The Slatest

The Many Ways That Saudi Arabia Has Reportedly Funneled Money to Trump’s Friends and Advisers

Workers install scaffolding and seats outside the U.S. Capitol building.
Preparations for Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 15, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Omarosa Manigault Newman is a reality-TV entertainer who “worked” at a high-paying White House job that involved no actual job responsibilities, got fired, and then made a bunch of mostly unverified claims about Donald Trump being bad. She’s also on to something here:

“They” in this case likely refers to Saudi Arabian oligarchs who seem to have ordered the torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi (who lived and worked in the U.S.) at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Trump and other senior (U.S.) administration figures have promoted the increasingly implausible official Saudi line that the apparent murder, which appears to have taken place inside a secure Saudi government building and involved several members of the Saudi crown prince’s security detail, was carried out by “rogue” actors without the approval of top officials.

Plenty of American officials, o’er the years, have let Saudi Arabian figures off the hook for seemingly abhorrent behavior without having been paid corruptly by Saudi Arabia. But the Kingdom’s lavish spending on questionably ethical D.C. lobbying has undoubtedly helped maintain its status as a U.S. ally despite its horrific human rights record—and, c.f. Ms. Manigault, there have been a lot of opaque transactions in recent years involving the Saudis and close allies of Donald Trump’s that would warrant further scrutiny if we had a functioning legislative branch.

• Financier Tom Barrack—who was the chair of Trump’s inaugural committee and, in 2010, provided a financial lifeline to Jared Kushner’s debt-ridden 666 Fifth Avenue project in New York City—has extensive business ties to the Saudis and their close allies in the United Arab Emirates. The New York Times reported that Barrack has raised more than $1 billion for his own company from Saudi/UAE sources since Trump became president, and while the identities of donors to the inauguration that Barrack chaired have in fact been disclosed, special counsel Robert Mueller appears to be investigating whether any of them were covertly engaged in improperly seeking influence on behalf of Saudi/UAE interests. (Trump’s inaugural committee raised twice as much money as any previous president’s committee but seems to have employed fewer staffers and held fewer events. No one really knows where all the money went, but one insanely large chunk of it was apparently paid to a party planning firm run by one of Melania Trump’s friends.)

• Influential Saudis appear to have cultivated a financial relationship with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, a longtime Trump ally whose publication was involved in efforts to suppress allegations during the 2016 campaign that Trump had affairs with adult entertainers Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal while he was married to Melania Trump. Trump and Pecker may have since had a falling-out related to the prosecution of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen over his actions in those cases.

• The Saudis and Emiratis were reportedly in talks to make $1 billion in “consulting” payments to George Nader and Elliott Broidy, two shady individuals (Nader served prison time abroad for sexually abusing minors and Broidy pled guilty to a felony charge for rewarding official misconduct that was later knocked down to a misdemeanor) who reportedly then engaged in lobbying on those countries’ behalves in personal meetings with Trump, his son Don Jr., and former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Broidy also happens to be a major Trump-campaign fundraiser who employed Michael Cohen to handle his own embarrassing adult-entertainer affair hush-money situation. (Update, 3 p.m.: For the record, Broidy and Nader’s deal with Saudi Arabia appears to have fallen apart before they were paid, but they do appear to have received money from the UAE. Also of note: An individual who the Associated Press reported as having been one of Broidy and Nader’s Saudi contacts—General Ahmed al-Assiri—was just identified by the New York Times as the figure who other Saudi officials may blame for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.)

• Kushner and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn appear to have planned, before Flynn got forced out of his position, to broker a new balance of power in the Middle East between the U.S. and Russia in part by jointly building a bunch of Saudi/UAE-funded nuclear plants, a project in which Flynn appears to have had a financial stake. (Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.)

In summary: Omarosa, special assistant to the special counsel?

Correction, Oct. 25, 2018: This post originally misstated that Elliot Broidy and George Nader had reportedly secured contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE when they had only reportedly been close to securing them. The piece also called the two men “ex-cons.” Nader did serve jail time, but while pleading guilty to a felony that was later knocked down to a misdemeanor, Broidy did not.