Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016 in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to several people with knowledge of the episode.
The offer, which Qatar declined, came on the margins of a Dec. 12 meeting that year at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state’s foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser. Steve Bannon, who became chief White House strategist, also attended, the people said.
Cohen did not participate in the official meetings but spoke separately to a member of the Qatari delegation, Ahmed al-Rumaihi, who at the time was head of the investments division of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.
Details emerged last week on how Cohen leveraged his relationship with Trump to receive millions of dollars from companies eager for insight and entree into the new president’s inner circle.
They included AT&T, the global pharmaceutical giant Novartis, a Korean defense contractor and Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch. All have confirmed payments to Cohen.
But news of the Qatar solicitation marks the first time Cohen is believed to have pitched his influence directly to a foreign government.
Rumaihi said in a telephone interview Wednesday that Cohen first asked for the money, and Rumaihi refused, several days before the Trump Tower meeting, when the two saw each other at the Peninsula Hotel in New York. “He just threw it out there,” Rumaihi said.
Cohen spoke to him again at Trump Tower when the two men were outside the meeting between Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Thani and Flynn.
Neither attended the closed-door session, and “I stood outside in the hall,” Rumaihi said, as the delegation went in. But “it was clear that the deal was not going to happen,” said Ruhaimi, who is no longer part of the Qatari government.
Rumaihi’s account of Cohen’s solicitation, and his refusal, was first reported Wednesday by the Intercept. It was confirmed by several people knowledgeable about the episode, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the sensitive diplomatic issue.
Cohen and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Qatar’s embassy in Washington declined to comment on the revelations.
The solicitation came during a period when Cohen was bragging to others that he could make millions from consulting on Trump and that foreign governments would be interested in having his expertise. At the time, Cohen was also angling, unsuccessfully, as it turned out, to enter the White House, telling associates that he might become counsel or chief of staff.
As Cohen collected clients, he texted associates articles that described him as Trump’s “fixer” and asked them to spread them around.
Qatar is a substantial purchaser of U.S. defense equipment and a major investor in this country. Its government was deeply interested in continuing close relations.