Ari Emanuel, one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures, reached out to one of President Trump’s closest White House aides to convey his extreme displeasure with the Saudi regime and its alleged slaying of journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, The Daily Beast has learned.
Three sources with knowledge of the situation say that Ari Emanuel told top clients and others close to him that he had called White House senior adviser and Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner last week to relay his frustration with the fallout from Khashoggi’s disappearance and reports that a Saudi hit squad had killed him inside their consulate in Turkey.
According to one source, Emanuel also told colleagues that he was “pissed” about the consequences of Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, and he was looking into untangling Endeavor, the holding company that includes his famous talent agency, from a financial deal with the Saudis.
White House spokespersons didn’t comment on this story, and a spokesperson for Emanuel didn’t immediately comment either.
The Hollywood Reporter broke the news on Monday that Endeavor would attempt to extricate itself from a $400 million deal which would leave the Saudis controlling a 5-10 percent stake in the company.
Khashoggi’s disappearance and the outcry about it had quickly become a public relations disaster for the agency, in which a calculated severing of ties seemed all but inevitable.
Beyond its massive film and television business, WME represents some of the best known and most visible U.S. journalists in the business, including investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Chris Matthews, and Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. The Hollywood Reporter noted that “many” of the company’s clients had privately lobbied Emanuel to cut ties with the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, following reports of Khashoggi’s grisly murder.
Kushner is hardly Emanuel’s only contact in the West Wing, or in the Trump clan for that matter. The president himself was once a client of the notoriously hard-charging Hollywood super-agent.
Emanuel, oft branded the “King of Hollywood,” was close enough friends with Trump that during the presidential transition, the president-elect invited his former agent for a private meeting—despite their political differences and Emanuel’s open support for Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. A few months later, Emanuel co-founded a political action committee with Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell to engage politicians during the Trump era.
Trump campaign sources previously recounted to The Daily Beast that Trump would talk about Emanuel with high, gushing praise, with one former senior aide likening Trump’s affinity for the Hollywood “king” to a “man crush.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in mid-2016, Trump claimed that Emanuel is “a very good friend of mine” who “calls me a lot,” and—according to Trump’s characterization of a private conversation—had even offered to help make a pro-Trump mini-movie for the 2016 Republican National Convention. “I call him a lot and we talk,” Trump said. “He gets it. You’re shocked to hear that, right [about the alleged convention movie offer]? But, yeah, I might do something with Ari.”
Ultimately, the GOP convention came and went without any Emanuel-produced clip.