The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC received nearly $270,000 as part of the Saudi government’s payments to lobby groups which work to further Riyadh’s interests in the United States. According to the Journal, these groups or lobbies are working against controversial US legislation on terrorism, which might affect the kingdom.
The newspaper reported that the MSLGROUP public relations company revealed last week that this payment was made for food, accommodation and parking for lobbyists. It pointed out that as part of its budget for lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), Saudi Arabia spent $190,000 on accommodation, $78,000 on food and $1,600 on parking at the Trump Hotel in the US capital.
“The money received by the Trump Hotel was received from a subcontractor in MSLGROUP and was paid by the Saudi government as part of the expenses of a lobby group that relies on US military veterans to advocate against JASTA,” explained Michael Petruzello, the president of Qorvis MSLGROUP in Washington DC. According to Petruzello, these payments covered the period from November 2016 to February 2017, with most concerning the period before Trump entered the Whit House and some after.
These payments have caused a great deal of controversy and provoked many questions in the US, especially as they were made by a foreign government. Some have argued that for Trump International Hotel near the White House to work with foreign entities, particularly governments which book rooms or other services there, violates a constitutional provision that prevents federal employees from accepting payments or gifts from foreign countries without the consent of Congress.
Trump has retained ownership of his economic empire while transferring its management to his sons Donald Junior and Eric, a move that does not completely separate the US president from his business interests. Trump Foundation has so far declined to give details of the profits it receives from foreign governments, after Trump said earlier this year that his company would transfer such profits to the US Treasury.
The foundation disagreed with the House Oversight Committee recently about the way it handles profits from foreign governments. In April, the committee asked the foundation to provide documents detailing how payments from foreign governments or entities owned by foreign governments were identified, as well as how the profits from those payments are calculated and how they could be donated to the treasury.
In a written response, the foundation said that it would not attempt to disclose representatives of foreign governments unless the clients themselves presented themselves as such, and said it would not identify all foreign clients as this was “impractical”.
“Saudi Arabia is spending a lot of money at the Trump Hotel,” commented Elijah Cummings, the Democratic leader of the Oversight Committee, “and at the same time is pressing to limit the rights of US citizens to sue the Saudi government.”
Since Congress passed the JASTA Act, which allows the families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia in US courts, opponents have launched an expensive political campaign, including paying US military veterans to visit Capitol Hill to warn legislators that what they said could have unintended consequences. Few people knew, not even some of the veterans, that the Saudi government was paying for these efforts, at an estimated cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Congress voted overwhelmingly to adopt the bill last September, bypassing the veto used by Barack Obama in the final weeks of his mandate. While the bill did not mention any country by name, its supporters admitted that its main target was Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.