A Tennessee real estate developer said that President Donald Trump talked up his business project to a Qatari official at Mar-a-Lago just over a year after he contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, the Daily Memphian reported.
Billionaire Franklin Haney, who is a member at Mar-a-Lago, said Trump brought an official of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund over to his table in the restaurant of the golf resort in early 2018. Haney said the president introduced the men and praised Haney’s planned project to finish a nuclear power plant in Alabama, which needed billions of investment dollars, the news website reported last week.
“I know you’re working on this nuclear plant,” Trump said then, Haney recalled, according to the website. “They’ll loan money for nuclear plants.”
Haney provided his account of Trump’s Qatari ice-breaker in a series of interviews with the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis that was published by the Memphian last week.
It was the first time a publication has revealed Trump’s role in Haney’s talks with the Qataris. Haney offered the details amid an investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into the record $107 million raised by Trump’s inauguration committee. Prosecutors are probing how the money was spent and if donations were part of a “pay to play” arrangement for contributors to gain lucrative business deals via White House influence.
The Wall Street Journal reported early this month that prosecutors have asked Haney for documents relating to his committee donation.
Haney eventually began talking with the Qataris after Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen “inserted himself” into the project, he said, according to the Memphian. Cohen was “treated like royalty” by the Qataris, who wanted to develop close ties to the president, Haney said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Haney agreed to pay Cohen $10 million if he could nail down money for the deal (see the video above), including a $5 billion loan from the U.S. government. Haney said he paid Cohen about $200,000 and was willing to give him $5 million strictly to land a deal with the Qataris — but not regarding the U.S. money.
Haney said he severed their relationship soon afterward when federal agents raided Cohen’s office.
The sovereign fund did not invest in his nuclear plant, but Haney is still pursuing his project, and hopes to eventually sell power from the Alabama plant to Tennessee. But the deal is threatened because of his relationship with Cohen. Haney, who is continuing to seek U.S. money for the plant, insisted that he paid Cohen only for help with the Qataris, not to gain influence in the White House.
The White House could not immediately be reached for comment.
Haney also said Trump had no role in his decision to hire Cohen. “I see Donald Trump every time he comes to Florida,” Haney said, the Memphian reported. “I don’t need [Cohen] to introduce me to Donald Trump.’’