WASHINGTON - The Qatari investor and former diplomat who has emerged as a key figure in the latest Trump administration scandal also attended two leading American-Jewish organizations’ gala events in recent months.
Ahmed al-Rumaihi’s presence at the events coincided with a public relations effort by Doha that focused on pro-Israel, influential U.S.-Jewish groups. A person who spoke to Rumaihi at an AIPAC event in Los Angeles in January told Haaretz he felt he was talking to an “intelligence guy.”
A spokesperson for Rumaihi said that Rumaihi is "a private citizen" and that he wasn't involved in any activities on behalf of the government. "While he previously worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the government of Qatar, he left the ministry in May 2016. After leaving the ministry, he worked with the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) until March 2017. Subsequently, he has been a private business person and investor," the spokesperson added.
Rumaihi’s name made headlines earlier this week when Michael Avenatti – the attorney representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against U.S. President Donald Trump – tweeted about Rumaihi’s alleged interactions with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Avenatti claimed that Rumaihi met with Flynn and Cohen in Trump Tower in Manhattan, in December 2016, and then later bragged about having bribed Trump administration officials.
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The allegation comes from court files in a separate case involving Rumaihi and U.S. rapper Ice Cube, who had a business partnership with Rumaihi but is now suing the Qatari investor. The court documents include allegations that Rumaihi spoke about money that was provided to Flynn on behalf of Qatar.
To support his claims, Avenatti posted pictures from Trump Tower, all taken on December 12, 2016, in which Rumaihi, Cohen and Flynn are clearly seen –albeit separately. “Why was Ahmed Al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December 2016 and why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials according to a sworn declaration filed in court?” Avenatti tweeted on Sunday.
A story involving Trump’s personal attorney and former national security adviser; the lawyer of a porn star who’s suing the president; a leading rap artist; and a Qatari campaign to influence American Jews would have sounded like pure fantasy a few years ago. But right now, it is increasingly a subject of conversation among leaders and donors of pro-Israeli organizations – who are struggling to connect the dots.
Rumaihi’s sudden prominence has caused pro-Israel activists who met him at American-Jewish events to start asking questions about his presence there. “It was strange when I met him at the time,” one person who interacted with Rumaihi told Haaretz on Tuesday. “I couldn’t understand why a Qatari investor and former diplomat would spend an evening with a bunch of Zionist American Jews. It’s even stranger right now, with all these stories about Cohen and Flynn coming out.”
Rumaihi attended the Zionist Organization of America’s annual gala last November. Just months earlier, the same organization had called on the U.S. government to cancel the license of Qatar Airways because of Doha’s support for Hamas. Yet at the gala, according to four people who were present and spoke with Haaretz, Rumaihi openly presented himself as a Qatari investor and expressed interest in meeting influential supporters and members of the pro-Trump ZOA.
Weeks after that gala, ZOA President Morton Klein visited Doha at the invitation of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Klein’s trip was one of many such visits by leaders of Jewish American groups, especially those who are supportive of the Trump administration and the right-wing government in Israel. Klein met with the emir and later told Haaretz that he decided to make the visit in the hope it would lead Qatar to improve its policy toward Israel.
In January, Rumaihi attended an AIPAC gala event in Los Angeles. One person who spoke with him at the event told Haaretz, “He presented himself as a businessman, but my personal feeling was that I was talking to someone much more important than that – maybe a diplomat, maybe an intelligence guy. He was very nice and knowledgeable, but also not very interested in sharing information about himself.”
Sources say one thing Rumaihi did feel free to discuss at the gala was his involvement in a professional basketball league called Big3. The league was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, a Los Angeles-based producer. Rumaihi became involved in the league last year – he even had a business card showing his affiliation – but he and other Qatari citizens are now being sued by Ice Cube and Kwatinetz for allegedly failing to deliver on a $5 million investment in the project.
A spokesperson for Rumaihi called the allegations "pure Hollywood fiction" and asserted that they were part of a "xenophobic campaign."
At the same time as Rumaihi was attending the ZOA and AIPAC events, Qatar was in the midst of a charm offensive focused on the Jewish community in the United States. This included hiring a leading Washington lobbyist and consultant, Nick Muzin, who arranged meetings between the Gulf state’s leadership and prominent Jewish American public figures, including attorney Alan Dershowitz.
“In retrospect, it seems clear to me that his presence at the event where I met him wasn’t accidental, and was actually part of their PR effort,” says one person who spoke briefly with Rumaihi. “But I still don’t get what all of this has to do with bribing Michael Flynn or Michael Cohen at Trump Tower.”
A spokesperson for the Qatari Embassy in Washington released a statement saying that Rumaihi went to Trump Tower together with a Qatari delegation that was there to discuss military, diplomatic and business ties with Trump’s advisers during the presidential transition period. The Qatari spokesperson said that Rumaihi himself didn’t actually participate in those meetings.