PROOF OF CONSPIRACY | SETH ABRAMSON | St. Martin's Publishing Group






ON SALE 9/3/19


In March 2018, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “wins” his “reelection” effort in Egypt, with Foreign Policy calling the balloting a “farcical election in which every credible challenger was arrested or intimidated out of the race.”69 March also sees a visit by MBS to Washington, where he is “feted” by President Trump even as a close Trump ally—David Pecker of AMI, a future Mueller cooperating witness who had spent the 2016 presidential campaign “catching” and “killing” stories that could harm Trump politically—publishes nationwide a large, glossy, ad-free propaganda magazine whose sole purpose is to “sell America on a fellow Trump ally, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”70 The propaganda, which ignores MBS’s domestic purges in Riyadh and his sponsorship of war crimes in Yemen, lauds his wealth and his Vision 2030 plan for the future of the kingdom he stands to inherit. At one point it includes a picture of a grinning Donald Trump beside Kacy Grine, a French financial adviser who “acts as an intermediary between . . . [MBS] and Western businesses.” 71 Pecker’s publication promotes a “new Saudi-led United Arabic Market” that will “build economic relations with Israel.”72

MBS and the Saudi government will disclaim any knowledge of how the propaganda vehicle came to be, and the White House and the Trump Organization will refuse to comment on the question.73 The New York Times will note, however, that in July 2017 Pecker and Grine went to the White House to visit Trump and Kushner, during which meeting the AMI chairman received “an unofficial seal of approval from the White House . . . [as he was] considering expanding his media and events businesses into Saudi Arabia.”74According to the Times, “Word soon traveled back to Saudi Arabia about the dinner: It signaled Mr. Pecker’s powerful status in Washington. Two months later, Pecker was in Saudi Arabia, meeting with Mr. Grine and the crown prince about business opportunities there.”75 When MBS comes to America in March 2018, Pecker and Grine attend multiple events with him, even as his $13.99-per-unit panegyric to MBS is on newsstands across the country “talk[ing] up the relationship between Mr. Trump and the Saudis” and noting, as summarized by the Times, that “Mr. Trump ‘endorsed the crown prince’s high profile anticorruption’ crackdown.”76 During his visit to D.C., MBS acquires a $400 million stake in the Hollywood talent agency run by Ari Emanuel, the man who introduced Pecker to Grine.77

From Trump’s inauguration onward, it is Jared Kushner—not, as during the campaign, Michael Cohen—who acts as Trump’s “main conduit” to Pecker, broadly discussing, according to the Daily Beast, “international relations” with the publisher of the National Enquirer, as well as “relations with the Saudi regime” specifically.78 By the time Pecker publishes his pro-MBS propaganda in 2018, he has not only been discussing U.S.-Saudi relations with Kushner for months but also, over the years he has known Kushner, at various points been “thinking about forging a business relationship” with Trump’s son-in- law, according to the Daily Beast.79

Following the publication of his glossy MBS propaganda, Pecker becomes concerned that he may be acting as an agent of Saudi Arabia. Trump’s longtime friend is worried on this score not only because of the magazine he’s just published but because AMI has had, per the Wall Street Journal, “plenty of contacts with Saudi Arabia in recent years, including seeking financial backing from Saudi investors to fund acquisitions”—an apparent reference to Pecker asking Saudi Arabia to assist the National Enquirer in paying for news stories.80

Pecker will ultimately ask the Department of Justice whether AMI—an entity with significant responsibility for Trump’s election as president, given the stories it purchased and buried for him pre-election— should register as an agent of the Saudi government.81 A further reason for Pecker making the query to the DOJ, though it’s unknown if this information was transmitted to the DOJ at the time, is that, as the Associated Press will later report, “the Saudi Embassy in Washington got a sneak peek” of the pro-MBS magazine AMI produced in a print run of 200,000 copies, “quietly sharing [a digital copy] with Saudi officials . . . almost three weeks before it was published, despite both parties’ insistence that they didn’t coordinate on the magazine.”82 AMI even “reached out to Saudi officials in the U.S. before publication to seek help with the [magazine’s] content.”83 Image metadata acquired by the Associated Press from two different individuals reveals that shortly after February 19, 2018, AMI sent a pdf of the magazine to “Saudi officials, including the embassy’s military office . . . it was also passed to Nail al-Jubeir, the former embassy spokesman and brother of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.” 84 The latter al-Jubeir will show up again in American media in February 2019, when he issues a vague if expansive threat over attempts to hold MBS accountable for the execution of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi: “Our leadership is a red line,” al-Jubeir will announce on Twitter in defense of MBS. “We warn against any attempt to link Khashoggi’s crime [sic] to our leadership.” 85 Al-Jubeir adds, “We will not accept any state to dictate to us what to do.”86

By 2019, media reports will have revealed that David Pecker’s pro-MBS propaganda “included content written by” MBS intermediary Grine, that AMI “also gave [Grine] the whole working draft for advance review, and that he suggested changes, and they implemented changes, and that he provided . . . photographs of MBS.”87 Also revealed will be the fact that Pecker has, sometime since March 2018, entered into an immunity agreement with federal prosecutors, as has Dylan Howard, AMI’s chief content officer—who the New York Times notes was “known to have a recording device in his office.”88 The Times will call Pecker’s cooperation deal “another potential blow to the president from a former loyalist.”89

In a “Statement of Admitted Facts” AMI submits to the Southern District of New York, the organization will admit to acting “in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members or agents of a candidate’s 2016 presidential campaign, to ensure that a woman did not publicize damaging allegations about that candidate before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election . . . AMI agreed to pay [a] model $150,000—substantially more money than AMI otherwise would have paid to acquire the story—because of Cohen’s assurances to Pecker that AMI would ultimately be reimbursed for the payment. . . . AMI’s principal purpose in entering into the agreement was to suppress the model’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”90 The Wall Street Journal thereafter publishes a long exposé on Trump’s role in paying his ex-girlfriends for their silence in the run-up to Election Day in 2016, concluding that Trump had a “central role in hush payoffs.”91

Pecker’s DOJ query about his relationship with Saudi Arabia takes on a different cast when the full scope of his pre-election collusion with Trump, including his payment of millions of dollars to hide negative information about Trump from American voters, is considered. Indeed, in August 2018 the Associated Press will reveal that during the general election, AMI “kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump.”92 This means that at a time AMI was seeking—possibly successfully—“ financial backing from Saudi investors,” it was also, per court papers in the Michael Cohen campaign finance case, “offer[ing] to help [Trump] deal with negative stories about his relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”93 Most notably, AMI’s assistance of the Trump campaign in this fashion began just seventy-two hours after Saudi emissary Nader had met with Trump’s son at Trump Tower on August 3, 2016, to offer assistance to the Trump campaign on behalf of the Saudis; by August 6, AMI had agreed to pay $150,000 to Karen McDougal, a former Trump mistress, for her “life rights” (the right to publish her life story).94 Just weeks earlier, Pecker’s company had flatly refused to purchase McDougal’s life rights.95

As to whether AMI might have made decisions about whether or not to publish material about then-candidate Trump without contacting him first, Jerry George, a former AMI senior editor, told the New Yorker that “in his 25 years at the company, ‘we never printed a word about Trump without his approval.’”96 An unanswered question therefore remains: Did the Saudis pay money to AMI, on Trump’s behalf, that AMI had previously been unwilling to expend itself? Whether any such Saudi payments to AMI occurred before the 2016 election or as part of Pecker’s expansive and lucrative dealings with the Saudis post-election, if either Trump or Pecker had knowledge that Trump would be receiving outside assistance in paying hush money to his ex-mistresses— or if Trump had been given any such assurance prior to the election, whether or not the payments had yet been made—it is very likely something that has already been discussed in detail among Pecker, Dylan Howard, and federal investigators in the Southern District of New York.

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