At least three members of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign staff reached out to a social media manipulation and intelligence-gathering firm now under scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The New York Times reported in October that a senior Trump campaign official, Rick Gates, sought plans from Psy Group, a firm connected to Israeli intelligence, in the hopes the company could help Trump become the Republican nominee and beat Hillary Clinton.
But The Daily Beast has learned that the overtures from Trump world to Psy Group in 2016 were more extensive than previously reported. Former employees said there were at least two other individuals who reached out to the firm during the campaign. Both represented themselves as members of Trump’s inner circle, former employees said.
The identities of those individuals are still unclear. Former employees were reluctant to tell The Daily Beast their names in fear they would face retribution from their colleagues and additional scrutiny from the special counsel’s office.
Mueller’s team has interviewed a host of employees from Psy Group because of its connection to the Trump camp—another sign that Mueller’s probe has expanded beyond Russian interference in American politics. Several former employees said the firm never went forward with its plan to help the campaign. Others disputed that claim.
Psy Group’s owner is Joel Zamel, an Australian who also owns the private intelligence group Wikistrat. The special counsel’s office interviewed Zamel several months ago.
The entrepreneur was deeply connected to members of the Trump team both during the campaign and after the election. The Daily Beast previously reported that Zamel had led conversations with Trump transition officials about his company helping assist other Middle Eastern players, such as Saudi Arabia, with regime change in Iran.
Zamel pitched Psy Group’s services in a meeting in August 2016 which included former Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Donald Trump Jr., and George Nader, a Lebanese-American political operative and emissary for the United Arab Emirates.
It’s unclear if Zamel’s pitch was separate from the ones discussed between Psy Group employees and other Trumpworld individuals earlier in the year. Current and former employees who spoke with The Daily Beast said they were unsure if Zamel had developed his own separate operation.