Democratic Senators Want ‘Full Accounting’ of Trump’s Saudi Ties
(Bloomberg) -- Democratic senators demanded a "full accounting" from President Donald Trump and his family business of their financial ties to Saudi Arabia, signaling a likely area of scrutiny if their party wins a House or Senate majority in the Nov. 6 election.
The 11 senators’ letter follows reports that Saudi agents, who Turkish officials say killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, have close links to the highest levels of the Saudi government. The Trump administration faces growing bipartisan outrage in Congress and pressure to take action over Saudi Arabia’s possible role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“It is imperative that this sanctions determination, and U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia generally, are not influenced by any conflicts of interest that may exist because of your or your family’s deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote in their letter.
While lawmakers are threatening to sanction the Saudi government, Trump, who has cultivated closer ties to the kingdom, has so far sought to downplay the incident.
Democrats have a chance to win a House majority in next month’s election, while their bid for Senate control is more of a long shot. Democrats say Republicans have turned a blind eye to many activities of Trump and his administration, but say they won’t if they win a majority -- and control of a chamber’s investigative committees with subpoena power.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Judiciary Committee member, and the other senators said they want information about any discussions about potential business deals involving Saudi Arabia and the Trump Organization and any gifts to the president from Saudi nationals. Their letter asks the White House and the Trump Organization to respond by Nov. 17.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter).”
The senators said public reports show that "the Trump Organization for decades has maintained business relationships" with Saudi Arabia and members of its royal family, including the $325 million acquisition of New York City’s Plaza Hotel from Trump in 1995 by a group led by a Saudi prince.
The senators pointed to Trump’s statement at a 2015 rally: "Saudi Arabia. I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million. $50 million.” They also said the Saudi government has spent substantial sums at three Trump-branded hotels since he was elected president.
Joining Blumenthal on the letter are senators Tom Udall of New Mexico; Patrick Leahy of Vermont; Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Tammy Duckworth of Illinois; Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Blumenthal is also part of a bipartisan group of 22 senators who invoked the Magnitsky Act of 2016, which gives the Trump administration 120 days to make a decision on potential sanctions related to the circumstances of Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder. They want him to terminate any business relationships if the government of Saudi Arabia is found to have had a role.
Also on Thursday, 43 House members, including one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, sent a letter urging Trump to impose sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
"We ask that you promptly disclose whether the United States intercepted communications among Saudi officials discussing plans to detain Mr. Khashoggi and advise what actions were taken to warn him of an attack," the House members said.
Other areas of scrutiny that Democrats say they want to pursue with committee subpoena power include obtaining Trump’s tax returns and family bank records; calling additional witnesses in the Russia election-meddling probe; and examining spending and travel practices of agency heads.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.