Manafort Lied About Business Dealings, Mueller’s Team Believes

Investigators alleged that Mr. Manafort made inaccurate statements in interviews with Mr. Mueller’s team about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, said the people familiar with the matter.

.. Mr. Kilimnik, who Mr. Mueller charged earlier this year along with Mr. Manafort with trying to influence the testimony of two witnesses against Mr. Manafort, had worked for Mr. Manafort’s lobbying firm in Ukraine. Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik communicated earlier this year about contacting others who worked with them in an alleged effort to coordinate their stories

.. Mr. Mueller has long been interested in the relationship between Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik.

.. He has questioned witnesses about a boat trip that Mr. Manafort took with Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, after Mr. Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign in August 2016, say people familiar with the matter. Witnesses believed investigators were seeking to determine whether Mr. Manafort ever met with Mr. Kilimnik on that trip.

.. With the Mueller-Manafort dispute breaking into public view, some legal experts believe Mr. Manafort’s best hope for leniency is to obtain a presidential pardon. On Wednesday Mr. Trump told the New York Post a pardon for Mr. Manafort was “not off the table.” Any pardon would likely spark a firestorm among Democrats, who are preparing to take control of the House.

.. Senate Republicans Wednesday blocked an effort to pass legislation protecting Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

For the second time this month, Sens. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) tried to pass by unanimous consent legislation designed to protect Mr. Mueller from being fired. They were blocked by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) on Wednesday. Two weeks earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) had objected, blocking the bill.

Who Is Behind Trump’s Links to Arab Princes? A Billionaire Friend

The billionaire financier Tom Barrack was caught in a bind.

.. Mr. Trump’s outspoken hostility to Muslims — epitomized by his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — was offending the Persian Gulf princes Mr. Barrack had depended on for decades as investors and buyers.

.. Mr. Barrack, a longtime friend who had done business with the ambassador, assured him that Mr. Trump understood the Persian Gulf perspective. “He also has joint ventures in the U.A.E.!” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email on April 26.

.. During the Trump campaign, Mr. Barrack was a top fund-raiser and trusted gatekeeper who opened communications with the Emiratis and Saudis, recommended that the candidate bring on Paul Manafort as campaign manager — and then tried to arrange a secret meeting between Mr. Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

.. Investigators interviewed him in December but asked questions almost exclusively about Mr. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates

.. he has said he rebuffed offers to become treasury secretary or ambassador to Mexico.

.. He sought a role as a special envoy for Middle East economic development

.. Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia

.. Mr. Barrack played as a matchmaker between Mr. Trump and the Persian Gulf princes.

.. “He is the only person I know who the president speaks to as a peer,” said Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative who has known both men for decades. “Barrack is to Trump as Bebe Rebozo was to Nixon, which is the best friend,”

.. By 2010, he had acquired $70 million of the debt owed by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on his troubled $1.8 billion purchase of a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. After a call from Mr. Trump, Mr. Barrack was among a group of lenders who agreed to reduce Mr. Kushner’s obligations to keep him out of bankruptcy.

.. Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Donald J. Trump first met in the 1980s, and Mr. Barrack got the better of the encounters. He negotiated Mr. Trump into overpaying for two famous assets: a one-fifth stake in the New York department store chain Alexander’s in 1985, and the entire Plaza Hotel in 1988. Mr. Trump paid about $410 million for the Plaza and later lost both properties to creditors.

.. But Mr. Barrack nonetheless parlayed the deals into a lasting friendship, in part by flattering Mr. Trump about his skill as a negotiator.

“He played me like a Steinway piano,” Mr. Barrack recounted in a speech at the Republican convention.

.. people who know him well say he still tells new acquaintances that he is truly honored to meet them, cheerfully doling out superlatives like “first-class,” “amazing” and “brilliant.” He invariably tells the story of his own success as a parable about luck and perseverance, never about talent.

.. He grew up speaking Arabic as the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles

.. Mr. Barrack wrote back that Mr. Trump was “the king of hyperbole.”

.. “We can turn him to prudence,” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email. “He needs a few really smart Arab minds to whom he can confer — u r at the top of that list!”

.. Mr. Barrack had befriended Mr. Manafort in the 1970s, when they were both living in Beirut and working for Saudi interests.

.. Early in 2016, when Mr. Trump faced the prospect of a contested nomination fight at the Republican convention, Mr. Barrack had recommended Mr. Manafort for the job of campaign manager. “The most experienced and lethal of managers” and “a killer,” Mr. Barrack called him in a letter to Mr. Trump.

.. The Saudi prince had tried to reach the Trump campaign through “a midlevel person” at the rival private equity giant Blackstone

.. Mr. Barrack forwarded to the ambassador a message from Mr. Manafort with a “clarification” that modulated Mr. Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

.. Mr. Barrack informed Ambassador Otaiba that the Trump team had also removed a proposed Republican platform provision inserted to “embarrass” Saudi Arabia. The provision had called for the release of redacted pages about the kingdom in a report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

.. When those two states imposed an embargo on their neighbor Qatar — home to a major United States air base — Mr. Trump broke with his own administration to throw his weight squarely behind the Saudis and Emiratis.

.. Until recently, Mr. Barrack’s most prominent Gulf customers were neither the Emiratis nor the Saudis — but their bitter rivals the Qataris

.. None of the Gulf investments that Mr. Barrack’s company has brought in since Mr. Trump’s nomination have come from Qatar.

 

Trump, Defending His Mental Fitness, Says He’s a ‘Very Stable Genius’

In a series of Twitter posts that were extraordinary even by the standards of his norm-shattering presidency, Mr. Trump insisted that his opponents and the news media were attacking his capacity because they had failed to prove his campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign

.. “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence,” he wrote on Twitter even as a special counsel continues to investigate the Russia matter.

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he added. He said he was a “VERY successful businessman” and television star who won the presidency on his first try. “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

.. After the president boasted that his “nuclear button” was bigger than Kim Jong-un’s in North Korea, Richard W. Painter, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, described the claim as proof that Mr. Trump is “psychologically unfit” and should have his powers transferred to Vice President Mike Pence under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment.

.. Mr. Trump’s self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories

.. Few questions irritate White House aides more than inquiries about the president’s mental well-being, and they argue that Mr. Trump’s opponents are trying to use those questions to achieve what they could not at the ballot box.

.. Thomas J. Barrack, a friend of Mr. Trump’s, was quoted in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” as telling a friend that the president was “not only crazy but stupid.” In interviews, Mr. Barrack denied that and insisted that many people miss Mr. Trump’s actual brilliance.

.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has said Mr. Trump is “crazy but he’s a genius.”

.. Dr. Frances, author of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump,” said the president’s bad behavior should not be blamed on mental illness. “He is definitely unstable,” Dr. Frances said. “He is definitely impulsive. He is world-class narcissistic not just for our day but for the ages. You can’t say enough about how incompetent and unqualified he is to be leader of the free world. But that does not make him mentally ill.”

.. Lyndon B. Johnson were so troubled that they sought out three psychiatrists, who concluded that his behavior could indicate paranoid disintegration... Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, then a rival for the nomination, called him a “delusional narcissist.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another Republican candidate, said: “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.”

.. But fewer Republicans are willing to say that now that Mr. Trump is in office

.. For his part, Mr. Trump has accused his critics of being mentally impaired. He regularly describes adversaries with words like “crazy,” “psycho” and “nut job.”

.. He said his concern was as much about cognitive issues, citing the president’s occasional slurred speech and inability to form complete sentences.

Mike Flynn’s Promotion of Nuclear-Plant Project Went Deep Into the White House

Project backers drafted memos for President Trump and Flynn allies continued to push the plan after the Trump security adviser was ousted

Private-sector backers of a controversial Middle East nuclear-power plan worked with former national security adviser Mike Flynn to promote it inside the White House, to the point of sending him a draft memo for the president to sign authorizing the project.

At issue was a proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors, billed by its backers as a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East.” Before joining the White House, Mr. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, had advised some of the U.S. companies involved in the plan in his capacity as a consultant.

.. The plan was projected to generate $250 billion in revenue for U.S. companies
.. Evidence now is surfacing about how far it progressed inside the administration, and how Mr. Flynn’s former staffer continued to promote it after Mr. Flynn left office in February.
.. Since his resignation, his former private-sector colleagues have continued to lobby various federal agencies about the plan and recently met with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser.

.. In early January, Mr. Flynn talked favorably about the proposed deal with Mr. Trump’s friend, real-estate magnate Thomas Barrack Jr.
.. Mr. Flynn arrived at his National Security Council job with a group of people who felt the Obama administration had been too soft on Iran. They believed the nuclear-power plan, which envisioned building and operating dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East, would strengthen Iran’s rivals.

.. One of the people Mr. Flynn brought with him, former Army Col. Derek Harvey, said at a meeting during the first week of the new administration that Mr. Flynn had told him to develop a regional economic and energy plan for the Middle East. When staffers pointed out there was an NSC office that handled economic and energy issues, Mr. Harvey said Mr. Flynn had directed him to take the lead on the issue.
.. After Mr. Flynn was ousted, Mr. Harvey pushed NSC colleagues to continue working on the nuclear plan. The private-sector group still promotes the deal and holds weekly meetings.