Donald Trump made at least $9.6 million from countries in the Middle East during his presidency, according to years of reporting and a CREW analysis of his tax returns. That means Trump pulled in at least six times his official presidential salary in side income from the Middle East alone during his time in office. The total is likely much higher, but public reporting only sheds light on the most high profile instances of profiteering, and he is only required to report certain types of income on his tax returns.
After Trump was elected president, he made the unprecedented decision not to divest from his business interests, and remained very much involved in the Trump Organization, creating an endless number of conflicts of interest by blurring the lines between the government and his businesses. The profiteering paid off, and Trump raked in tens of millions from international business interests during his time in office.
Trump and his allies in Congress frequently visited and held events at his clubs, hotels and golf courses, advertising to those looking to influence the government that Trump properties were open for business. Foreign governments and officials in particular took advantage of the open opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the president. At an event for foreign diplomats at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., held shortly after Trump was elected, one diplomat told the Washington Post, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” Multiple other diplomats echoed this sentiment.
Officials from the Middle East in particular took this advice, with officials from countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey taking conspicuous measures to curry favor with the president.
From December 2016 through February of 2017, Saudi government lobbyists reserved blocks of rooms at Trump’s D.C. hotel, “paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months,” and spending at least $270,000 at the property in total. Trump continued to benefit from Saudi business in office. When the Saudi Crown Prince visited New York in 2018, several members of his entourage stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan. Earnings from the room rentals caused revenue to spike 13 percent, putting the hotel “back in the black” after two years of decline. Weeks before the murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government, Trump’s business partner in Indonesia signed an agreement for a Saudi-backed company to work on a development with Trump-branded elements. Asked about the deal, “an official with the Saudi-tied firm also said they expect to be involved in the development of a different Trump-branded project in the future.” Trump returned the favor, shielding Saudi leaders from criticism after Khashoggi’s murder and going so far as to allege Khashoggi was tied to terrorist groups.
After several Middle Eastern countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar for allegedly backing terrorists, Qatar spent hundreds of thousands on lobbying to put itself back into Trump and the U.S.’s good graces. They purchased a $6.5 million condo in Trump World Tower, and started renting space in the “most valuable asset” in Trump’s portfolio, a San Francisco building he co-owns, directing $125,000 per year in rent to the president. After Qatar finished renovations in February 2018, the office sat completely vacant. In April 2018 he welcomed the Emir of Qatar to the Oval Office and praised the country for fighting against extremism.
United Arab Emirates
Trump raked in money from the United Arab Emirates through his Dubai golf course amid concerns about corruption and human rights abuses in the country. Before taking office, Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties from the golf course and other projects in Dubai. On top of that, the U.A.E. spent up to $10 thousand per night for rooms at Trump’s D.C. hotel from late 2017 to mid 2018. Trump acted favorably to the U.A.E. in many ways during this time, from his administration’s “maximum pressure” agenda against U.A.E. adversary Iran to supporting a $23 billion arms deal with Abu Dhabi in 2020.
In 2017 and 2019 groups with ties to the Turkish government held four events at Trump properties and Turkish officials made 15 visits to the Trump Hotel in D.C., where they spent up to $10,000 per night on rooms. Around the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressured Trump to shut down an investigation into sanctions violations by a state-owned Turkish bank. DOJ officials attempted to quash the investigation on the orders of Trump, though it ultimately proceeded.
The Embassy of Kuwait hosted three independence day parties at the D.C. hotel. In turn, Trump bestowed a “top U.S. honor” to Kuwait’s ruling emir.
Trump has been anything but shy about how much he appreciates the business. As Trump bragged about his ties with the Saudis, “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” That’s held true after Trump’s presidency: During a Saudi-backed LIV golf league tournament last year at Trump’s Doral golf club in Miami, Trump said of LIV, “It’s big time and it’s big-time money. It’s unlimited money. They love golf and the Saudis have done a fantastic job.” LIV golf recently announced its $50 million championship would move from Jeddah to Trump’s Doral golf club in Miami.
The $9.6 million that we know Trump made from Middle Eastern countries during his presidency is likely just the tip of the iceberg. CREW tracked conflicts of interest involving multiple countries that are not even present on his tax returns. For example, officials from Iraq, Oman and Yemen made visits to Trump properties while he was president. Because we don’t know the total cost for these visits, we did not include them in the tally.
What we do know is that becoming president was Trump’s best business decision, and his tax returns show how great the office was for his bottom line. As the 2024 election creeps closer, foreign interests including those in the Middle East are already buying access to Trump and pouring money into his pockets.