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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump welcomes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi to the White House in May 2017.

WASHINGTON -- Three months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. met with two people who have become a focus of investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller, a lawyer for President Donald Trump's eldest son said Saturday.

Erik Prince, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign and former head of Blackwater, and George Nader, a veteran operative who has advised the United Arab Emirates and helped American contractors secure business in the Middle East, met with Trump Jr. at Trump Tower to discuss a social media proposal, lawyer Alan Futerfas said in a statement.

"They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it," Futerfas said.

Also at the meeting was Joel Zamel, the chief executive officer of a social media company called WikiStrat. Futerfas said Trump Jr. recalled a third individual at the meeting "who may or may not be Joel Zamel."

Zamel neither offered social media services to the Trump campaign, nor was he asked to help the campaign, said his lawyer, Marc Mukasey.

"Joel Zamel offered nothing to the Trump campaign, received nothing from the Trump campaign, delivered nothing to the Trump campaign and was not solicited by, or asked to do anything for, the Trump campaign," Mukasey said Saturday.

However, several people with knowledge of the encounter told The New York Times that the meeting on Aug. 3, 2016, was convened primarily to offer assistance to the Trump campaign, and that it forged relationships that developed past the election and well into President Donald Trump's first year in office.

If true, it would be the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election. Mueller was originally given the task of examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.

Mueller's investigators have been looking into a later meeting, in January 2017 in the Seychelles, that Nader and Prince reportedly held with Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker with close ties to the Kremlin.

The Associated Press reported in March that Nader had been convicted on 10 counts of sexually assaulting a minor in the Czech Republic in 2003. Employees for Prince's previous firm, Blackwater, were implicated in the deaths of 14 civilians in Iraq in 2007.

Neither a spokesman for Prince nor a spokesman for Nader's lawyer immediately returned requests for comment Saturday.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee asked Prince about his interactions with the Trump campaign during a November 2017 interview, but Prince reportedly did not disclose the Trump Tower meeting with Trump Jr. and Nader.

The president and his closest aides have repeatedly said there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. And the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee found no evidence of collusion. But Senate investigators said last week that they believe Russian meddling in last year's election was clearly meant to harm Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump.

PAYMENT SCRUTINIZED

Nader is cooperating with the Mueller 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.

Nader told Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president, the sources said.

It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in U.S. elections, and it is unclear what -- if any -- direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may have provided.

But after the meeting, Nader was embraced as an ally by Trump campaign advisers -- meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, and with Michael Flynn, who became the president's first national security adviser.

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

The special counsel is also scrutinizing an unrelated Trump Tower meeting two months earlier, when Trump Jr. and other top campaign aides met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Kathryn Ruemmler, a lawyer for Nader, said, "Mr. Nader has fully cooperated with the special counsel's investigation and will continue to do so." A senior official in Saudi Arabia said it had never employed Nader in any capacity or authorized him to speak for the crown prince.

Prince, through a spokesman, declined to comment. Members of the House Intelligence Committee peppered Prince with questions about his interactions with the Trump campaign during a November session, but Prince did not disclose the Trump Tower meeting, sources said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

COURT ADVISERS

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi king's main adviser, had long opposed many of President Barack Obama's policies toward the Middle East. They resented his administration's agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, his statements of support for the Arab Spring uprisings and his hands-off approach to the Syrian civil war.

Diplomats familiar with their thinking say both crown princes hoped for a president who would take a stronger hand in the region against Iran and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

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

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 Prince and a financier close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

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

Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, was once in business with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has pleaded innocent 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 Putin. Rybolovlev once purchased a Florida mansion from Trump for about $95 million.

Nader's visits to Russia and the work 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.

STRING OF MEETINGS

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

Nader explained to Trump Jr. that the two crown princes saw the elder Trump as a strong leader who would fill the power vacuum that they believed Obama had left in the Middle East, and Nader went on to say that he and his friends would be glad to support Trump as much as they could, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.

Zamel, for his part, laid out the capabilities of his online media company, although it is unclear whether he referred to the proposals his company had already prepared. One person familiar with the meeting said Nader invited Trump Jr. to meet with a Saudi prince -- an invitation the younger Trump declined. After about half an hour, everyone exchanged business cards, the sources said.

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

By then, a company connected to Zamel had been working on a proposal for a multimillion-dollar online campaign to help elect 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 Trump's candidacy on platforms like Facebook.

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

This month, Trump also withdrew from an Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had campaigned against for years.

Information for this article was contributed by Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times; and by Tom Lobianco, Eric Tucker and Chad Day of The Associated Press.

Photo by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
In this Nov. 16, 2016 photo, Donald Trump Jr., son of President-elect Donald Trump, walks from the elevator at Trump Tower in New York.

A Section on 05/20/2018

Print Headline: Mideast entities met Trump Jr. ahead of election, lawyer says

Comments

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  • 23cal
    May 20, 2018 at 6:43 a.m.

    Erik Prince?
    That would be Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
    You know, the Betsy DeVos with absolutely zero qualifications other than her family having contributed a couple of hundred million dollars to Republicans, Prince being part of that family.
    *
    The article might have included that tidbit for a little more perspective on the tangled web woven here.

  • TimberTopper
    May 20, 2018 at 7:09 a.m.

    Mr. Mueller, just continue to do your job, take us wherever it leads.

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