A Saudi intelligence official fired for his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi met in early 2017 with an ally of Donald Trump and an Israeli social media strategist to discuss the potential overthrow of the Iranian regime, the Daily Beast reported Friday.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing the New York meeting that included Ahmed al-Assiri, Michael Flynn and Joel Zamel, the report said.
As the meeting took place in January 2017, prior to Donald Trump taking office, the meeting could fall under Mueller’s probe into foreign governments’ efforts to influence the then-incoming administration.
Also involved in the talks of potential regime change in Iran were Steve Bannon and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, a representative of the United Arab Emirates.
The men reportedly discussed methods of undercutting the Iranian regime under the incoming administration, using economic, military and other means. It was not clear whether their deliberations were eventually translated into actions taken by the Trump administration.
Al-Assiri, deputy Saudi intelligence chief and a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was one of five top officials fired as part of the Khashoggi scandal. The kingdom has been accused of engineering the murder of the US resident when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
The Saudi government has said it arrested and will punish 18 people for what it described as a rogue operation by officials who killed Khashoggi in the consulate.
Zamel is the owner of Psy-Group, an Israel-based “intelligence and influence” company, and has been questioned by Mueller for his alleged involvement in social media manipulation efforts to benefit the Trump campaign, which may have been illegal.
Flynn became national security adviser under Trump but resigned only 24 days after Trump’s inauguration after misleading the vice president on his contacts with Russian officials. He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in its probe of possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s election campaign, and is said to be cooperating with Mueller.
The US has denied seeking regime change in Tehran as it has renewed a painful crackdown against the Islamic Republic.
Both current National Security Adviser John Bolton and Defense Secretary James Mattis have said Washington is not seeking to bring down the regime in Iran, and remains focused on curbing the Islamic Republic’s military activities in the Middle East.
In May the US pulled out of the international agreement meant to limit the Iranian nuclear program and announced the renewal of punishing sanctions.