During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump was set to do a speech on energy in which he was going to start pitching the phrase “America First,” but before he went onstage to talk about his plans for American energy production, one of Trump’s advisers ran the speech past officials from the United Arab Emirates. And then copies were sent to Saudi Arabia. So it was America first—so long as the UAE and Saudis are okay with that. When he finally got around to sharing the speech with Americans, some of the language in Trump’s “America First” speech actually came from the UAE.
According to ABC News, it was Trump adviser Thomas Barrack who arranged to give representatives from the UAE a preview of the speech two weeks before Trump delivered it. An associate of Barrack’s provided the speech to both Saudi and UAE representatives, still before Trump had delivered it to Americans. Finally, Barrack worked with Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to insert revisions made by the UAE into the speech that Trump actually delivered. Manafort wrote back to Barrack confirming that the final version of the speech included the language requested by the UAE.
Why is this coming to light now? Because investigators for the House Oversight Committee—the committee chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings—have unearthed a trove of communications featuring Manafort, Barrack, and representatives from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Though Trump’s attack on Rep. Cummings appears to have been tied to a Fox News hit piece, the idea of going after the Oversight Committee chair might very much have already been on Trump’s mind.
The recommended language from Barrack’s UAE contact at one point included suggesting that Trump directly mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, but that apparently didn’t mesh too well with the screw-the-world tone of the speech that included Trump’s declaration that he would withdraw from the Paris agreement. The final speech included a toned-down version of the text requested by the UAE that said that Trump wanted to “work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.”
Barrack seemed to realize that this communication between the Trump campaign and a foreign government over the future of U.S. energy policy was problematic at best. In an exchange with Manafort, he noted that the language he was proposing to add to the speech was “probably as close as I can get without crossing a lot of lines.” Whether he’s concerned about crossing U.S. law, or crossing Mohammed bin Salman, isn’t clear.
Investigators for the Oversight Committee have collected more than 60,000 documents showing “intermingling of private interests and public policy decisions” by Trump both before and after the election. Some of this information was released in a report on Monday, and follows similar information released by the House in February after whistleblowers discussed these connections between the Trump White House and foreign governments.
The request to mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, along with the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is of great interest. At the time of Trump’s speech, Mohammed bin Salman was not the crown prince. He wouldn’t assume that position until an internal “mini-coup” in 2017, immediately following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Since then, Jared Kushner has made multiple trips to visit him, delivering to him classified information to use against his enemies. Trump has issued two vetoes of bills designed to halt arms sales used in Mohammed bin Salman’s expansive war in Yemen.
This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 30, 2019. Reprinted with permission.