Lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia paid $270,000 to reserve 500 rooms over a period of three months at President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel just weeks after he won the 2016 election, it has been reported.
Lobbyists reserved the rooms at the Trump International Hotel and then offered them to military vets, who were gifted with a free trip to Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post.
The lobbyists then sent the veterans to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress against a law that Saudi Arabia opposed, according to the Post.
Qorvis/MSLGroup is a Washington lobbying firm that has represented the Saudis.
Records obtained by the Post show that the firm paid for veterans group to fly in to Washington, D.C.
But the lobbyists said that they chose Trump’s hotel, which was charging an average nightly rate of $768, because it was offering a discount and had rooms available.
They deny that it was a way to reward Trump financially.
Trump’s relationship with the Saudis has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks after he came to the defense of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler believed to have ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a legal U.S. resident, was believed to have been killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Crown Prince ordered his killing. Khashoggi had written columns critical of the Saudi royal family in The Washington Post.
Veterans interviewed by the Post said that they were never told that Saudi Arabia was subsidizing the trips.
‘It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,’ said Navy veteran Henry Garcia.
Garcia, a resident of San Antonio, went on three trips that he initially believed were organized by other veterans.
That’s why he was surprised to find himself and other vets staying in private rooms with open bars and free dinners.
Garcia said one of the organizers who was drinking minibar champagne told him that ‘we were just used to give Trump money.’
The lobbying firm and the Saudi Embassy declined to comment.
An executive who works for Trump’s hotel said that they were not aware the rooms were being purchased with Saudi funds.
The executive would not say how much the hotel charged per room at the time of the trips.
The Post examined trip itineraries provided by veterans groups. It calculated that the Saudi government paid for more than 500 nights in Trump’s hotel rooms.
The unusual arrangement has prompted two federal lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday formally demanded financial records from Trump’s businesses as part of their lawsuit.
The attorneys general issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization Inc, the president’s privately owned real estate company, and related corporate entities.
The flurry of subpoenas came one day after U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland, began the case’s discovery phase, which allows litigants to demand answers to specific questions and production of sensitive documents.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the president in the litigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Among other documents, the attorneys general are seeking revenue statements and tax returns from the Trump Organization entities.
Ignoring the subpoenas would result in a finding of contempt of court, said George Brown, a professor at Boston College Law School.