Ice Cube, 3-On-3 Basketball, and The OTHER “Trump Tower Meeting”

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Given the congressional testimony and exhibits that were released by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, we probably know as much as we can about the infamous June 2016 in Trump Tower between Don Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a bunch of Russians.  But there is another Trump Tower meeting drawing interest. The genesis of it is confusing and weird, but it may hold the key to certain allegations in the Steele Dossier.

Michael Avenatti is representing the adult film actor Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against former Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen that seeks to nullify her confidentiality agreement over an alleged affair with Donald Trump.  On Sunday, Avenatti tweeted images that appeared to show a Qatari diplomat Ahmed Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016

Al-Rumaihi is currently being sued by rapper Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, two guys who created what is known as the Big 3 Basketball League (a new sports league involving three-on-three basketball which debuted in 2017).  They are suing Al-Rumaihi because he promised to invest something like $20 million in the league, but only coughed up $6.5 million.

Last week Kwatinetz, in a sworn declaration filed as part of pending litigation against Al-Rumaihi and a number of Big 3 investors, said that the former Qatari diplomat offered him a bribe for an introduction to Kwatinetz’s friend Steve Bannon during a private hike in January 2018 (Prior to working with Big3, Kwatinetz ran a management company called The Firm. The Firm’s CFO was Steve Bannon).  January 2018 was after Bannon had been fired from the White House, following the publication of the book Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff.  Also, conservative donor Rebekah Mercer has ended financial support to Bannon, so that’s why Al-Rumaihi thought Bannon would be acceptable to a bribe.

Kwatinetz claimed in the declaration that he rejected the bribe and told Al-Rumaihi that Bannon would never accept one. At this point, he said Al-Rumaihi “laughed and then stated to me that I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘Do you think [Michael] Flynn turned down our money?’ ”

What? Michael Flynn?  Trump’s former national security adviser?  Who pled guilty to lying to investigators and is now cooperating with Mueller?

Is there evidence of that?  Well, that is where Avenatti’s images come in.

Al-Rumaihi has confirmed the images are accurate, and that he was in Trump Tower on December 12 2016. But why?

This would have been five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has been conspicuously resistant to Russian sanctions despite widespread congressional support from both parties. As Jed Shugerman has noted in Slate, during congressional testimony Page acknowledged meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, during his July 2016 trip to Russia and acknowledged “briefly” discussing the sale of Rosneft as well as there being “some general reference” to sanctions. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand has reported, Page also acknowledged meeting with top Rosneft managers in Moscow on Dec. 8—four days before the apparent Cohen–Al-Rumaihi meeting and one day after the completion of the Rosneft deal.

Avenatti noted in his tweets over the weekend that Cohen was seen meeting with Michael Flynn and incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry within two hours of apparently entering the elevator with Al-Rumaihi.

The pictures that Avenatti tweeted came from a Trump Tower live feed from that day.  There is video.

Okay, so here we have Al-Rumaihi entering a Trump Tower elevator with Michael Cohen:

Here is footage of Rumaihi leaving Trump Tower less than 90 minutes after entering with Cohen.

Here is footage from multiple feeds of Flynn coming down 12 minutes after Al-Rumaihi’s exit, loitering in the lobby for a bit, and waiting to meet with Cohen and Perry a few minutes later:

So why was Al-Rumaihi in Trump Tower that day?  Well, he offered a brief explanation through a spokesman to CNN: “Al-Rumaihi was at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016. He was there in his then role as head of Qatar Investments, an internal division of QIA, to accompany the Qatari delegation that was meeting with Trump transition officials on that date. He did not participate in any meetings with Michael Flynn, and his involvement in the meetings on that date was limited.” Another source told CNN that during one meeting “Cohen briefly popped in.”

The Trump Tower meetings are by their very nature interesting. Qatar was very eager to build relationships with the new administration during the transition, an effort that was apparently unsuccessful given Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and support of the blockade.

So Qatar briefly considered another course of action: Informing special counsel Robert Mueller about efforts by the UAE to influence the administration against Qatar. In March NBC reported on that possibility, explaining that the Qataris felt that meetings between the UAE and administration figures were worthy of Mueller’s attention.

Our final characters in this tale now make their appearances. Elliott Broidy is a Republican Party donor who had been introduced to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan by a man named George Nader, who himself had met several times at the White House with Bannon and Trump adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

Broidy owns a private security firm that has contracts with the UAE, according to the New York Times. He wrote a memo to the president arguing that the U.S. should back the UAE’s positions in the Gulf, only to find that the memo and some of his emails were hacked and leaked to the media. Broidy blamed the Qatari government, and filed suit against it.

Broidy’s name has been in the news for another reason recently: He was also a client of Michael Cohen’s, with Cohen assisting him in finalizing a payment to a Playboy playmate whom Broidy had impregnated.

That is where the story stands. From Ice Cube’s basketball league to a security contractor accusing a foreign government of hacking him even as he fends off questions about his affair with a playmate. The thread that ties it all together is the apparent interest of the Qatari government to build what relationships it could with the Trump administration and those close to it.

That effort doesn’t seem to have been entirely successful.