- President Donald Trump stood by Saudi Arabia in a statement on Tuesday, despite the CIA reportedly concluding that Saudi crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Following the uproar over Khashoggi’s disappearance, Trump tweeted that he had “no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.”
- The Trump Organization does not have any buildings in Saudi Arabia, but his businesses have accepted large amounts of money from the Saudi government.
- For instance, Trump’s hotel in New York City saw a huge financial boost from the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed in early 2018.
- Additionally, Trump has had ties to Saudi investors for over two decades.
In a statement released Tuesday, President Donald Trump stood by Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite evidence that the crown prince ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” Trump said. “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
The willingness to defend the crown prince and Saudi Arabia despite the CIA’s assessment that Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s killing raised questions about Trump’s motives and, in particular, his direct ties to the country.
“For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter),” Trump tweeted. “Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”
The Trump Organization does not own any buildings in Saudi Arabia, but the president has worked closely with officials from the country over the years. Trump has been paid tens of millions by Saudi investors and its government through a variety of business deals.
In fact, Trump has long done business with the Saudis:
- Alwaleed bin-Talal, a member of the royal family purchased the 282-foot yacht “Princess” for $20 million in 1991 after the boat was repossessed from Trump (Trump was nearing bankruptcy at the time) and was part of a group that purchased the financially troubled Plaza Hotel for $325 million in 1995.
- In 2016, the New York Daily News reported that the Saudi government also purchased the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower, for $4.5 million, in June 2001. Given annual fee fares for the building at the time, Trump also was paid $5.7 million by the Saudis between the purchase and 2016, the paper reported.
Trump bragged about his business dealings with the Saudis during a 2015 campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama.
“I get along great with all of them; they buy apartments from me,” Trump said. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”
The most recent example came last year, as The Washington Post reported in August that a visit from Saudi officials to Trump’s Trump International Hotel in New York City helped boost the hotel’s quarterly revenue by 13% in 2018’s first quarter.
The bump came after two straight years of booking declines for the property, according to a letter obtained by the Post in which the manager of the Trump hotel cited “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
In addition, a lobbying firm connected to the Saudi government also paid $270,000 to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, between October 2016 and March 2017.
While Trump lawyers have argued that a foreign government renting hotel rooms from his organization is not an ethics conflict, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood opened an investigation into the Saudis’ rental of the New York City hotel rooms.
Trump’s attempt to distance himself from the Saudi government comes amid the fallout over the killing of Khashoggi. In Tuesday’s statement Trump said that while the journalist’s death was unfortunate, the economic and political ties to Saudi Arabia were too important to disrupt.