016'
Reports reveal Qatari attempts to influence Trump administration
Qatari contacts with Donald Trump’s embattled lawyer Michael Cohen and imminent business deals with the family of his son-in-law Jared Kushner family are coming to the surface, along with other channels that Doha has reportedly pursued to influence the US president.
On Thursday, the Washington Post confirmed a meeting on December 12, 2016 between Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani with now-indicted former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former strategist Steve Bannon.
The meeting was reportedly preceded by separate talks between Mr Cohen and the then head of the Qatar Investment Authority, Ahmed Al Rumaihi, first at a breakfast fund-raiser in New York and later in the week at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan.
Mr Cohen, whose offices were raided by the FBI on April 9, sought a payment of “at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016, in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration”, according to the Post. It said the offer was declined, but Mr Al Rumaihi told Mr Trump’s attorney that Qatar would invest in the US infrastructure programme.
Six days later, Doha announced a $10 billion investment in the programme.
Also on Thursday, the New York Times reported that Brookfield Properties, “the company controlled by the family of the White House adviser Jared Kushner", was "close to receiving a bailout of its financially troubled flagship building by a company with ties to the government of Qatar", citing executives briefed on the agreement.
This represents a change of direction in the business talks between the Kushner family and Qatar. The Washington Post reported last year that Mr Kushner's father, Charles Kushner, at the request of Doha, “met with Qatar’s finance minister [Ali Sharif Al Emadi] three months after Mr Trump’s inauguration, at a New York City session at which funding for a financially troubled real estate project was discussed.”
However, back then the elder Kushner “turned down possible funding to avoid questions of a conflict of interest for his son”, according to the paper.
The new details emerged as Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the former adult film actress Stormy Daniels who is suing Mr Trump over an alleged affair, tweeted allegations and photos that have put the focus on Qatari ties with Mr Cohen and foreign attempts to influence the president.
Mr Avenatti, known for his carefully worded tweets, ran on May 13 a Twitter thread with photos of Mr Al Rumaihi inside an elevator at Trump Tower.
“Warning ignored. So here it goes.
"December 12, 2016 — Trump Tower. Details to follow...” he wrote.
Since then, Mr Avenatti has tweeted at least three times about Qatar's alleged ties to Mr Cohen.
“If we are wrong in our accusations, why hasn’t Mr Cohen released the 18 mos worth of bank stmts, the Squire law firm contract and docs, and the docs relating to the Qataris? Why is he hiding this info from the public? #basta,” Mr Avenatti tweeted on Wednesday. "Basta" means enough in Italian.
The tweets also refer to Mr Al Rumaihi’s appearance next to the creator of the Big3 basketball league and hip hop star Ice Cube, as another reported attempt by Doha to influence Mr Trump’s aides particularly Steve Bannon. Mr Bannon has business ties to Ice Cube’s partner, Jeff Kwatinetz.
Ice Cube and his partner claim in a $1.2bn lawsuit that Mr Al Rumaihi attempted to set up a meeting with Mr Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon by using them for access.
“Mr Al Rumaihi stated to me that he wanted me to convey a message from the Qatari government to Steve Bannon,” a lawsuit filed by Ice Cube and Mr Kwatinetz reads. Mr Al Rumaihi according to the legal documents first reported by the Daily Mail on May 9, wanted “to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support.” Mr Kwatinetz was offended at the idea that either he or Mr Bannon could be bribed.
Last month, Politico reported that Qatar was seeking to buy a large share in the news organisation Newsmax, whose owner Chris Ruddy is a friend of Mr Trump. “Qatari officials met with Newsmax representatives on multiple occasions this year," Politico reported, citing "people familiar with the dealings”.
The meetings were reportedly overseen by Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the younger brother of the Qatari emir.
Mr Ruddy has dismissed the report as “all false”.
In an email to The National, a spokesperson for Mr Al Rumaihi said he did meet Mr Cohen in December 2016 “to discuss a potential Qatari investment in US infrastructure by Qatar Investments, which is a division of the Qatar Investment Authority (“QIA”).”
“As the head of Qatar Investments at that time, Mr Al Rumaihi was seeking advice on public-private partnerships the fund might initially pursue. In that conversation, Mr Cohen stated he would require a $1 million fee for his services.”
The spokesperson added that at “no point did Mr Al Rumaihi or anyone else from Qatar Investments pay the requested fee, nor did Mr Al Rumaihi ever entertain making such a payment.” As a general matter, the spokesperson added, “the QIA strictly prohibits the payment of fees to any middlemen in any transactions.”
In regards to Mr Kwatintez’s lawsuit, the spokesperson said the statements “are pure Hollywood fiction.”
“Mr Kwatinetz is engaging in a xenophobic PR smear campaign against Sport Trinity, the largest investor in BIG3 basketball, to cover up his own mismanagement and erratic behaviour with respect to the league. Mr. Kwatinetz’s commercial dispute with Sport Trinity is meritless,” Mr Al Rumaihi’s spokesperson added.