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Saudi Arabia Edited a Trump "America First" Campaign Speech. Manafort Helped Them Do It.

Longtime Trump friend Thomas Barrack sent the prepared remarks to a contact who shared them with the Emiratis and the Saudis.

by Alex Lubben
Jul 30 2019, 4:46pm

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A Trump campaign aide and Paul Manafort let Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates edit a stump speech delivered by Trump in May 2016.

With the help of Thomas Barrack Jr., a longtime Trump friend and a major Republican campaign donor who led the inaugural committee, the campaign sent a draft of the energy-policy speech to officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Barrack then worked with campaign manager Manafort to make sure some of the changes were made — all in what appears to be an attempt to allow nuclear-tech sharing that could have led to a lucrative deal for Barrack, to finance the construction of nuclear power plants in the Middle East.

The revelation comes from a report, based on 6,000 pages of new documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, that suggests Trump could be susceptible to the influence of a foreign interest when convenient for his biggest supporters.

“With regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policy-making from corporate and foreign interests,” said the report, commissioned by the committee’s chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland who’s been the subject of racist ire from Trump in the last few days. Lawmakers aren’t thrilled about sharing nuclear tech with the Saudis, especially after Saudi agents murdered U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The last thing we should be doing is giving the Saudi government the tools to produce nuclear weapons,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren in March.

It wasn’t clear, as the report states, whether Trump himself had any knowledge that his aides were circulating the speech.

What is clear is that in the weeks leading up to Trump’s speech, Barrack, a billionaire who runs a private equity firm, sent the prepared remarks to a contact who shared them with the Emiratis and the Saudis. He then made sure that the changes they wanted were incorporated into the speech, with Manafort’s help.

“Are you running this by our friends?” Manafort emailed Barrack, according to the New York Times. Manafort followed up: “This is the most likely final version of the speech. It has the language you want,” Manafort emailed Barrack the day Trump gave the speech.

READ: Trump sticks with the Saudis, despite the "vicious and terrible" Khashoggi murder

Barrack stood to gain from a close energy relationship with the Saudis. He was angling to get a deal for his company to help finance the construction of nuclear power plants there, according to the New York Times. He was pushing for a lax agreement that would allow the U.S. to share its nuclear tech with Saudi Arabia — with restrictions light enough that they could allow the country to develop nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Barrack was trying to get the Saudi head of state to push Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to appoint Barrack as a special diplomatic envoy to the Middle East. He didn’t get the job.

And Barrack’s already raking in cash from the UAE and the Saudis. Between Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the end of June of this year, Barrack’s taken in $1.5 billion from Saudis and the Emiratis through investments or other transactions like asset sales, according to the Times.

Federal investigators are asking questions about his ties to both the Trump campaign and the Middle East.

The speech was ultimately a watered-down version of Trump’s characteristic, strong-headed America First rhetoric. “We will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy,” Trump said.

Still, not all of the changes that Barrack had asked for on behalf of his contacts in the Middle East made it into the speech. He didn’t manage to get references to specific Arab leaders in the speech, as his pals in the Middle East had requested.

Cover: In this July 18, 2016, file photo, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort walks around the convention floor before the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is questioning Donald Trump’s top political aide’s ties to a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine, claiming it is evidence of the Republican nominee’s cozy relationship with Russia. The New York Times reported that handwritten ledgers found in Ukraine show $12.7 million in undisclosed payments to Paul Manafort from the pro-Russia party founded by the country’s former president Viktor Yanukovych. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)