On Saturday, May 19, 2018, the New York Times published a story claiming that Donald Trump Jr. at least toyed with the idea of accepting help in his father’s presidential campaign from foreign countries other than Russia. In August 2016, Trump Jr. held a second questionable Trump Tower meeting with booster and Blackwater founder Erik Prince and business executive George Nader (who’s a convicted pedophile) along with emissaries from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Also present was an Israeli social media specialist named Joel Zamel who had a plan to boost Donald Trump by using thousands of fake Facebook accounts. According to the Times, Nader told Trump Jr. that the Saudi and UAE princes were “eager” to help his dad win the White House, claiming he was a strong leader who’d “fill a power vacuum” they thought President Barack Obama had left in the Middle East. It’s unclear who commissioned this proposal and whether it went forward. But Trump Jr. “responded approvingly” and Nader joined the Trump-world fold, often meeting with son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former strategist Steve Bannon. After the election, Nader paid Zamel as much as $2 million but we’re not sure why. Though a Philippines-based company linked to Zamel called White Night, reportedly provided Nader with an elaborate presentation on the importance of social media campaigning in Trump’s win.
There are plenty of reasons why the New York Times report matters. First, it shows that Russia wasn’t the only country offering to help with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. Second, it raises questions about what sort of repayment Saudi Arabia and the UAE might’ve received for their assistance. And it demonstrates the Trump campaign’s cavalier, if not sinister attitude to US campaign laws. As the Times reports: “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.” Trump Jr.’s lawyer Alan Futerfas told the Times that while he “recalls” a meeting with Nader and someone who “may be” Zamel” who pitched him on a social media platform or marketing strategy, the younger Trump declined. Zamel’s lawyer Marc Mukasey denied his client was even involved in the Trump campaign. Nader’s lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler claimed the businessman has “fully cooperated” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Anyway, George Nader’s name has appeared multiple times in Mueller’s investigation as his interactions with Zamel, Prince, and Trump Jr. are a focus of the probe. During the 2016 campaign, Nader visited Moscow at least twice as a confidential emissary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi. He helped arrange a meeting in Seychelles between Erik Prince and a Russian business executive close to Vladimir Putin that Mueller’s also probing. Zamel-tied companies also have Russian connections as well. After Donald Trump’s inauguration, Nader reportedly promoted a proposal to use private contractors for an economic sabotage against Iran that might get the country to abandon its nuclear program, which he pitched to Saudi officials last spring. And he was in talks with Erik Prince about a plan to convince Saudi Arabia to pay $2 billion to create a private army to fight against Iranian proxy forces in Yemen.
The Times’ report asks as many questions as answers but the writers do give us something to think about as they end it wondering what Nader’s, Prince’s, and Zamel’s efforts may have gotten for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As they write, “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 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.”
On May 20, Donald Trump went on a Twitter tantrum slamming the report as “long” and “boring” while asking when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will “STOP!” Because according to him, it has found “nothing” on Russia or him, so “they are now looking at the rest of the World!” And he said investigators would likely continue their work into the 2018 midterm elections, “where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party.” He also returned to many of his old talking points about Hillary Clinton and Russia. He apparently suggested that the FBI should’ve broken into the Democratic National Committee’s offices and seized its server after its emails were hacked, tweeting, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.” Trump knows that the Russia could harm Republicans in the 2018 midterms, though it’s hardly all of their problems. The GOP’s also facing a lot of Democratic enthusiasm, a high number of congressional Republican retirements, and a shitty tax bill that nobody likes. Not to mention their willingness to bend over backwards to protect and defend Trump despite everything he does or says.
Mueller’s investigation into the Russia meddling in the 2016 election and potential Trump campaign-Russia collusion has just hit its one-year anniversary. And just last week, the special counsel has reaped plenty of rotten fruit. On May 16, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee tried to help Donald Trump win in 2016. The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the FBI sent an informant to talk to Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos, Sam Clovis, and Carter Page after finding evidence the campaign had suspicious contacts with Russia in the investigation’s early stages. And it’s been reported that the FBI has started looking into payments Trump lawyer Michael Cohen took from a South Korean aerospace company and that he had reached out to a Qatari investor asking for a $1 million in exchange for consulting services. In addition, while Mueller can’t conclusively determine whether there was collusion or obstruction of justice, there have already been multiple indictments and guilty pleas. Even Trump’s personal lawyer Cohen is under a criminal investigation.
Nonetheless, that Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump fired off two more tweets. One decried the expansion of Mueller’s probe. But in the other, he tweeted, “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Now Trump has the constitutional authority to make such a demand. But there are things to keep in mind. First of all, the Justice Department’s inspector general launched an investigation into how the FBI got permission to spy on Page in March, so part of what Trump is asking for is already happening. In fact, DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores write in an email that the department for an expansion to the ongoing review of the Page application, “include whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.” While it’s not clear whether anything at the FBI, DOJ, or the Obama administration did regarding the 2016 was political, Trump’s call for a probe certainly is. And as Georgetown adjunct professor Carrie Cordero tweeted that the Justice Department doesn’t do any politically motivated snitching. “There are rules. And I’m convinced there are people left in this government who will follow them, she wrote. Should he go through with it, Trump could face a showdown with the Justice Department officials expected to execute it. But at any rate, his paranoia, susceptibility to conspiracy, and desire to deter and meddle with the Mueller investigation are becoming increasingly disturbing.
Donald Trump’s tweet from May 20 appears to be a reaction from the New York Times and Washington Post reports about the FBI sending an informant to talk to the Trump campaign advisers after finding evidence of suspicious Russian contacts during the Russia investigation’s early stages. Though Trump falsely claimed that the informant was a “spy,” sent to infiltrate his campaign and said such a thing would be “bigger than Watergate,” there’s no evidence. It’s more likely the FBI sent an informant because investigators just wanted to figure out what was going on between Russia and the Trump team. As former FBI counterintelligence head Frank Figliuzzi told NBC News, “What is easier to imagine is the FBI trying to flesh out information on Russian intelligence operatives by making approaches to campaign staffers if the reasonable suspicion was there and the approvals were in place.”
As we should know by now, the Trump-Russia investigation originated in May 2016 with a drunk George Papadopoulos bragging to an Australian diplomat about a Russian-linked professor approaching him who claimed that the Kremlin had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The diplomat later tipped off the United States to Papadopoulos’s comments. Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential Trump-Russian collusion. The FBI legally surveilled Carter Page for almost a year due to his Russian contacts, starting in October 2016, after being on the bureau’s radar as a potential Russian agent for years. Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had run a campaign on behalf of Russian interests in Ukraine, which he had to resign over. Michael Flynn also has plenty of ties to Putin and Erdogan.
Nonetheless, the Department of Justice meekly complied despite that Donald Trump’s latest spin is so ridiculous that even the most sycophantic Trump screeds in conservative media had trouble adjusting to this bullshit conspiracy theory. There’s no way Barack Obama ordered an investigation into Trump’s campaign for purely political reasons, especially since the fact the FBI let it remain secret until after the election. Besides, accepting foreign help in a political campaign is illegal under federal law. Not to mention, Hillary Clinton had a contentious primary challenge against Bernie Sanders. No reports on what the Obama administration did to him.
Of course, Donald Trump’s ability to comprehend objective reality is seriously cracked since he refuses to see himself as culpable for any damage he’s done in his life. Yet his confidence that the array of forces will shift to his benefit and that he may turn the tables on his enemies has a real basis in reality. In the face of widening evidence of Trump campaign culpability in the Russia investigation, Republicans have churned through a frequently changing series of ugly conspiracy theories to defend him. He’s bringing his party and the powers it commands around his warped manner of thinking. But Trump’s allies have seized on the procedural offense of the “spy.” Despite that the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign because of its association with multiple figures with suspicious financial and political Russian connections like Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn. The defense has ignored all evidence of guilt and has instead focused on why Trump was being investigated at all. Instead, his defenders assume that the level of covert Russian influence in Trump’s campaign was completely typical. The only difference is that Trump was somehow subjected to scrutiny at best. At worst, Trump’s defenders revolves around the premise that the FBI had no business snooping on Trump. And that any evidence Mueller produces is proof of an illegitimate investigation.
However, Donald Trump may be formulating an even more radical theory. According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, his team, “is attempting to build the case that anti-Trump forces in the F.B.I. entrapped his advisers using informants to plant evidence about Russian collusion.” In other words, Trump is accusing the FBI not only planting a spy, but evidence. As Sherman reported, “The president himself is convinced that the secret F.B.I. informant who reportedly met with several Trump campaign advisers in 2016 was not merely an informant, but an Obama political operative. One administration official told me the theory has become so widely accepted that people in the West Wing are paranoid that the F.B.I. has multiple informants working to take down Trump.” All of this sounds like you’d read in a Cold War spy novel that’s so unhinged that even Trump can’t possibly believe it. But you’d have to explain Trump’s longtime love affair with conspiracy theories he imbibes in his Fox News binge watching, where crazy conspiracy theorists are either given a guest spot, panel spot, or TV show. You might also think that Trump can’t get his party go along with his theory and dismiss all evidence of culpability as having been fabricated by a pro-Obama cabal in the FBI. Yet, you’d be ignoring how far down the Trump rabbit hole the Republican Party has gone already.
But Trump’s FBI smearing is another blatant way to deflect attention and blame away from his continuing effort to corrupt American democracy for his own benefit as well as those of his fellow oligarchs’ around the world. It’s an indisputable fact that Russia not only tried but also succeeded in influencing the 2016 election. Email transcripts show that Donald Trump Jr. was clearly eager to work with Russians to help his dad win, and it’s impossible that Trump didn’t know about it. As there have been 19 indictments and guilty pleas so far, the question for the Mueller investigation is who else may be involved, what else might’ve taken place, in that or some other criminal activities.
Intelligence and domestic law enforcement organizations like the FBI and CIA exist to protect the integrity of the nation’s political structure. Sure, much of that purpose has been invoked as tyrannical repression of domestic dissidents in the name of McCarthyite “Anti-Communism” when ordinary Americans merely trying to exercise their constitutional democratic rights were routinely subjected to government harassment, blackmail, or even straight up assassinated. Not to mention union organizers and civil rights activists have been and still are particularly targeted for egregious state violence. Yet, that doesn’t mean the purpose of intelligence and law enforcement is necessarily a sham. Many foreign governments have tried meddling with the American political structure in various ways from the Soviet Union to nominal allies like Israel. In such situations, it’s entirely right and proper for security agencies to investigate the possibility and try to prevent it beforehand or remedy the breach after that. After all, a democracy is supposed to be under the voters’ control, not other states or anyone else.
However, Russia is just one facet of the monumental corruption inside the Trump empire. Donald Trump’s whole career has had plenty of egregious and mindboggling incidents of corruption that most Americans could never get away with. In addition to the New York Times report on Donald Trump Jr. August Trump Tower meeting, the Associated Press reported that a top Trump campaign fundraiser, Elliot Broidy had worked with Nader in 2017 to push US policy towards Saudi Arabia and the UAE and away from Qatar and Iran with millions in political donations. Neither Nader nor Broidy registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as would almost certainly be legally required. Some of the money was funneled through the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracies and they expected to collect millions in consulting contracts from the 2 monarchies (amounting in effect to post facto bribes). And they had just started cashing in payouts when Mueller’s FBI probe caught up with them.
In other words, Donald Trump’s business empire, campaign, and administration has been open to basically any foreign authoritarian wanting to buy the American political system. This verifies my long-held conviction that Trump and his swamp cronies have the slightest scrap of respect for American democracy or the right of the American people to honest government. Like a lot of Trump’s schemes, it’s just another rigged deal, another influence play, another institution to be looted. But this time with an unusually large number of loyal workers to be betrayed and cut out of the spoils in the end. Because if you’re an ordinary American who believes Trump and buys into his cons, you will be screwed.
The Mueller investigation and other similar efforts are an endeavor to protect the basic integrity of the American democratic state. But unlike the Cold War days, it’s not from some hostile foreign adversary but from a free-floating international cabal of oligarchs (with at least a large plurality of whom are at least technically American) tirelessly trying to make money the only axis of politics. The pre-election investigation of Trump’s corruption included the wholly legitimate use of informant just gives Donald Trump conspiracy fodder depict himself as the victim while he keeps picking the American people’s pockets.