FILE - In this May 20, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in...
Evan Vucci

The Saudi financial ties Donald Trump doesn’t want to talk about

The Rachel Maddow Show, 11/20/18, 9:00 PM ET

Trump defies CIA with lie about Saudi role in Khashoggi murder

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump ignoring the CIA’s conclusion that Saudi Arabia and its ruler ordered the murder of U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi and declaring his continued support for Saudi Arabia.
Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’s decided to overlook the evidence and excuse Saudi Arabia’s murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Soon after, Fred Ryan, the publisher of the Washington Post, called the president’s posture “a betrayal of long-established American values.”

But Ryan’s statement also went a little further, arguing that Trump is placing “commercial interests above American interests.” The publisher didn’t elaborate on the nature of the “commercial interests” in question.

Nevertheless, the president soon after assured reporters, “I have nothing to do with Saudi – just so you understand, I don’t make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don’t have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t care less…. Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with me.”

That’s not quite right. Consider Rachel’s report from September on Trump’s business relationship with the kingdom.

“In 2015, before he was president but around the time he started running, Donald Trump registered eight shell companies that all included the word ‘Jeddah’ in the company name… Jeddah is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia.

“Trump creating eight shell companies with that city name in the company name – based on past Trump organization practices – that would seem to indicate that the president was planning to build a hotel in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. He didn’t build that hotel, at least he hasn’t yet. Those companies were dissolved shortly after he was elected president.

“But then three days after Trump’s inauguration, lobbyists working for the Saudi government went out of their way to make sure the American press reported that they were spending almost $300,000 to put up a gigantic Saudi entourage at the Trump Hotel in Washington.

“The Trump Hotel in Manhattan has sort of been on hard times recently. Its revenues have declined for two straight years. But in the first few months of this year, that hotel turned its fortunes around, basically got bailed out. For the first time in years, revenue at the Trump Hotel in Manhattan increased thanks specifically to a very, very, very profligate and expensive visit from the Saudi crown prince – and his entourage too.

“Donald Trump has a business history and a business present with Saudi Arabia, and that’s the kind of thing we never have had to factor in before when considering why president was acting a specific way toward a specific country.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump went so far as to boast, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

It was also during his candidacy that the future president boasted that he makes “a lot of money” to the tune of “hundreds of millions” of dollars selling stuff to Saudis.

As we discussed in October, this is just the stuff we’re aware of. The president has kept much of his finances hidden from public scrutiny – we’re still waiting on those tax returns, for example – and it’s impossible to say what other foreign dealings he’s explored.

That said, what we know is that Trump’s financial ties with Saudi Arabia are documented and obvious. We also know that the president’s posture toward Riyadh has been inexplicably weak, which necessarily raises questions about the Republican’s possible conflicts of interest.

Traditionally, we wouldn’t even have to wonder about whether a president’s foreign policy positions were influenced by corruption, but with Donald Trump in office, the questions are unavoidable.

Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia

The Saudi financial ties Donald Trump doesn't want to talk about