In what may have been the most surprising news yesterday, we cited a report by Middle East Eye, which caught a release posted on the official Jordan News Agency (Petra), which was subsequently promptly taken down, according to which Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made various traditionally diplomatic statements about the US ahead of his visit to the US, which also included the stunning claim that Riyadh has provided 20% of the total funding to the prospective Democratic candidate's campaign, something which is considered illegal.
This is what bin Salman was quoted as saying:
"Saudi Arabia always has sponsored both Republican and Democratic Party of America and in America current election also provide with full enthusiasm 20 percent of the cost of Hillary Clinton’s election even though some events in the country don’t have a positive look to support the king of a woman (sic) for presidency."
Below is a screenshot of the English report published, and then quickly deleted, by the Petra News Agency:
Many questions emerged: was this true; why did the Saudi prince say this; but most notably, why was it taken down so fast?
In a bizarre explanation, MEE reports today that the official Jordan news agency said on Tuesday that it was hacked when, over the weekend, when the story briefly appeared on its website.
As we reported yesterday, while this stunning report was hosted by Petra for a few hours, the report did not remain on the website for long. In the meantime, the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs later re-published an Arabic version of it, which quoted Prince Mohammed as having said Saudi Arabia had provided with “full enthusiasm” an undisclosed amount of money to Clinton.
The story quickly made the rounds, and prompted Donald Trump to post the following note on his Facebook page: "Crooked Hillary says we must call on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop funding hate. I am calling on her to immediately return the $25 million plus she got from them for the Clinton Foundation!"
At this point the big guns had no choice but to get involved
According to an update by MEE today, on Monday a spokesperson for American public relations firm the Podesta Group contacted MEE to say that they work with the Saudi Royal Court and to request a correction to the earlier story that said the Jordanian news agency had deleted the quotes from Prince Mohammed.
Senior global communications specialist Will Bohlen - who, prior to joining Podesta, was chief researcher for a best-selling history of Bill Clinton's presidency - sent a link to a clarification issued by the Petra News Agency which said it was "totally false and untrue" that they had published then deleted the quotes from Prince Mohammed about funding the Clinton campaign.
"A technical failure on Petra ’s website occurred for a few minutes on Sunday evening, 12 June 2016," the Jordanian news agency said. "Protection systems at the agency as well as the technical department noticed that and therefore, they suspended the transmission system and the electronic site and moved to the alternative website.
"Later, it became clear that the technical failure that occurred was an attempt to hack the agency’s transmission system and its website. The agency was surprised to see some media outlets as well as the social media publishing false news that were attributed to Petra. They said that Petra transmitted a news item related to the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia and later deleted this news item. This is totally false and untrue."
Will Bohlen, Podesta Group
On can see why Podesta would be worried: it is illegal in the United States for foreign countries to try and influence the outcome of elections by funding candidates. Naturally, Bohlen said he could confirm that Saudi Arabia has provided no funding to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The question is now that the cat is out of the bag, can others?
For the record, we find the story that someone would hack the Jordanian News Agency to insert a boring interview with a Saudi crown prince, hard to believe and if anything, the involvement of the Podesta Group dramatically increases the odds that what the Saudi prince revealed may have been the unvarnished truth.
To be sure, the links between Saudi Arabia and the Clinton family are well reported. As are the link between the Podesta Group and Saudi Arabia, not to mention those between Clinton and the Podesta brothers, one of whom is the chair of Hillary's campaign to get elected president.
Incidentally, for the Podesta Group to get involved, things must have been serious.
Recall that less than two weeks ago we learned that as the Hillary email scandal was peaking, over the Memorial Day weekend, John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton's campaign, sent an email to her most important donors. In it, he recognizes the need to arm the donors with talking points to address Clinton's rapidly deteriorating support with Democratic primary voters. As Reason reported, the Podesta email suggested attempting to minimize Clinton's use of her private server by comparing it to Powell's occasional use of his personal email account. "This is a risky and faulty comparison. None of Powell's emails from his private account — only two or three dozen — contained matters that were confidential, secret or top-secret."
Also recall that John Podesta is the brother of Tony Podesta, a Clinton fundraiser and founder of the eponymous Podesta Group. The same Podesta Group which as The Intercept reported last year was getting paid big money to become a lobbyist for, wait for it, Saudi Arabia.
In September alone, foreign lobbying disclosure documents show the Saudi government signing deals with PR powerhouse Edelman and lobbying leviathan the Podesta Group, according to recent disclosures.
Edelman, the largest privately owned public relations agency in the world, is known for helping clients win favorable media coverage on mainstream outlets. The Podesta Group is a lobbying firm founded by Tony Podesta, a major fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
The new signings are the latest in a year-long hiring spree by the Persian Gulf state as it further builds up its already formidable political arsenal inside the Beltway. The Saudi Arabian Royal Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.
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The Podesta Group contract is with the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court. The contract, filed in the Justice Department’s foreign lobbying database, says that the firm will provide “public relations” work for the center.
“It is our company policy not to comment further on our work for clients beyond what is required by law and to direct reporters and other interested parties to our clients for any additional information,” said Missi Tessier, a spokesperson for the Podesta Group, when reached for more information about the relationship.
It is, however, the company's policy to comment any time the credibility, and potentially incarceration status, of any of its clients is threatened.
Some history: the Podesta Group was founded in 1988 by brothers John and Tony Podesta. John Podesta is the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to become the next US president. Saudi Arabia has donated millions to the Clinton family charity. In 2008, it was revealed that the Gulf kingdom had donated between $10m and $25m to the Clinton Foundation, a charity set up by Hillary’s husband and former US President Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign did not respond to MEE's request for comment.
The alleged hacking of the Petra News Agency website took place on the eve of Prince Mohammed making an official visit to the United States. The Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday that the senior royal was due to fly to Washington where he will meet officials to discuss US-Saudi ties. He will remain in the American capital until 16 June, when he will travel to New York for meetings with financial companies, the Saudi Gazette reported.
Prince Mohammed is to discuss regional issues with American officials, and he will hold talks with the financial companies about his vision for diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil dependency.
We leave it up to readers to decide how credible the Podesta-inspired explanation by Petra is that someone would hack the Joradnian news agency just to insert an interview with the Saudi deputy crown prince, which said nothing inflamatory, or defamatory, but merely made reference to just how much money the Saudis had spent on getting Hillary elected.
In many other nations, merely these revelations should have been sufficient for the mainstream media to probe and inquire further to find out just how much of the Podesta statement is a lie, how deep are the inherent, and allegedly illegal, conflicts of interest if indeed Saudi Arabia has been funding a potential future US president, both directly and indrectly, and how much money the Saudis have spent on Hillary's presidential campaign: an easy check by the authorities who monitor every wire transfer out of the Kingdom and its agents.
In modern-day America, however, this will never happen.
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Below we present the disclosure document revealing the retention of the Podesta Group by the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court.