When President Trump announced he would not divest from his businesses, CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder cautioned that “[e]very decision he will make as president will be followed by the specter of doubt, and will be questioned as to whether his decision is in the best interest of the American people or the best interest of his bottom line.” As President Trump returns from his first international trip, which included stops in Belgium, Vatican City, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, these concerns remain especially salient: The Trump Organization has registered multiple corporations and LLCs in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, attempting to launch businesses ranging from hotels to golf courses.
President Trump is the only US president to select Saudi Arabia as his first official trip abroad. While in Riyadh, President Trump signed a joint “strategic vision” that included the sale of $110 billion in American arms to the Saudi government. The President announced that he “[was] not here to lecture…Instead, we are here to offer partnership–based on our shared interests and values–to pursue a better future for us all.” This statement was criticized by politicians on both sides of the aisle who noted Saudi Arabia’s blatant human rights abuses.
Shortly after launching his presidential bid, then-candidate Trump registered eight companies that include the word “Jeddah” (Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city), in the name. According to a Washington Post account, “[t]heir names followed a pattern set by Trump companies connected to hotel deals in foreign cities.” As recently as May 2016, President Trump still held an active position in four of these companies, according to his personal financial disclosure:
|Name||Organization Type||Position Held||Opened – Closed|
|DT Jeddah Technical Services Advisor LLC||LLC||Member/President||08/21/15 – 10/26/15|
|DT Jeddah Technical Services Advisor Member Corp||Corporation||Director/Chairman/President||08/21/15 – 10/22/15|
|DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager LLC||LLC||Member/President||08/31/15 – To date|
|DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager Member Corp||Corporation||Director/Chairman/President||8/31/15 – To date|
|THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor LLC||LLC||Member/President||8/21/15 – 10/26/2015|
|THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor Member Corp||Corporation||Director/Chairman/President||8/21/15 – 10/22/2015|
|THC Jeddah Hotel Manager LLC||LLC||Member/President||8/31/15 – To date|
|THC Jeddah Hotel Manager Member Corp||Corporation||Director/Chairman/President||8/31/15 – To date|
On August 21, 2015, the day Trump created four of the Jeddah companies, he held a rally in Alabama, telling the crowd: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Despite Trump’s business interests in Saudi Arabia, his posture towards the Saudi government since his inauguration have been mixed. The Saudi Arabian delegation was the first Arab delegation to meet with President Trump at the White House. Shortly before announcing that his first trip abroad would include Saudi Arabia, however, President Trump told Reuters that the country “has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money in defending Saudi Arabia.”
During his whirlwind 28 hours in Israel, President Trump met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, dined with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and delivered remarks alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also became the first sitting president to visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest prayer site. While the visit to Israel was largely symbolic–other stops included Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum–Prime Minister Netanyahu “was effusive in his praise of the president at every opportunity.”
The Trump Organization has sought business ventures in Israel for over a decade. In 2005, the mayor of Netanya announced that a long-time business associate of Trump’s had visited the city multiple times, and was planning to build a number of hotels there. However, a bid was never made. In 2006, a company called Crescent Heights bought land in Ramat Gan in order to build a 70-story skyscraper that would have been marketed with the Trump brand. By the terms of his agreement with Crescent Heights, Trump would have promoted the tower in return for 25% of profits from sales of the units, in addition to other commissions. In line with his usual international agreements, Trump would have worked through a local contractor. Had it been built, the tower would have been the tallest building in Israel. However, the development was not completed. In 2007, Crescent Heights sold the site. In 2008, Trump sued Crescent Heights in a NYC court, and lost.
In 2011, President Trump learned that an Israeli alcoholic beverage distributor named H. Pixel International Trade of Rishon Letzion was selling Trump Vodka in Israel without permission. A deal was reached for H. Pixel to make and sell potato-based Trump vodka in Israel and the Palestinian territories. While its manufacture has since ceased, President Trump still held an active position in two of the four companies he established for the sale of Trump vodka beverages in Israel as of May 2016, according to his personal financial disclosure:
|Name||Organization Type||Position Held||Opened – Closed|
|Trump Drinks Israel Holdings LLC||LLC||Member/President||5/25/11-10/26/2015|
|Trump Drinks Israel Holdings Member Corp||Corporation||President/Director/Chairman||5/25/11 – 10/22/2015|
|Trump Drinks Israel LLC||LLC||Member/President||5/25/11 – To date|
|Trump Drinks Israel Member Corp||Corporation||President/Director/Chairman||5/25/11 – To date|
Finally, in 2013, Trump announced plans to build a “world class” golf course in Ashkelon, a coastal city in Israel. In a letter to the mayor of Ashkelon, Trump wrote: “I have great affection for Israel and its people, and I believe that Israel is a worthy place to be included in the list of communities which host Trump golf centers.” The course has yet to materialize.
President Trump is not the only member of the administration with business ties to Israel. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an integral part of his policymaking team, also has significant Israeli connections. His real estate company worked with a wealthy Israel family to buy multiple New York apartment buildings and has borrowed money from Israel’s largest bank.
It is unclear what, if any, role these previous business relationships may play in President Trump’s official foreign policy towards Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House in February, where he discussed settlements and one- versus two-state solutions with President Trump. The President also warned the Israeli government about the construction of a new settlement in a statement from the White House: “While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.“ Last, but certainly not least, Israel was reportedly the source of highly classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed to Russian diplomats in early May. Indeed, while in Jerusalem, President Trump had to field a question about the classified information he shared: “I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” he replied.