On Tuesday night, Trump announced he was running for president for the third time. The coverage of his announcement was broadly critical, focusing on the poor results of the candidates he endorsed in the 2022 midterms. Reports also noted some other issues complicating Trump's run, including his role in fomenting an insurrection and the federal criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents.
These stories virtually ignored one of the most significant developments since Trump left the White House: his expanding financial relationship with Saudi Arabia. Since Trump left office, entities controlled by the Saudi government, a repressive regime responsible for the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have sent billions to Trump and his family members.
Trump's candidacy for president raises the prospect of a major party nominee that is on the payroll of a foreign government.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has spent billions creating LIV, a new golf tour. Two of LIV's eight tournaments in 2022 were held at Trump-owned golf courses, including the season-ending championship at Trump Doral in Florida. At one event, Trump participated in the pro-am tournament with two of LIV's highest-profile players — Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau — and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF.
PIF also funds the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour. In October 2022, the series held an event at Trump's Ferry Point Golf Course in New York. Another LIV event will reportedly be held at Trump's golf course in Virginia in May 2023. The tournaments at Trump's courses doubled as political events, with right-wing luminaries like Tucker Carlson and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in attendance.
These Saudi-financed tournaments were a critical injection of money and exposure for Trump's courses. The PGA Tour ended its annual tournament at Trump Doral in 2017 and moved 2022 PGA Championship from Trump Bedminister in New Jersey after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The Saudis, through PIF, paid Trump an undisclosed sum for the use of his courses. Trump, for his part, was very happy about the deal. "It’s big time and it’s big-time money," Trump said in October. "It’s unlimited money. They love golf, and the Saudis have done a fantastic job." Trump also casually dismissed Saudi Arabia's record of human rights abuses. "We have human rights issues in this country, too," Trump said.
Due to the widespread perception that LIV is an effort to "sports wash" Saudi Arabia's reputation, LIV has struggled to find a TV network willing to broadcast its tournaments. In August, the Sports Business Journal reported that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was making calls "to try to help the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour secure a media-rights deal." Kushner reportedly "called one of the top execs at Paramount, which owns CBS, to try to jump-start negotiations."
The financial dependence of Trump and his family on Saudi Arabia extends far beyond LIV.
The $2 billion payback
After leaving the White House, Kushner sought investors for a $7 billion private equity fund. Kushner had no prior experience managing private equity. Prior to entering the White House, his most significant business experience was nearly bankrupting his family real estate company by purchasing an aging office building in New York for $1.8 billion.
Kushner pitched the Saudi PIF. The committee at the PIF responsible for vetting investments recommended rejecting Kushner. An internal document, published by the New York Times, summarized the objections:
[O]bjections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”; the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.
The full board of PIF, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, overruled the committee's recommendation and decided to invest $2 billion. Under the deal, Kushner will receive a $25 million annual management fee, plus a percentage of any profits.
Some members of the PIF board recommended reducing the size of the investment to limit the risk. But that proposal was rejected because the purpose of the investment, according to internal documents, was "to form a strategic relationship with the Affinity Partners Fund and its founder, Jared Kushner." Making a smaller investment, "may negatively or fundamentally affect the framework of the agreed strategic and commercial relationship."
Ivanka Trump did not attend her father's campaign announcement at Mar-a-Lago. Afterward, she released a statement, saying she is prioritizing "my young children and the private life we are creating as a family." She said that she will no longer "be involved in politics." Kushner, Ivanka's husband, was in attendance.
Another Trump ally, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, started his own private equity fund and raised $2.5 billion, including a large investment by PIF. Mnuchin was "one of the first Western government officials to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, chair of the [PIF], in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi."
Branding a $1.6 billion real estate development
Earlier this week, Trump "struck a deal with a Saudi-based real estate company to license its name to a housing and golf complex that will be built in Oman." The agreement was made "with Dar Al Arkan, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest real estate companies, for the project." Under the arrangement, Trump will receive "a cut of condo sales or golf course revenue in exchange for allowing its name to be used." The proceeds could be considerable since the project is estimated to cost $1.6 billion and "will include an estimated 3,500 residential units, luxury retail and 450 rooms at the hotels."
While Dar Al Arkan is technically a private company, it is closely associated with the Saudi government. The first page of its annual report features the Saudi King and Crown Prince. Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, called the arrangement "another in a series of sweetheart deals from the Saudi government to the Trump family."