Saudi lobbyists spent over $250,000 last year at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel, where they paid for stays by U.S. veterans being used by the lobbyists in their efforts, with some of the veterans reportedly not aware originally that Saudi Arabia was behind the initiative. The particular effort pushed by the Saudi-backed lobbyists was to lobby Congress against a recently passed law allowing victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government.
This news adds to concerns that President Trump is benefiting financially, and so may be inappropriately influenced, by foreign governments’ payments to his businesses, which adds evidence to allegations that Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution. This news has the additional concerning element that foreign lobbying interests were using U.S. veterans in their lobbying efforts, with some of those veterans reportedly not aware at the outset that Saudi Arabia was behind the effort. According to The Hill:
Saudi lobbyists spent more than $200,000 at President Trump‘s hotel in Washington D.C. last year as the Saudi government attempted to lobby Congress against a recently-passed law allowing victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post reports that Saudi officials spent around $270,000 in total housing dozens of U.S. military veterans at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., where the veterans stayed while lobbying members of Congress against the law…Many of the veterans told the Post that they were unaware initially that the trip and lobbying effort was on behalf of the Saudi government, adding that they were told simply that the legislation would leave U.S. forces open to lawsuits from civilians in other countries where they were active…The trips, reportedly organized by Jason Johns, a Wisconsin Army veteran and lobbyist, who told the Post that he made it clear to those involved that Saudi Arabia was funding the trip, a characterization that some said only was discussed after periods of alcohol consumption.
The goal of the effort was apparently to get an amendment made to the law, but no changes to the law in question have been made, so the lobbying effort was unsuccessful. According to The Hill, some of the veterans indicated to The Washington Post that they were not even sure of what specific amendments to the law the lobbyists wanted. So Saudi-backed lobbyists housed six groups of veterans for a total of approximately 500 nights at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, spending around $270,000 at the hotel in the process, all for an effort that was unsuccessful. Of course, the continued influx of Saudi officials’ money into Trump’s hotels, both in Washington and New York, may by looked at by Saudi officials as part of a successful effort to court Trump’s favor, given Trump’s continued support for the Saudi Crown Prince amid the growing perception, including from the CIA’s findings, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.