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Thu Dec 6, 2018, 09:55 AM

Saudi Arabia Paid Washington Lobbyist to Book 500 Rooms in Trump's D.C. Hotel Shortly After 2016 Ele


For insight into the interplay of money, power, access, and Donald Trump, you need not look further than the recent emoluments lawsuits filed against the president. The details of some of the possible constitutional violations, where President Trump is potentially profiting from payments by foreign governments, are on full display in a Washington Post report Wednesday that found lobbyists representing the government of Saudi Arabia reserved some 500 rooms at Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel shortly after the 2016 election.

“At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington—then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed,” veterans and organizers told the Post. “At first, Saudi lobbyists put the veterans up in Northern Virginia. Then, in December 2016, they switched most of their business to the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. In all, the lobbyists spent more $270,000 to house six groups of visiting veterans at the Trump hotel, which Trump still owns.”

In late 2016, the Saudi government was concerned about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or “JASTA.” President Obama had vetoed the bill, but, in September 2016, Congress resoundingly voted to override Obama’s veto; in the Senate the vote was 97 to 1 and in the House 348 to 77. The newly passed JASTA would allow U.S. courts to waive foreign government’s sovereign immunity claims in cases of terrorism in the U.S. The Saudi government, which had been implicated in providing support for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens—strongly opposed the measure because it meant families of victims of the 9/11 attacks could potentially sue the Saudi government for its alleged role in the thousands of deaths that day.

The 9/11 families were a powerful and emotive political force on the Hill, so the Saudis decided they needed a similarly special class of American to make their case: veterans. Using its longtime Washington lobbying firm Qorvis/MSLGroup, the Saudis offered all-expense paid trips to D.C. for hundreds of veterans to make their case to members of congress. The veterans were told that the new law might hurt the U.S. military by opening up American soldiers, such as themselves, to similar prosecution in other countries for their wartime conduct. This was the same general argument the Obama administration was making at the time against JASTA.

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