On Sunday, lawyer Michael Avenatti got the ball rolling on a strange and convoluted story involving Qatari diplomats, President Trump, Michael Cohen, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Ice Cube, Stephen Bannon, and the Trump-Russia collusion dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele. Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels, released photos showing Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a top official at Qatar's state investment fund, getting in a Trump Tower elevator on Dec. 12, 2016, with Cohen and Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.
Al-Rumaihi's company, Sport Trinity, confirmed to CNN that he was at the Trump Tower meetings, and Qatar's press attaché told Britain's Daily Mail on Tuesday that al Thani was there, too, to meet with Trump transition officials. Also known: The Qatari wealth fund division al-Rumaihi ran from May 2016 to March 2017 bought a 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft five days before the December 2016 meeting.
Then things get murky. An unidentified Kuwaiti official told the Daily Mail that in the last week, al-Rumaihi told him that in a December 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Flynn and Cohen, "Cohen told him to send millions to various members of the Trump family." Al-Rumaihi apparently refused, but Jeff Kwatinetz, a former business partner of al-Rumaihi's in a basketball league co-owned with Ice Cube, said in a sworn deposition last week that al-Rumaihi asked him to offer a bribe from Qatar to Bannon, a friend, in January, and when Kwatinetz said no, al-Rumaihi laughed and asked, "Do you think Flynn turned down our money?" (Al-Rumaihi denies saying this.)
Also publicly unsubstantiated is a claim in the Steele dossier that in summer 2016, a Rosneft official offered the Trump campaign, via adviser Carter Page, a stake in Rosneft if future President Trump scrapped Russia sanctions, as Slate explains. Helpfully, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell tried to tie all these strands together with Slate's Jeremy Stahl on Tuesday night, while The Atlantic's David Frum issued a note of caution. Watch below. Peter Weber