WASHINGTON – Three months before the 2016 presidential election, an Israeli social media specialist joined a Gulf Arab emissary and a former Middle East security contractor for a meeting with Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to discuss ways they could help the Republican nominee beat his opponent.
The existence of the meeting in Trump Tower in New York City, first revealed on Saturday by The New York Times, has prompted US special counsel Robert Mueller to send investigators to Israel to probe the activities of the Israeli social media firm, which allegedly employed former Israeli intelligence officers and collects user data to help manipulate public opinion. The Israel Police is cooperating with the probe, the Times found.
Mueller is investigating whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in their efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee. Trump Jr. was known to have taken a similar meeting with a Russian government employee who was offering dirt on Clinton months earlier.
But the August 3 meeting with Mideast figures demonstrates the campaign’s willingness to accept foreign help in its uphill battle to victory at a time when polls consistently showed them losing the presidential race. US law prohibits foreign organizations and individuals from any involvement in its election campaigns.
At least two of the figures – Israeli specialist Joel Zamel and the Gulf emissary George Nader – visited or worked with the Russians during the campaign. Both visited the White House after Trump’s inauguration.
Zamel said through his lawyer that none of his companies “had any involvement whatsoever in the US election campaign.” But he is accused of proposing a covert, multimillion-dollar online manipulation project on behalf of Trump, and according to the Times, was paid by Nader roughly $2 million after the campaign ended.
Two of Mueller’s agents have traveled to Israel to conduct interviews, and the Israel Police has helped them seize computers related to the probe, according to the report.
Zamel says he is fully cooperating with the Mueller inquiry.
Nader is suspected of working on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to elect Trump, who they believed might take a tougher stance against Iran. Nader grew close with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, throughout the presidential race, when Kushner was leading the campaign’s social media strategy. They have since remained in touch.
For years, Nader has pitched a strategy of economic warfare and sabotage against Iran, both to US and Gulf leadership. Trump has sharply aligned his administration with Sunni Gulf powers. He pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran earlier this month, snapping back all US sanctions that had been in place before 2015.
The former head of Blackwater, an American private military company, is at the center of this meeting and several others under investigation by Mueller, including a secret meeting in the Seychelles after Trump’s inauguration, which involved the president’s associates and those of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A lawyer for Trump Jr. acknowledged the August 3 meeting, but – similar to his earlier Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin agent – claims it went nowhere.
“Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with [Blackwater founder] Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel,” the lawyer said. “They pitched Mr.
Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”