Saudi spy met with Team Trump about taking down Iran

October 26, 2018

General Ahmed al-Assiri, the Saudi intelligence chief taking the fall for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, hobnobbed in New York with Michael Flynn and other members of the transition team shortly before Trump’s inauguration. The topic of their discussion: regime change in Iran.

Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful Saudi crown prince, dispatched Assiri from Riyadh for the meetings, which took place over the course of two days in early January 2017, according to communications reviewed by The Daily Beast. The January meetings have come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office as part of his probe into foreign governments’ attempts to gain influence in the Trump campaign and in the White House, an individual familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast. A spokesperson for Mueller declined to comment.
The New York meetings were attended and brokered by George Nader, a Lebanese-American with close ties to leaders in the United Arab Emirates who is currently cooperating with Mueller’s team. Also present at the meetings was Israeli social media strategist Joel Zamel, who has been questioned by Mueller for his role in pitching top campaign officials on an influence operation to help Trump win the election—overtures that could have broken federal election laws.
Steve Bannon was involved as well in conversations on Iran regime change during those two days in January, according to the communications.
The communications show that participants in the meetings discussed a multi-pronged strategy for eroding, and eventually ending, the current Iranian regime—including economic, information, and military tactics for weakening the Tehran government. Earlier this year The New York Times reported Nader was promoting a plan to carry out economic sabotage against Iran and pitched the plan in the Spring of 2017 to Saudi, UAE, and American officials. It’s unclear if that plan ever moved forward or if it was part of the larger project for regime change discussed in these January 2017 meetings.
Either way, former CIA acting director John McLaughlin told The Daily Beast, the get-togethers as described were very unusual.
“It’s concerning to me as a former intelligence official because of the fact that it smacks of covert action planning, which is the most sensitive thing the U.S. government does and is so uniquely the province of the sitting president,” he said.
A spokesperson for Zamel said his client had spoken to the special counsel’s office about his business but declined to comment on the January 2017 meeting. Bannon did not comment on the record for this story. A lawyer for Flynn declined to comment.
The meetings in New York, which have not yet been reported, show the depth of efforts by foreign officials and power brokers to influence the nascent Trump administration on the most sensitive foreign policy decisions. The discussions in New York came at a time when the Trump team was developing its Iran strategy and looking for input from individuals who were working on plans to counter Tehran’s influence. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose leaders made overtures to the campaign throughout the 2016 election, were at the time developing campaigns to thwart its regional adversaries, including Iran.
“It makes complete sense that Assiri would have been meeting with the Trump team during this time,” one former Pentagon official with close ties to the intelligence community told The Daily Beast. “The team was meeting with a lot of foreign influencers and Saudi was a country that wanted in on all anti-Iran projects.”
 (Source: The Daily Beast)

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