Trump Lawyer Met With Qatari Government Official Days Before FBI Raid
Was Michael Cohen seeking to add foreign governments as clients of his consulting business?
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, who made millions over the past 18 months soliciting funds from clients seeking entree and influence at the White House, met with a senior Qatari official in Florida last month, just days before the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The sources would not say what was discussed at the meeting with Qatar’s minister of economy and commerce, Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani. But the Washington Post reported this week that Cohen had offered his services to a different Qatari official at a meeting in December 2016, promising access to the White House in exchange for $1 million.
The Qatari turned down the offer at the time, according to the report.
The meeting last month took place on the sidelines of the glitzy Qatar-U.S. Economic Forum in Miami. The gathering brought together U.S. investors and Qatari businessmen for talks on joint projects and promoted investment opportunities tied to the 2022 World Cup.
It also attracted lobbyists looking to sign up Qatar as a client.
A Qatari Embassy spokesman said Cohen requested the meeting with Al Thani but would not say if it took place. “The State of Qatar has never been a client of Mr. Cohen,” the spokesman said.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the meeting.
After Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, Cohen pitched himself as a consultant to companies looking for insight into the operations of the White House. He landed several big-name clients, including telecom giant AT&T, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, and an investment firm linked to a Russian billionaire recently sanctioned by the U.S. government.
The FBI is investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
His trip to Miami is likely to raise questions about whether he was seeking to expand his consulting business to foreign governments.
Cohen’s pitch to multinational companies touted his access to Trump and his unique understanding of the administration’s key players. Advocacy groups have questioned whether this consulting work fell afoul of American lobbying laws, including whether Cohen should have registered as a foreign agent.
Qatar has in recent months hired teams of lobbyists and public relations consultants in the United States to win White House support for the lifting of a blockade on the resource-rich emirate imposed by its adversaries in the region, including Saudi Arabia.
“They’ve done an awful lot to bring people into a favorable view of them,” says Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.
Qatari state-backed investors have pledged to inject $45 billion into the U.S. economy, including in possible infrastructure projects prized by the Trump administration. Investors linked to Qatar have also eyed investments in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate company. The New York Times reported on Thursday that a Canadian real estate company backed by the Qatar Investment Authority is close to a deal that would bail out a financially troubled, Kushner-owned office tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.
During the presidential transition, Cohen discussed infrastructure projects with Ahmed al-Rumaihi, the Qatari executive from whom he solicited a $1 million payment. According to the Intercept, Cohen told al-Rumaihi that he would require the fee before offering his advice on infrastructure projects in which the Qataris should invest.
The Miami forum kicked off a four-city tour that brought Qatari officials and businessmen to South Carolina, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. The tour coincided with a high-level visit of Qatari officials to Washington that included an Oval Office meeting between Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Trump.
At the meeting, Trump praised his counterpart as a partner in combating terrorist financing. The comment seemed to conflict with Trump’s previous description of Qatar as a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
According to a person who attended the Miami forum, Cohen sat in on at least one roundtable discussion. The forum included a large Qatari government delegation and private businessmen from the Gulf state interested in investing in U.S. real estate, the hospitality industry, and sports franchises.
Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll