Before Donald Trump even took office in January 2017, serious concerns were being raised about his nebulous business connections with Russian oligarchs, Saudi royals and other international actors. The list was long and singularly troubling, made all the more so by Trump’s flat refusal to release his tax records despite repeated promises to do just that. Now that accusations of Iranian involvement in an attack on a major Saudi oil facility are flying out of the White House, Trump’s financial connections to Saudi Arabia have once again moved to center stage.
Trump’s financial dealings with Saudi Arabia have been anything but small change. In 2001, he sold the entire 45th floor of Trump Tower to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million. The fact that Trump is the 45th president serves as further proof that the universe has a gruesome sense of humor.
“The five apartments included 10 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms at the time of the sale,” reports The New York Daily News, “and had yearly common charges of $85,585 for building amenities, documents obtained by the Daily News show. If those common charges remain the same, Trump was paid at least $5.7 million by the Saudi government since 2001.” In 2008, that entire 45th floor of Trump Tower, according to the Daily News, “became part of the Saudi Mission to the United Nations.”
Shorter version: The government of Saudi Arabia is literally living in Trump’s house today, right now, and is paying him for the privilege.
This was not the first time Trump and Saudi Arabia crossed financial paths. Ten years before the Trump Tower deal, Trump (again) found himself hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. He was forced to hand his 281-foot mega yacht, originally purchased from the sultan of Brunei and dubbed “Trump Princess,” over to creditors. The creditors subsequently sold the boat to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who is a stakeholder in the Plaza Hotel in New York, another Trump property.
“They buy apartments from me,” Trump said at a rally in Alabama in 2015. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” Trump has ample reason to “like them very much”: After his inauguration, the Saudi government “spent $190,273 at the Trump hotel [in Washington D.C.] in early 2017, as well as an additional $78,204 on catering,” according to The New York Times.
Of course, Trump denies this reality as he denies all realities that do not conform to his needs or desires. “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter),” he indignantly tweeted a little more than a year ago. “Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!” Hundreds of millions of dollars in confirmed, publicly detailed deals with Saudi Arabia say otherwise.
Now, after the recent attack against a significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s petroleum infrastructure, the commander in chief of the United States armed forces appears to have verbally ceded decision-making power over to the 45th floor tenants of Trump Tower.
“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit,” Trump tweeted on Saturday, “are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
“Waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Every member of the vast, wildly expensive U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus can take an early lunch, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff can stay in bed, because the president says Saudi Arabia will tell him who launched the attack, and when it will be time to go to war (against Iran).
Trump doubled down on the cognitive dissonance the following day. “Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years (thank you, Mr. President!),” he tweeted on Sunday, “we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World. We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!”
We don’t need the oil, but we are possibly going to engage in a calamitous war with Iran in the name of our “allies”? So much for “America First” — I guess those kinds of nationalist considerations go by the boards when you’re drafting foreign policy on the back of a cashed Saudi government check.
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations,” promised Thomas Jefferson at his inauguration, “entangling alliances with none.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not exist when Jefferson took office, and the only oil he knew of came from whales, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the third president was thinking of someone very much like the 45th president when he spoke those words.
The emoluments clause of the constitution was written specifically with someone like Trump in mind, and for a long list of vivid reasons: Presidential “foreign entanglements” of a financial nature are dangerous, and potentially lethal. It comes as no surprise that an emoluments case against Trump is wending its way through the courts, even as serious questions are being raised about Trump making hotel money off of the U.S. Air Force.
Of course, this whole Saudi Arabia/Iran crisis could be avoided if Trump simply heeded his own advice. “Saudi Arabia should fight their own wars,” he tweeted in 2014, “which they won’t, or pay us an absolute fortune to protect them and their great wealth-$ trillion!”
Clearly, consistency is too much to ask of this man and his garish transactional morality. After all, there is money to be made, and that is all that really matters. “Absolute fortune,” indeed.