Collusion, Qatar, And Rosneft
The big news yesterday was the Senate Judiciary Committee’s release of around 2,500 pages of documents and transcripts of testimony collected during their investigation. This release added a bit to our understanding of not only the June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting but also the attempts to manage the fallout from the revelation of that meeting including the explanation for that meeting that was crafted aboard Air Force One in July of 2017.
The transcripts show that both Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner were clearly there at the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt from the Russians about Hillary Clinton. When the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya launched into a discussion of the Magnitsky Act, both Trump and Kushner tried to get her back on the only subject they cared about, namely providing the dirt on Hillary. When Veselnitskaya stuck to her Magnitsky script, they both immediately lost interest.
Despite the protestations of both Donald Trumps, this clearly shows that the Trump campaign was absolutely willing to collude with the Russians and clearly would have taken any information about Clinton that Veselnitskaya provided and run with it. Today, Giuliani admitted as much. In fact, there is circumstantial evidence that candidate Trump was expecting to receive some compromising information from that meeting based on his promise to hold a press conference exposing Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” a few days later.
Other answers that Donald Trump Jr. gave about whether he discussed this meeting with his father and about the explanation crafted about Air Force One were unusually vague or inexplicably unresponsive, highlighting his rather limited memory that couldn’t recall answers at least 54 times.
But beyond the details of what these transcripts show, I think what may be more important is the timing of this release. While not nearly as bad as Devin Nunes, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has been consistently working to undermine the Mueller investigation and protect the President. Yes, he recently supported a bill to protect Mueller from being fired but McConnell had already signaled that bill would never come to the floor, thereby providing perfect cover for Grassley to seem non-partisan.
Knowing that, you have to question why Grassley would release these documents, which are hardly exculpatory for the Trump team, today. Two events might have prompted Grassley’s action, both motivated by the need to take the focus of the press off potentially more damaging stories. First, it is highly probable that Grassley was aware that the Senate Intelligence Committee was going to release an interim finding that declared that the Russians intervened in 2016 election specifically to help Donald Trump. That directly contradicts Trump and his Republican sycophants over in the House.
But Grassley’s release of this data has completely overshadowed another major story that may be even more relevant to the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians. That story is an indication that one of the most explosive allegations in the Steele dossier might have some validity, No, not the pee tape. It is the allegation that the Russians offered a quid-pro-quo for getting sanctions relief from the US. Specifically, the dossier states that Carter Page was offered the commission on the sale of a 19.5% stake in the oil giant Rosneft.
You can really go down the rabbit hole when you get into the connections between Rosneft and the Trump campaign. Rex Tillerson signed a deal with Rosneft in 2014 while he was running Exxon that was later determined to have exhibited “reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements” and prompted a $2 million fine. That same year, Giuliani’s law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, also stated that Rosneft was a client.
The dossier also implies that Igor Sechin, owner of Rosneft, might have been interested in selling that 19.5% stake to American or European interests because he only started shopping the shares around to “other business and political contacts” after he determined that Trump was unlikely to win the election in October of 2016. There would be no reason for Sechin to wait until October to start shopping the stake in Rosneft unless he wanted to sell it to a group that was currently blocked from buying it because of US sanctions. No matter who he sold it to, he could still pay Page some sort of commission on the deal. What seems more plausible is that media reports were already hinting at Trump-Russia collusion and Sechin realized a cutout would be needed.
In the end, Sechin ended up selling his stake to a consortium consisting of the Swiss commodity giant Glencore and the Qatari sovereign wealth fund for just over $11 billion. That deal seems to have been sealed on December 7, 2016. On December 8, Page flew to Moscow and met with senior Rosneft managers. On Decemebr 6, Ahmed al-Rumaihi flew into New York as part of the Qatari’s foreign minister’s delegation. Over the course of the next few days Cohen and al-Rumaihi actually met multiple times to discuss potential Qatari investment in US infrastructure projects. Both Cohen and al-Rumaihi seemed to be guys on the make. According to the Intercept, al-Rumaihi was only a manager of a wing of the Qatari fund with $100 billion in assets yet he was talking about $50 billion in investments in US infrastructure projects. Cohen was clearly looking for pay-to-play money. In addition, al-Rumaihi has admitted he was not really involved in the deal to buy Rosneft. On December 11, al-Rumaihi claims that Cohen asked for $1 million upfront fee to advise the Qataris on US infrastructure opportunities. Al-Rumaihi expressed skepticism and promised to take it up with his superiors.
The most important meeting, the one between the Trump transition and the Qatari foreign minister, took place on December 12 and Cohen and al-Ruhaimi were essentially bit players and non-factors in that discussion. Michael Flynn was the primary representative for the Trump team, although Flynn did briefly meet with Cohen and soon to be Energy Secretary Rick Perry shortly after his meeting with the Qatari foreign minister. The very same day, Trump announced that Rex Tillerson would be his next Secretary of State. The next day, the chief executive of the Qatari wealth fund, not al-Rumaihi, announced that the Qataris planned to invest $10 billion in US infrastructure projects. It was unclear whether that was part of a previously announced $35 billion investment over 5 years or an entirely new investment. But it is worth noting that the $10 billion nearly matches the $11 billion sale of Rosneft.
In addition, as part of a bizarre lawsuit involving Ice Cube, old-timers’ basketball, Steve Bannon, and al-Ruhaimi, a sworn deposition by one of the principals in that suit claimed that al-Ruhaimi claimed that the Qataris had bribed Michael Flynn. Lastly, we also found out last night that there were earlier SARs (suspicious activity reports) on Michael Cohen’s Essential Consulting account that indicated numerous incoming deposits from foreign entities. Those earlier SARs presumably cover the period covering these meetings.
These were not the only discussions that the Trump team had engaged in with Qataris. In 2015, and 2016, Kushner and his father had been negotiating with another Qatari, former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, to obtain $500 million for their ill-fated 666 Fifth Avenue property. That potential deal seemed to heat up after Trump won the election and may have actually been assumed to be included in the $10 billion investment announced on December 13. In 2015, Ivanka Trump also claimed that the Trump Organization was hoping to build a property in Qatar.
Of course, shortly after that December 12 meeting, everything fell apart. Flynn and Kushner were caught discussing the lifting of sanctions with Russia and brazenly lying about it. Flynn’s position finally became untenable and he had to be fired in mid-February. The opportunity for lifting sanctions passed and the best Trump could do was minimize the new sanctions that Obama had already imposed and forcefully resist pressure for other sanctions emanating from Congress.
It appears that the collapse of the sanctions deal may have also prompted a collapse in relations with the Qataris. The investment for Kushner never came through and the hotel in Qatar never got off the ground. Kushner, Flynn, and Page were apparently relying on significant paydays from the lifting of sanction and its associated payments. It also appears that Cohen was interested in getting his slice of the action for the work he had done with and for the Russians. Now, none of that would happen.
In addition, the actual sale of Rosneft turned out the be a sham. The Qataris had put up less than one-third of $11 billion, not the 50–50 split with Glencore that had been announced. Glencore itself admitted it had just put in a token amount of cash. Nearly half the purchase price, $5 billion, came from a Cayman Islands company whose owner could not be determined but some believed was the Russian government itself working through a Singapore shell company. Over $2 billion of the total has never been accounted for as coming from any entity. In any event, the sale appears to have been Putin’s and Sechin’s attempt at providing a cutout for the ultimate buyer of the firm which was presumably going to be a European or American interests.
For whatever reason, the Trump team’s relations with Qatar also badly soured. In May, 2017 Trump was in Saudi Arabia for a regional summit and the very next month the Saudis began their blockade against Qatar. Trump sided with Saudis despite the fact the most important US military base in the region is located in Qatar. This whole incident was apparently orchestrated by Kushner.
As I said earlier, you can really go down the rabbit hole when you start looking at the Rosneft connection and the Trump campaign. It is worse than the JFK assassination for threads that lead here and there. It is enormously complex, convoluted, and hard to get a grip on. But that is the way Trump has always organized his business, hiding simple deals in complex business structures. However, it feels that the connections and coincidences regarding Russia, Rosneft, and Qatar are just too numerous and striking not to mean something.
Of course, much of what I laid out above relies on supposition and theorizing and none of this amounts to any solid proof, which will probably have to wait for Mueller. But I do think that Grassley’s release of these thousand of pages of documents related to meetings whose substance were already pretty well documented is just another example of deflection that Trump and his minions are so good at and actually adds to credibility of the Rosneft theory. The news yesterday was entirely dominated by Grassley’s release and the Rosneft connection disappeared down the rabbit hole again. But, if we’ve learned anything from the last two years, it is to understand that these deflections are only used to distract the press and the people from the truth.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on May 17, 2018.