Qataris opted not to give info on Kushner, secret meetings to Mueller

WASHINGTON — Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings, but decided not to give the information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller for fear of harming relations with the Trump administration, say three sources familiar with the Qatari discussions.

Lebanese-American businessman George Nader and Republican donor Elliott Broidy, who participated in the meetings, have both been the focus of news reports in recent days about their connections to the UAE and Trump associates.

It is unknown whether Qatari officials were the source of the recent news stories detailing activities by Nader and Broidy published by The New York Times and CNN.

NBC News previously reported that Qatari officials weighed speaking to Mueller during a visit to Washington earlier this year, and has now learned the information the officials wanted to share included details about Nader and Broidy working with the UAE to turn the Trump administration against Qatar, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

Qatari officials believe the meetings — as well as fallout from Qatari business dealings with Kushner — may have influenced President Trump's public endorsement of a blockade of Qatar by its neighbors that began last year.

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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe

Tom Barrack

The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

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The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.

The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Donald Trump

2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.

Sam Clovis

Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.

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Roger Stone

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Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)

Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.

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Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy

Jason Miller
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Eric Trump
Donald Trump Jr.
Ivanka Trump
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Katrina Pierson
K.T. McFarland
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci

A Qatari delegation came to Washington in late January and early February and met with Trump officials to discuss shared national security interests. Despite Trump's endorsement of the blockade in June, the Qataris felt the meetings with top advisers had been productive and decided against reaching out to Mueller in order to preserve the relationship, according to people familiar with the internal Qatari deliberations.

A spokesperson for the Qatari embassy in Washington said in a statement last week that Qatar won't be providing materials to the Mueller investigation.

The Qataris also met with FBI Director Chris Wray while they were in Washington, but never shared their information about the UAE's alleged influence on the administration.

Broidy, meanwhile, has accused Qatar of hacking his emails and distributing the contents to news organizations to discredit him. Qatar has denied that. Nader, who was stopped by federal agents at Dulles Airport near Washington in January, is now cooperating with Mueller's team.

Broidy was a top fundraiser for Trump in addition to being a member of Trump's inaugural committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Nader helped organize a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles, according to The Washington Post, and the Post says Mueller is investigating as an alleged attempt to set up a back channel of communications with the Russians.

Qatar vs. the UAE

The gathering of damaging information by the Qataris, their consideration of whether to speak to Mueller, and the alleged influence campaign inside the White House by the Emiratis are all evidence of how mounting tensions between the two tiny, wealthy Gulf nations are playing out in a high-stakes war of influence in Washington.

In June 2017, President Trump endorsed the decision led by UAE and Saudi Arabia to blockade Qatar, saying the Qatar was funding terrorism. On June 5, the president tweeted, "Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to horror of terrorism!" The blockade has cut the country off from shipments of food and medical supplies by land and sea.

Since then, according to Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filings, both governments have greatly increased their hiring of American lobbyists, including some former Trump campaign officials.

Qatari officials believe Trump's verbal backing of the blockade was a form of retaliation by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose family's negotiations with Qatari investors had recently fallen apart, according to several sources familiar with the Qatari government's thinking.

Trump, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have said the blockade is in retaliation for Qatar's support for terrorism. A spokesman for Kushner's lawyer told NBC News that Kushner was "a point person for completely appropriate contacts from foreign officials and he did not mix his or his former company's business in those contacts and any claim otherwise is false."

Qatari officials also believe the Trump administration may have been influenced by the meetings with Broidy and have documents that they say show the connection between Broidy and the UAE, according to several people familiar with the Qatari government's thinking.

According to the sources, the officials have information they claim details Nader's involvement in a December 2016 meeting that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE had with Trump officials at Trump Tower, including Kushner, incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn and incoming chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The meeting took Obama administration officials by surprise when they learned about it in intelligence reports because the crown prince broke diplomatic protocol and did not alert them that he would be in the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have long been rivals of Qatar, but their feud has escalated under the Trump administration.

Fourteen lobbying and public relations firms have publicly registered as agents of Qatar, UAE or Saudi Arabia since Trump's blockade endorsement last year, according to FARA data.

One firm that lobbied in favor of Qatar is Mercury Public Affairs, which worked with Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort has since been charged by Mueller with money laundering, bank fraud and tax evasion. Mercury is believed to be an unnamed party in Manafort's charges, but so far faces no legal exposure. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Another firm that worked for Manafort, the now-dissolved Podesta Group, lobbied on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and published a still-live web site that alleges Qatar is treacherous.

Trump's former campaign advisor Corey Lewandowski previously worked for Avenue Strategies Global, which alleged in a letter to the Justice Department that Saudi Arabia was violating FARA regulations. The firm is being paid $500,000 monthly for its contract with the Embassy of Qatar, according to FARA filings.

The widening rift between Qatar and UAE comes at a time when the White House is hoping to reduce tensions between the two countries and facilitate a resolution to issues that led to the blockade. Trump is expected to host separate meetings with the Saudi crown prince, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the Qatari emir in coming weeks, in advance of an expected summit of Arab states this summer.

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