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Mueller's Investigation Reaching Beyond Russia to Include the Middle East Influence
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14 Dec 2018 11:04 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, King Salman, Melania Trump, and Donald Trump (Image source: Public domain)

 

 

Robert Mueller's critics have thought that his Russia investigation was too far-reaching, as it quickly stretched into possible obstruction of justice, reached into bank fraud and tax fraud, and then into campaign finance violations.  

Now it's expanding again as he includes the Middle-East influence on Donald Trump. Perhaps it's only too far-reaching because he is investigating a president with multiple infractions.

 

The Russia side of the investigation seems to be slowing down. There have been over 30 indictments, multiple plea deals, some guilty verdicts, and five prison terms so far with more waiting to be sentenced, with the Russians not appearing in any American court yet. No one has been found innocent.  

And now there are reports that the special counsel is getting set to reveal the other side of his investigation. We're moving past Russia and going towards the Middle East. This comes after the Jamal Khashoggi murder with Trump unwilling to hold the Saudis responsible, despite the CIA saying they, and specifically Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are culpable.

 

Trump has indicated he doesn't want to ruin the multi-billion-dollar arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia. There is also a bromance between his son-in-law and Middle-East adviser Jared Kushner and the crown prince.  

This other direction to Mueller's investigation focused on Middle Eastern countries offering Washington cash to get policies to go their way. Witnesses affiliated with Trump's 2016 campaign have been questioned about conversations with people from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. They have discussed social-media manipulation to use Trump's administration to overthrow the regime in Iran.

 

Sources are saying that the special counsel's office is ready to spell out what they have been told by cooperating witnesses with regards to the Middle East's plan to help Trump win the presidency in 2016. Mueller's team has been discussing for months the possibility of handing out new charges with regard to this other direction of the investigation. 

"If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven't seen," said former U.S. attorney Harry Litman.

 

"I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story." 

Michael Flynn is due to be sentenced soon, and in court documents it has been mentioned that he was interviewed 19 times, with the special counsel's office stating how much help he provided to the investigation.

 

But the short-time national security adviser had also been involved with other foreign representatives than Russia, including United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Because of that cooperation and resulting Middle-East policies, the investigation could be showing how these foreign influences not only helped elect Trump but how they also tried and possibly succeeded in influencing foreign policy in the administration. 

"Many of these characters involved are somewhat unsavory," said senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, Hussein Ibish.

 

"But governments deal with all kinds of people all the time. It might be possible to question the wisdom of some of these connections but not really possible to impugn the right of a government to deal with shadowy dealers in influence and access." 

Litman has other insight. The code states Mueller was given jurisdiction to "investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the special counsel's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses."

 

"For something like this to happen, Mueller would have needed to get approval from [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] for this," explained Litman. 

"It's not really in the original grant of jurisdiction, and it appears then that he made his case to Rosenstein some time ago and that Rosenstein agreed."

 

Lebanese-American businessman and emissary to the UAE, George Nader, has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation since March. He helped arrange a meeting between Trump associate Erik Prince and the head of one of Russia's sovereign wealth funds, Kirill Dmietriev.  

But he was also a go-between in conversations with Gulf state governments, an Israeli, and the Trump team. In an August 2016 meeting he reportedly told the group that the crown princes of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE wanted to help Trump win the presidency.

 

Joel Zamel was involved as well with his deep ties to Israeli intelligence. He'd already been in contact with Trump's campaign because one of his companies, the Psy Group, had created a plan to use social media to help Trump win the Republican nomination. Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's #2, was sent Zamel's proposal. 

The special counsel's office has interviewed many employees from Psy Group over the past year, and Zamel's attorney had said publicly that his client cooperated with Mueller.

 

Zamel stayed in contact after Trump's win and entered the picture again during the transition to help draw up a plan to overthrow the regime in Iran. A meeting was held between Nader, Flynn, and Saudi General Ahmed al-Assiri. Nader was pushing a plan to sabotage Tehran economically and worked with Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy.  

It's clear at this point that there are connections far deeper than Kushner's bromance and Trump's arms deal. The question is if these connections can also have criminal charges attached. It appears Mueller has been working to find that out.

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