Ex-Trump adviser breaks silence on Russia probe, says Iran deal played role in false allegations

'It elevates my suspicion that there is something at a higher level that was happening ... to stop a president,' Walid Phares says in interview with Just the News.

Updated: June 18, 2020 - 1:21pm

For more than two years now, Walid Phares has kept a secret. The national security expert favored by many conservatives was interviewed and investigated in the Russia collusion probe, mostly for an issue unrelated to Moscow. It was Egypt, actually.

The allegation — like many in the Russia case —, turned out to be spurious, and Phares was never charged with wrongdoing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Now, Phares is speaking out for the first time, suggesting that one of the motives of those who made the allegations and sustained the investigation was to hamper the early Trump presidency’s foreign policy goals, including the 45th president’s long-promised plan to cancel the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

“In my view, the push against the Trump campaign, and then the transition, and then the administration was on behalf of those who wanted to defend the Iran deal, to protect the interests of the Iran deal,” Phares told Just the News.

Phares, a counterterrorism expert who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Republicans in Congress for years, has long been a critic of Iran for its support for terrorism as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tehran’s ally in the Sunni world.

The Obama administration struck the deal to pay billions to Iran and ease sanctions on the country in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program, and it recognized the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising led to the overthrow of Cairo’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Trump’s improbable win in 2016 threatened to upend those alliances, Phares said during an interview on the John Solomon Reports podcast, and likely set in motion efforts to undermine the new president in fall 2016 and spring 2017.

“The Obama administration obviously was not happy,” Phares said. "Not just because Donald Trump won the election, but they knew that he was about to change things. The most important point that they were concerned about, and that was not a secret, was the fact that Donald Trump said during the campaign that he will be withdrawing, he will be canceling, he used different terminology, the Iran deal. And the Iran deal was a major strategic achievement of the Obama administration. Definitely, they were not happy with that."

“And Donald Trump, also during his campaign, was talking about changing, shifting alliances in the region," he added. "He didn't want the partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood … So it was a massive change in foreign policy.”

Phares said one of the events that landed him in the bullseye of the Russia probe occurred in September 2016, when Trump met with the Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from its brief reign of power in Cairo after a popular uprising.

The meeting was actually set up by others, but the Egyptians reached out to Phares, who was advising Trump at the time on Middle East issues, and he encouraged them to meet Trump, Phares said. Sisi actually met Trump and Hillary Clinton on the same day in New York, and Phares didn’t even attend.

A year later, Phares suddenly got a knock on his door from FBI agents working for Mueller’s probe. He was questioned several times by agents and prosecutors, as well as by House and Senate investigators. And nothing more ever came of it.

Multiple sources with direct knowledge told Just the News that U.S. intelligence during the Obama-Trump transition received allegations suggesting Phares may have accepted money or been acting as an unregistered lobbyist for Egyptians trying to gain influence with Trump.

The uncorroborated allegations were eventually put into the scope memo signed in August 2017 by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that set the parameters for the work that Mueller’s team was to accomplish. Suddenly, the Russia special prosecutor was looking into a matter far from Moscow involving Egypt, the sources said.

Phares declined to discuss the specifics of what he discussed with Mueller, citing the ongoing investigation by Attorney General William Barr and prosecutor John Durham into the conduct of the Russia probe investigators.

But he confirmed he cooperated as a witness and said he never was threatened with prosecution or confronted with any evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, he continued his work unabated, advising and training components in the U.S. intelligence community throughout the ordeal.

Phares said some of the allegations were demonstrably false and eventually leaked to the media, such as he attended a meeting in the Seychelles, to which he has never traveled. Phares said he later traced similar misinformation floating around on the internet to sources tied to his biggest critics.

He suspects a dossier of misinformation was created and shared with investigators to ensnare him and others. In the interview, he categorically denied ever taking money from Egypt to set up meetings or secretly gain influence inside the Trump world, calling it "outright fiction."

“Why would I take money to set up meetings? I’ve set up meetings for the last twenty years with with U.S. leaders and foreign leaders and … every meeting I conduct is on my social media, is on my Facebook,” he said.

Phares said Russia had its own interest in preserving the Iran deal, noting Moscow sold Iran an S-300 missile defense system over the objections of the U.S. government after the sanctions were eased in 2016 by Obama.

The Obama deal “allowed an open market in Iran. Here we're talking trillions of dollars. So Russia and the Chinese, many interests even in the United States and in Europe were to move in and make huge amounts of money,” he said.

“When the candidate Trump started to say ‘I'm gonna move out from the Iran deal,’ he was sending everybody a message, 'I want to shut down your [financial] interests,'” he said.

Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who played a central role in unraveling the false Russia collusion narrative, says he believes Phares was “set up” by false allegations simply to sideline him, like other early Trump advisers.

“I can say with 100% certainty that Walid Phares was targeted for a political dirty trick just like we saw with so many other people in the Russia collusion hoax ,” Nunes told Just the News.

Senate investigators currently reviewing the conduct of the FBI and Mueller team in the Russia case are pressing intelligence agencies to turn over the original source material that led Mueller to investigate Phares.

In the meantime, Phares said, he believes history will look back at the Russia collusion activities when all is exposed and see an Obama administration that was unwilling to cede the reins of power and trying instead to hamper the incoming Trump administration from succeeding in its foreign policy goals.

Phares said the early leaks and allegations made against Trump and his team sought to scandalize activities that are routine during a campaign and transition, such as the president-elect and advisers meeting and consulting with world leaders, like Michael Flynn did with the Russians. The scandalizing hampered Trump's early foreign policy efforts, he said.

“You know, as an American citizen seeing those exchanges, it kind of shocks me,” he said. “We live in a liberal democracy. But it elevates my suspicion that there is something at a higher level that was happening, because to stop a president, I mean, this is something that in our American history we haven't seen before.”

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