Qatar, Kushner and Cohen: The Latest Scandal Rocking the Trump White House

Qatari former diplomat claims Michael Cohen asked him for a fee of $1 million for his services amid a conversation about a potential Qatari investment in U.S. infrastructure

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner speaks during the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Washington D.C. is abuzz with speculation of a new Trump - Qatar scandal this week, after photos were posted on Twitter Sunday by attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.

The photos show Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a former Qatari diplomat in the United States and the current head of Qatar Investments - a division of the world’s largest sovereign investment fund - entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016.  The visit happened five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian oil giant Rosneft to Qatar Investments.

The Intercept further fueled the scandal Wednesday by publishing revelations from al-Rumaihi - whom they reportedly had been interviewing since March. Ryan Grim writes that al-Rumaihi claims Cohen asked him for a fee of $1 million for his services amid a conversation about a potential Qatari investment in U.S. infrastructure.

Cohen responded to The Intercept denying the claim he had sought payment from al-Rumaihi. “These falsehoods and gross inaccuracies are only being written in the hopes of maligning me for sensationalistic purposes. The truth will prevail and will ultimately be proven in court and not by pundits,” Cohen replied via text message. Grim notes that al-Rumaihi’s story “is the first detailed account from the other side of the table.”

Cohen is currently at the center of an FBI investigation which has included a dramatic raid on his office and hotel room.  A document released by Avenatti increased media scrutiny of Cohen showing that he was paid millions of dollars in fees for “insights” into the Trump administration by companies like AT&T and Novartis and a Russian billionaire who it was initially reported reimbursed Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment. Trump's latest ethics disclosure, also reported on Wednesday, shows that he paid more than $100,000 to Cohen as reimbursement for payment to a third-party.

The Qatari connection

On Monday, Slate ran a headline claiming the al-Rumaihi meeting may be the key to “unlocking the Steele dossier,” a piece of opposition research funded by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign that Trump defenders incorrectly blame for sparking the special counsel investigation into the president. One of the central claims of the dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, al-Rumaihi took over as head of the wealth fund division involved in the Rosneft deal.

In a parallel case, Big 3 basketball league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Slate on Monday he was offered a bribe by al-Rumaihi to arrange access to Steve Bannon and confirmed al-Rumaihi is the same person photographed with Cohen at Trump Tower in December 2016.

According to Slate, Sports Trinity, Al-Rumaihi’s sports firm, would not confirm or deny that Al-Rumaihi was at the meeting on Dec. 12, 2016, which occurred less than two hours before a public meeting between Cohen and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn. 

In another instance of Qatar's reported attempts to gain leverage in the Trump administration, NBC reported in March that Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner, but decided not to give the information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller despite initially cooperating with Mueller. 

Haaretz has learned that al-Rumaihi 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.”

Kushner's ethics

Mueller and the U.S. Congress are investigating Jared Kushner's business practices while working as a White House official, looking for any possible conflicts of interest. The special counsel is looking at Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and whether there was any collusion with the Trump campaign.

Kushner's family-run real estate company unsuccessfully tried to seek financing from Qatar's investment fund for a deeply troubled New York City property a month before Kushner backed a blockade on the Gulf kingdom. The same allegation surfaced during the summer of 2017, but has returned to the fore as Kushner is dogged by claims he abused his White House role for personal gain.

A spokesman for Mueller's office, Peter Carr, declined to comment on the report.

A spokesman for Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell said the report was the "mischief" of unnamed sources conducting a "misinformation campaign" to mislead the news media.

Kushner has long been under scrutiny for not recusing himself in foreign policy matters relating to Qatar, which was considered a prospective investor for the Kushner family property at 666 Fifth Ave. in New York, which has a $1.2 billion mortgage loan due early next year.

“As a result, Kushner should have fully recused himself from participating in US foreign policy matters involving Qatar,” wrote an ethics expert for CNN this March. Kushner was key in advising Trump on the U.S. response to the blockade of Qatar by its Saudi and United Arab Emirates only a month after the Kushner Cos. unsuccessfully solicited funding from the Qatar finance minister for the 666 Fifth Ave.

Additionally, the Washington Post reported in mid-March that the Kushner Companies confirmed U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner's father met with the Qatari finance minister three months after U.S. President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

“I was invited to a meeting,” Charles Kushner said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Before the meeting, Kushner Companies had decided that it was not going to accept sovereign wealth fund investments. We informed the Qatar representatives of our decision and they agreed. Even if they were there ready to wire the money, we would not have taken it.”

Kushner admitted he discussed Qatar investing in a troubled New York City property, but that he turned any possible investment.