Democrats’ promised Trump probes threaten to sweep up Mideast al­lies

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Bryant Har­ris

The prospect of a so-called blue wave in next month’s midterm elec­tions could put key U.S. al­lies in the Mid­dle East in an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion as Democrats pur­sue in­ves­ti­ga­tions that have been blocked in a Repub­li­can-held Congress.

While Democrats only have an 18% chance of tak­ing the Se­nate, their like­li­hood of sweep­ing the House cur­rently stands at 78%, ac­cord­ing to polling ag­gre­ga­tor FiveThir­tyEight. And they’ve made no se­cret about their in­tent to is­sue dozens of sub­poena re­quests tar­get­ing the Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

To date, Repub­li­cans on the highly politi­cized House Over­sight Com­mit­tee have blocked at least 64 sub­poena re­quests, many of which im­pli­cate ma­jor U.S. al­lies like Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael and Turkey.

Trump fam­ily busi­ness

Democrats have threat­ened to launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s vow to do­nate for­eign prof­its from his com­pany to the U.S. Trea­sury. They ar­gue that the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s busi­ness ties in for­eign coun­tries pose “nu­mer­ous con­flicts of in­ter­est” and po­ten­tially vi­o­late the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a Time magazine in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year, Trump no­tably has busi­ness deal­ings in Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Is­rael, Egypt and Turkey.

Nor­man Eisen, the chair­man of the board of the watch­dog group Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton and a for­mer spe­cial coun­sel in the Barack Obama White House, has filed a fed­eral law­suit against Trump over his re­fusal to di­vest from his busi­ness. Eisen ar­gues that Trump’s for­eign busi­ness ties pose an un­con­sti­tu­tional con­flict of in­ter­est, as they could in­flu­ence U.S. pol­icy.

“From day one to the present day, one must ask whether his for­eign pol­icy has been tainted, dented and dis­torted by his fi­nan­cial con­nec­tions,” Eisen told Al-Mon­i­tor.

Trump’s busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with the Saudis in par­tic­u­lar has come un­der re­newed scru­tiny fol­low­ing his de­layed re­sponse to Saudi Ara­bia’s al­leged ab­duc­tion and pos­si­ble mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

“I don’t know why Trump made his first [for­eign] trip to Saudi Ara­bia,” Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., told re­porters while dis­cussing Khashoggi on Wed­nes­day. “Clearly he wants to have an un­usu­ally close re­la­tion­ship with the Saudis. I hope it doesn’t have to do with any of his busi­ness in­ter­ests in Saudi Ara­bia.”

Eisen was blunter.

“The pres­i­dent’s, in my view, bizarre be­hav­ior with re­spect to the dis­ap­pear­ance and likely death of Ja­mal Khashoggi is in­flu­enced by his busi­ness con­nec­tions and his fam­ily’s busi­ness con­nec­tions with the Saudis,” he said.

Eisen also noted that Trump’s travel ban on sev­eral Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries ex­cluded coun­tries with ties to the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, has ar­gued that Iran, Libya, So­ma­lia, Syria and Ye­men, along with North Korea and Venezuela, were sin­gled out for poor co­op­er­a­tion with the United States, ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity and fail­ure to doc­u­ment their trav­el­ers. The Supreme Court up­held the pol­icy by a 5-4 vote in June.

“He ex­cluded coun­tries like Saudi or Egypt that, his­tor­i­cally, at least rep­re­sented a far greater threat on Amer­i­can soil, where he had busi­ness ties and only in­cluded coun­tries where he didn’t,” Eisen ar­gued.

The Saudis have also ag­gres­sively made use of vis­its to Trump’s strug­gling ho­tel chain. Ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port this month, Trump’s New York ho­tel rev­enue in­creased in the first quar­ter of this year fol­low­ing a last-minute visit from Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. The Post also notes that Saudi-based cus­tomers have booked 218 nights at the pres­i­dent’s Chicago ho­tel this year, a 169% in­crease from 2016.

Kuwait and Bahrain, mean­while, both opted to hold their na­tional days at Trump’s Wash­ing­ton ho­tel fol­low­ing his election.

Two pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions, the World Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion and Hadas­sah, the Women’s Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica, also spend $1.6 mil­lion per year leas­ing of­fice space from Trump in New York, ac­cord­ing to a data­base com­piled by Forbes. How­ever, Hadas­sah opted not to at­tend a 2016 Hanukkah party at Trump’s Wash­ing­ton ho­tel.

“It’s hard to pre­dict how that im­pacts the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sions made by oth­ers in his ad­min­is­tra­tion and whether he’s aware of these for­eign gov­ern­ments or en­ti­ties stay­ing in his prop­er­ties,” Scott Amey, the gen­eral coun­sel at the Project on Govern­ment Over­sight, told Al-Mon­i­tor. “It would be nice that there is more dis­clo­sure there and that we can al­lay any fears that peo­ple have that Pres­i­dent Trump is cre­at­ing poli­cies de­pen­dent on who’s stay­ing at his ho­tels or swing­ing golf clubs at his golf cour­ses.”

Kush­ner fam­ily ties

Sep­a­rately, Democrats also want to sub­poena ?Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s son-in-law and Mid­dle East ad­viser, for his fam­ily’s busi­ness ties with the United Arab Emi­rates and Is­rael. The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that both coun­tries sought to use the Kush­ner fam­ily’s real es­tate busi­ness to ma­nip­u­late him. Ac­cord­ing to the Post, the UAE tried to lever­age the Kush­ner fam­ily’s search for in­vestors against him.

Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed al­legedly boasted to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan that Kush­ner was “in his pocket,” ac­cord­ing to a March re­port in the In­ter­cept. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Kush­ner spoke with Prince Mo­hammed and dis­cussed the prince’s crit­ics shortly be­fore the Saudi crack­down on royal fam­ily mem­bers and busi­ness elites deemed in­suf­fi­ciently loyal.

Demo­cratic ac­tivists have be­gun ty­ing that re­port to Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

“As we learn more about what the ad­min­is­tra­tion knew and when it knew it, can’t help but re­call re­port­ing from March that Kush­ner passed U.S. in­tel to the Saudi Crown Prince to fa­cil­i­tate his purge,” Ned Price, for­mer CIA of­fi­cer and mem­ber of Obama’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, tweeted to­day. “Congress must de­mand an­swers re. any Kush­ner role here.”

Con­versely, a July re­port in the In­ter­cept re­vealed that Qatar has failed to get on Kush­ner’s good side. The In­ter­cept re­ported that Qatar and Kush­ner’s busi­ness failed to ar­rive at a $500 mil­lion in­vest­ment deal. Shortly af­ter, the White House ap­peared to side with Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE in their block­ade against Qatar.

Michael Flynn

Democrats would also like to get their hands on a pro­posal from Trump’s short-lived na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, for a pro­posal to con­struct nu­clear re­ac­tors in Saudi Ara­bia. Al­though Flynn re­signed af­ter a month on the job and sub­se­quently pleaded guilty to ly­ing to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, both Democrats and Repub­li­cans fear that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to pur­sue a civil nu­clear d deal with Riyadh with too few re­stric­tions, po­ten­tially paving the way for a nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Flynn was also un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for fail­ing to dis­close his lob­by­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on be­half of Turkey.

Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence firms

Democrats have also re­quested a sub­poena on the pri­vate Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence firm Black Cube for its al­leged dirty ops cam­paign against Obama-era of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for ne­go­ti­at­ing the Iran nu­clear deal. The New Yorker re­ported in Au­gust that a memo had cir­cu­lated among Trump White House of­fi­cials sim­i­lar to Black Cube’s as­ser­tions that the for­mer Obama of­fi­cials were work­ing to un­der­mine Trump’s with­drawal from the Iran nu­clear deal.

Other Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence firms may be caught in the crosshairs of a Demo­cratic House as well. The New York Times re­ported this month that Mueller is look­ing into re­ports that Trump cam­paign of­fi­cial Rick Gates so­licited the Is­raeli com­pany Psy-Group to bol­ster sup­port for Trump’s 2016 cam­paign by spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.

Democrats also want to sub­poena Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s son-in-law and Mid­dle East ad­viser, for his fam­ily’s busi­ness ties with the United Arab Emi­rates and Is­rael.

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