The Trump campaign requested “dirty tricks” and disinformation proposals in 2016 from an Israeli company.
The plans were sought by Rick Gates (pictured), the top aide to campaign manager Paul Manafort. The work by Psy-Group, run by former Israeli intelligence operatives, included fake on-line identities, social media manipulation, and gathering of intelligence to help defeat Republican primary opponents and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
One proposal was for bogus accounts to influence 5,000 delegates to the Republican National Convention by attacking Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s main opponent. Another set out opposition research and “complementary intelligence activities” about Clinton and people close to her. A third was a months-long plan for social media to expose or amplify division among rival campaigns and factions, with Trump as “Lion”, Cruz as “Bear”, and Clinton as “Forest”.
The plans parallel Russian operations to assist Trump, although there is no evidence yet that they were connected.
Psy-Group’s owner, Joel Zamel, met in August 2016 with Donald Trump Jr.; Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater paramilitary firm and Trump ally; and George Nader, a political consultant with ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
A “person with knowledge of the discussions” claimed Gates did not implement the proposals, in part because other campaign aides were developing a social media strategy. But after the election, Nader paid Zamel $2 million.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter, obtaining copies of the proposals and questioning Psy-Group staff.
Gates is already cooperating with the Trump-Russia inquiry after pleading guilty in February to charges of conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
It is unclear if the Psy-Group proposals violate laws regulating foreign participation in US elections. The Israeli company, which is now in liquidation, has hired a Washington-based law firm for a review.