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Trump picks a misplaced fight over his Saudi Arabian business ties

Donald Trump now insists he has "no financial interests in Saudi Arabia." This is a fight he really shouldn't have picked.
Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump
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...

The more the Russia scandal intensified, the more Donald Trump went out of his way to insist he's had no business dealings with the foreign adversary. The problem with the president's rhetoric, of course, is that we've already seen quite a bit of evidence of his business dealings in Russia.

With this in mind, it was striking to see Trump push a related line this morning, insisting via Twitter that he has "no financial interests in Saudi Arabia." Reports to the contrary, the president added, are "fake news."

He's wrong again. I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to quote a Rachel Maddow Show segment from last week at length:

"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."

And 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.

But 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 meek and underwhelming of late, 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 -- and there's nothing "fake" about them.