On November 25 2019, the co-founder of a far-right group supporting United States President Donald Trump took to Twitter to misrepresent allegations against Democratic Party Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Ryan Fournier, a leader of the group Students For Trump, posted:
BREAKING: It is being reported that Ilhan Omar was recruited by a foreign government (Qatar), received funding from the foreign government, and passed sensitive and confidential information through intermediates to Iran. Oh my God.
According to Bender, everyone from the star progressive congresswoman to Ivanka Trump’s husband was complicit in taking money and direction from Doha, on top of various newspaper reporters and politicians. The deposition was originally reported by the state-controlled Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, but it quickly spread through media outlets in the Middle East, as well as through right-wing U.S. blogs and news sites.
The deposition swings wildly from one story to the next, with Bender accusing the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi of being a spy for both Qatar and the Saudis, then alleging that Omar is a “Trojan horse” for Doha. Bender offered no factual basis for his claims, but they do line up with conspiracy theories that have been floating around the internet and right-wing press in recent years.
Bender has a record of unclear dealings with Middle Eastern powers. He first popped up in 2017 as a representative for Naela Alrasheed, an ex-wife of Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. The Daily Mail reported that Bender had helped negotiate a divorce settlement for Alrasheed, and he came forward with allegations that the prince had abused his wife.
The Canadian claimed that Ty Cobb, a lawyer then representing Trump, was also involved in the legal dispute between the divorced couple.
According to Saudi Arabian news organization Al Arabiya English, Bender accused the lawmaker of working for the Qatari government as part of his deposition in the trial of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani, who is accused of ordering a former bodyguard, Matthew Pittard, to kill two people al-Thani allegedly saw as “threats to his social reputation and personal security.” Pittard refused to follow the order.
Pittard’s lawsuit also accused al-Thani of unlawfully jailing an unidentified American citizen in Qatar. When Pittard managed to secure that person’s release in cooperation with the American embassy there, the former bodyguard said that al-Thani forced him to sign termination paperwork while “tapping” a semi-automatic pistol and threatened to kill Pittard and his family and “bury his body in the desert.”
Bender said in his deposition that Omar’s political career was fueled by the financial support of both himself and Mohammad bin Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Masnad, the Qatari secretary for security affairs for the country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani.
“If it wasn’t for our cash, Ilhan Omar would be just another black Somali refugee in America collecting welfare and serving tables on weekends,” Bender said.
Bender also claimed that he was asked by al-Masnad and two other Qatari officials to “recruit American politicians and journalists” to be assets for that country. When he objected, he said, he was told that Omar was among various lawmakers already being used an assets and described as the “jewel of the crown.” According to Bender, Omar used her position in the House of Representatives to pass sensitive information to Iran through Qatari channels.
A spokesperson for the Minnesota lawmaker denied the allegations in a statement to the Jerusalem Post.
“Since the day she was elected, Saudi Arabian trolls and mouthpieces have targeted Omar with misinformation and conspiracy theories. The latest, outlandishly absurd story from a Saudi-funded media outlet is of course false and only the latest in that trend,” the statement read. “The only people Rep. Omar represents in Washington are the people of Minnesota’s 5th District. She will continue to speak out against human rights violations around the world — whether it is war crimes in Yemen or the caging of children at our border — regardless of who commits them.”
In August 2019, Fournier’s Campbell University classmate and Students For Trump co-founder John Lambert pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and admitted that he posed as an attorney and a New York University law school graduate while charging unsuspecting “clients.” Lambert agreed to forfeit $46,654 he collected during his scam.
Students For Trump condemned Lambert’s actions and said that he left the group after Trump was elected in 2016, but Trump’s e-election campaign also distanced itself from Fournier’s organization.
“The Trump campaign did not coordinate or affiliate with Students for Trump in the 2016 campaign,” the campaign said in a statement to Politico. “In fact, the campaign sent cease and desist letters to Fournier and Lombardo that specifically disavowed their deceptive activities and demanded that they stop presenting themselves as official representatives of the campaign. They may have attended campaign events, but only in their personal capacities.”
The conservative Washington Examiner reported that Bender’s claims have also been questioned by other conservative journalists, including Conservative Review national security correspondent Jordan Schachtel, who described Bender as “a pay-to-play guy.”
“I received this oppo over a year ago and investigated it. There’s nothing there,” Schachtel wrote on Twitter. “It’s part of the information wars between Qatar and its gulf adversaries. Don’t fall for this stupidity please.”