US President Donald Trump‘s closest confidants were willing to exchange inside information about US government appointments with Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, the Middle East Eye has revealed in a new set of leaked emails.
The president-elect’s advisers also pledged to al-Otaiba that they would keep his government’s interests at the heart of the new administration’s Middle East policy.
The emails reveal that the relationship between the Emiratis and the president’s inner circle was cemented earlier than previously thought.
The correspondence is between al-Otaiba and Tom Barrack, a long-standing friend of Trump and a billionaire fundraiser.
It reveals how the Republican platform for 2016 was altered to remove a call for the publication of 28 pages of allegedly incriminating documents from the 9/11 inquiry and how al-Otaiba sought information about top appointments from Barrack while Trump was president-elect.
The key emails were written when Trump was still a presidential candidate and at least six months before the key meeting at Trump Tower in December 2016 between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser; Jared Kushner, his Middle East adviser and Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, which was reported by the Washington Post.
The emails will be of special interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has widened his inquiry into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election to investigate whether the Emiratis and Saudis funnelled payments to Trump’s election campaign.
How the relationship developed
Contact between Barrack and al-Otaiba started in 2009 over a property deal in California, but the relationship blossomed when Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016.
Throughout their correspondence, Barrack, the son of a Lebanese immigrant and an Arabic speaker, referred to “our agenda”, and “our region” and offered to introduce al-Otaiba to Jared Kushner, the future president’s Middle East adviser, adding: “You will love him and he agrees with our agenda.”
Al-Otaiba for his part was eager to introduce the Trump circle to his bosses, starting with Tahnoon bin Zayed, the crown prince’s brother and his national security adviser.
On 26 May, Barrack replied: “Youssef this would be the best thing we could do. I promise you we could accomplish so much if you and HH [His Highness] will give me an hour or so with ‘the man’.”
A week after Trump’s surprise defeat of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, al-Otaiba asked for “any insights” about the people who the incoming president was going to choose for the key positions at the State Department, the Department of Defense and the CIA.
On 16 November, Otaiba wrote: “If you have any insights about postings to places like state, DOD, CIA and national security adviser, I would be grateful. I would only brief my bosses. Any indicators would be highly appreciated.”
Barrack replied: “I do, and we’re working through them in real time and I have our regional interest in high profile. When you get a chance let’s talk by phone.”
Five days later, al-Otaiba attempted to get Fran Townsend, George W Bush‘s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, who he described as a “dear friend” of his, appointed as Trump’s director of national intelligence.
He wrote to Barrack: “I saw her last night and immediately thought she would be huge asset to you. She would make a perfect Director of National Intelligence or DHS secretary. She would hit the ground running on every issue.”
In May 2017 Townsend confirmed that she had been shortlisted for the post of FBI director after James Comey had been sacked.
Anti-Saudi comments removed
Barrack was interviewed by Mueller’s investigators last December when he was asked chiefly about Paul Manafort, whom he recommended as Trump’s campaign manager. Manafort has since been indicted by Mueller.
In July 2016, one month after he became Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort sent Barrack an email he had received from a Republican Party source about the removal of the reference to the alleged Saudi funding of the 9/11 bombers.
The email was then forwarded on to Otaiba, along with Barrack’s comment that it was “really confidential but important. Please don’t distribute.”
“Paul. Something you can pass along to your friend Tom Barrack. I made certain that language that was anti the Saudi Royal Family was removed from the platform. It was inserted by AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobbyists and would have been a part of the 2016 Platform. When I saw the amendment that was passed in the subcommittee, I gave instructions to our political team to remove the language in the full committee.”
The sender of the original email is unknown.
As the November election neared, part of the Republican Party platform, which was potentially embarrassing to the Saudi government, was removed.
The deleted section called for the publication of 28 pages of documents gathered during the 9/11 investigations which implicated members of the Saudi royal family in funding the attackers.