Over the course of the Mueller investigation the ties between the administration and Qatar seem to have been multiplying by the day.
First, it was revealed that in December 2016 shortly after Trump was elected president, former Qatari diplomat Ahmed al-Rumaihi, head of Qatar Investments, attended a meeting at Trump Tower with President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. During a separate encounter around the same time, Cohen reportedly solicited a $1 million payment from Qatar in exchange for access to the incoming administration — a payment Qatar reportedly refused.
Then, on Friday afternoon it was revealed that while attending the Qatar-U.S. Economic Forum in Miami last month, Cohen requested a meeting with Qatar ambassador Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani. The tete-a-tete came just days before the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office in its ongoing probe into his financial dealings.
Now, a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing shows that Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, also lobbied last year for the State of Qatar and its ambassador Al Thani. Al Thani was also among the senior foreign officials who visited Trump’s transition team headquarters at Trump Tower in December 2016.
Filed on July 27, 2017, the FARA document states that Ryan and his business partner, former congressman James Moran – who both work for the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP – would “advocate on behalf of the State of Qatar.”
“This matter will involve advising and assisting the State of Qatar,” it continues, “in establishing and conducting liaison with Executive Branch officials and Members of Congress and the Senate and their staff who are responsible in law and policy areas that affect the economy, security and policy interests of the State of Qatar.”
For their lobbying services, which began July 1 last year, Qatar paid $40,000 per month. According to a March 2018 filing, Ryan’s agreement with the State of Qatar and Al Thani ended on August 31, 2017. His firm, according to the most recent filing, continues to represent Qatar.
Qatar is the richest country per capita in the world, thanks to its natural gas resources and small population. It is home to the U.S. Central Command’s Middle East headquarters and has a major U.S. air base where 10,000 U.S. troops are based. Qatar is also a major purchaser of U.S. defense equipment.
And recently, Qatar has intensified its efforts to invest in the U.S., with a pledge to back infrastructure projects to the tune of $45 billion. Investors linked to Qatar have also reportedly eyed investments in Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate company. Qatar also bought a condo in Trump Tower for $6.5 million in January.
The Qatari government has reportedly been hiring a team of lobbyists and public relations experts in the U.S. in order to “win White House support for the lifting of a blockade … imposed its adversaries in the region, including Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Policy magazine reports. The blockade was initially supported by President Trump in May 2017; he reversed his opinion several months later in September.
News of Qatar’s relationship with Cohen’s lawyer was revealed after Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti released his latest bombshell allegation Friday evening on Twitter.
“Why is Mr. Cohen’s attorney Mr. Ryan representing Mr. Cohen at the same time he is working for Qatar?” Avenatti wrote, before referencing Cohen’s $1m offer to Qatar in 2016. “Especially in light of the Qatar bribery allegations revealed earlier this week? Are they paying MC’s legal bills?”
Why is Mr. Cohen's attorney Mr. Ryan representing Mr. Cohen at the same time he is working for Qatar? Especially in light of the Qatar bribery allegations revealed earlier this week? Are they paying MC's legal bills? No wonder he is trying to keep me out of the case! #Conflict
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 19, 2018
Avenatti was also responsible for revealing the December 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
“I think it’s probably a complete conflict of interest, especially if those payments are at the center of the Mueller probe or may find their way into the criminal action in the southern district of New York,” Avenatti said Friday night on MSNBC with Lawrence O’Donnell.
“It’s very interesting we haven’t heard anything about how Michael Cohen’s legal fees are being paid,” Avenatti later added, once again raising the question about whether Qatar helped pay Cohen’s legal fees.
MSNBC’s O’Donnell agreed the arrangement appears unusual, stating “I have never heard of a criminal litigator ever working as a lobbyist [at the same time].”
The FBI’s investigation into Cohen is centered on determining possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations. A hearing for Cohen is scheduled for next week.
CORRECTION: This story was corrected to reflect details found in a second statement filed in March 2018 showing Ryan and the State of Qatar’s agreement ended in August 2017. It was also updated to clarify that Ahmed al-Rumaihi attended a meeting in Trump Tower in his capacity as head of Qatari Investments, and that his encounter with Michael Cohen regarding the $1 million offer took place during a separate meeting.