(JTA) — U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller has sent investigators to Israel to probe the activities of an Israeli-run social media firm that may have led a social media manipulation effort to help Donald Trump get elected.
The co-founder of the firm, identified as Joel Zamel, who was born in Australia, met in New York three months before the 2016 election with Donald Trump Jr., as well as with Lebanese-American businessman George Nader representing the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who he said wanted to help get his father elected, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
The Aug. 3, 2016, meeting was arranged by Erik Prince, the founder and former head of private military contractor Blackwater, who also attended the meeting.
It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections. The Israel Police and Zamel are cooperating with the investigation, according to the Times.
After Trump was elected, Nader reportedly paid Zamel a large sum of money, reportedly up to $2 million, because among other reasons given, a company linked to Zamel provided Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Trump’s victory.
Zamel told the Times that his client never carried out any campaign on Trump’s behalf. “Neither Joel Zamel, nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the U.S. election campaign,” the lawyer, Marc L. Mukasey, said. “There was a brief meeting, nothing concrete was offered or pitched to anyone and nothing came of it,” he also said.
A company connected to Zamel, Psy-Group, had been working on a proposal for a covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign to help elect Trump, The Times reported citing three people involved and a fourth briefed on the effort. The plan involved using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Trump’s candidacy.
The company, whose motto is “shape reality,” consulted an American law firm, and was told that it would be illegal if any non-Americans were involved in the campaign, according to the report.
Companies connected to Zamel also have ties to Russia, according to the Times.
After Trump’s inauguration, Zamel and Nader visited the White House, where they met with White House advisor Jared Kushner and then-chief of staff Steve Bannon.