Metadata embedded in the PDF file, obtained by the AP from two different individuals, show it was produced by an AMI production employee at 8:41 p.m. on Feb. 19. Shortly thereafter, it started circulating internally among Saudi officials, including the embassy’s military office, according to individuals familiar with the situation. It was also passed to Nail al-Jubeir, the former embassy spokesman and brother of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, recently named Saudi ambassador to Ireland, the individuals said.
By the next day — Feb. 20 — Saudi officials had started forwarding it to Washington foreign policy contacts, giving them an early look, said the individuals, who weren’t authorized to discuss the situation and requested anonymity.
A month later, on March 19, Prince Mohammed arrived in the U.S., with the magazine serving as his literary red carpet.
“Meet the next king,” the cover exclaimed, describing the crown prince as “our closest Middle East ally destroying terrorism” and the visionary behind a “city of the future” which “will be operated by robots.”
The magazine draws heavily from newswire photos and stock images — many with no connection to Saudi Arabia, according to Tineye, a reverse-image search tool. Among the supposed Saudi Arabian highlights pictured are sand-dune surfing in Namibia, a massive indoor greenhouse in the Netherlands and wildlife pictures taken in Zambia and Israel.
“There are lots of things that warrant answers,” political law attorney Josh Rosenstein said about the pro-Saudi magazine.
As Saudi Arabia starts to open up to Western entertainment, American Media has sought to expand its media empire into the kingdom — the kind of lucrative opportunity that often comes with the blessing of the Saudi royal court. Last summer, Pecker dined at the White House with Trump and a French businessman with close business ties to the Saudis, and later traveled to Riyadh to pitch Saudi investors on helping AMI acquire Time magazine, The New York Times reported. AMI denied making such an ask.
Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner, has also tried to enlist Prince Mohammed’s help with his ambitious Mideast peace initiative. Kushner paid an unannounced visit early in the administration to Saudi Arabia, which also was Trump’s first overseas destination as president.
Kushner’s family real estate firm, The Kushner Cos., once sought money from a Saudi investor to buy out its partner in a Manhattan skyscraper that had been losing money for years.
Pecker is close to Trump and his struggling tabloid empire also has ties to the president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Following an FBI raid on Cohen’s office this month, investigators are believed to be examining whether The National Enquirer was involved with Trump’s campaign.
The Enquirer endorsed Trump’s quest for the presidency. During the 2016 race, the tabloid paid a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump $150,000 to keep silent about the relationship. Last week, the company agreed to let the model, Karen McDougal, out of that contract.
The AP has also reported that AMI had made a $30,000 payment eight months earlier to a former doorman at a Trump building who had a juicy tip about him, requiring the doorman to sign a contract that effectively prevented him from going public. AMI said it paid the doorman not for his silence, but for exclusive rights to the story, which AMI never published because it said the story could not be authenticated.
Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.
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