One of Trump’s ‘America First’ Speeches Was Edited By a Foreign Government
In calling for an investigation into Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Tuesday, President Trump made it four straight days of bashing the House Oversight Committee chairman. Driving the president’s vitriol is, among other things, the fact that Cummings’ committee is investigating potential misconduct by Trump and his administration. It’s understandable that the president is worried. Emails and texts uncovered by the committee revealed that Trump’s campaign let United Arab Emirates officials edit an “America First” energy speech Trump delivered as a candidate in the 2016 election. It doesn’t end there, either.
The edits to the speech were originally reported by The New York Times on Sunday. The Oversight Committee’s report, which was released publicly on Monday, goes on to provide a trove of additional details as to how Trump associates, most notably longtime confidant and adviser Thomas Barrack, mixed personal and government business in their dealings with Saudi Arabia, and how the Trump administration continues to pursue deals to transfer nuclear technology to the Middle Eastern nation. “Overall, the new documents obtained by the Committee reveal that, with regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests,” the report reads. “The documents show the Administration’s willingness to let private parties with close ties to the President wield outsized influence over U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia.”
Barrack, who advised Trump on the Middle East during his campaign and went on to lead his inaugural committee (which has long been under criminal investigation,) solicited foreign input on the energy-policy speech in question. According to the report, he initially gave it to one of his connections in the United Arab Emirates, who then gave it to officials in that government as well as officials in Saudi Arabia. Barrack then worked to make sure changes suggested by UAE officials were included in the speech, which was delivered in May 2016, shortly after Trump secured the Republican nomination. In on the jig was Paul Manafort, the jack-of-all-corruption who at the time was Trump’s campaign chairman and is now serving a nearly eight-year prison sentence.
“Are you running this by our friends?” Manafort wrote to Barrack in an email about the speech, referencing their contacts in the Middle East. Manafort later wrote that he would “fight” to make sure the changes suggested by UAE officials were in the speech. On the day the speech was given, he wrote to Barrack: “This is the most likely final version of the speech. It has the language you want.”
The speech, however, didn’t have all the language desired by the Middle Eastern officials, who wanted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and UAE Crown Prince Abudhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to be mentioned by name, along with a line about supporting reform in the Middle East in order to reduce Islamic terrorism. The names were omitted, but the latter idea was included, with Trump noting his intention to “work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.” (Investigators note there are no indications Trump himself was aware that the line came from UAE officials.)
ProPublica produced a video isolating that portion of the speech, along with an explanation of how it was edited:
Barrack has not commented publicly on the Oversight Committee’s report, but his aides told the Times that Barrack was disappointed that the names of the Middle Eastern leaders were not included in the speech. They also said that Barrack’s investment firm, Colony Capital, received $1.5 billion from the UAE and Saudi Arabia from the time of Trump’s nomination through the end of this June. They denied he was working on the behalf of any foreign government, though, or that he benefited financially from his efforts as as intermediary.
The revelation about the UAE edits to Trump’s speech comes amid a series of investigations regarding foreign influence over Trump’s campaign, transition, inauguration, and presidential administration. Barrack has been at the center of probes into Trump World’s relationship to the Middle East, as has Elliott Broidy, the GOP donor and vice chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee whose swampiness was detailed in a Rolling Stone investigation earlier this year. Earlier this month, a federal grand jury launched a new probe into whether Broidy, who had already been under federal investigation, used his position on the inaugural committee to score business deals with foreign nations. According to the Times, federal prosecutors are also investigating Barrack.
Though Broidy wielded influence from behind the scenes, Barrack’s role was more pronounced, to the point that, as the report details, he sought an administration post, either as ambassador to the UAE or special envoy to the Middle East. He continued to push his connections to the Middle East as the head of the inaugural committee, giving the same UAE connection he solicited for edits to Trump’s “America First” speech an invitation to the exclusive inaugural dinner. And, according to the report, shortly after Trump was sworn in, Barrack proposed an idea for American companies — including his own private equity firm, naturally — to help Saudi Arabia build nuclear power plants; or, in essence, to transfer nuclear technology to the Saudis. The report notes that discussion regarding a potential deal “continues to the present day,” largely through Trump son-in-law-turned-presidential-adviser Jared Kushner. “These new documents raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,” the report reads.
Trump routinely placates Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, most notably in casting doubt that MBS was responsible for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and last week the president vetoed three congressional resolutions blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguing that they would “would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.”
On Monday, the Senate failed to override the vetos of the three resolutions.