A group of lobbyists who recruited U.S. veterans to lobby on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia booked 500 room nights at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., from December 2016 to February 2017, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Post, the rooms were used to house veterans, who were offered a free trip to D.C. to lobby on Capitol Hill against a law that the Saudi government opposed and that had been passed earlier in the year. The Post relied on veterans, trip organizers, and documents in its reporting.
The bookings for the trips were first made at hotels in Northern Virginia, but shifted in December 2016 to the Trump hotel. The total spent was over $270,000 covering visits by veterans on six occasions. There’s no evidence that the Trump Organization knew the bills were paid by the Saudi government, however.
That hotel is currently the subject of two lawsuits that allege the hotel is a nexus of violations of constitutional prohibitions against accepting gifts or other money from foreign governments—so-called “emoluments”—because Trump retains ownership in the hotel’s parent company and the hotel makes a profit in part from services offered to foreign governments that may be currying Trump’s favor.
A lobbyist who helped plan the trips told the Post that the Trump-branded property was chosen solely because it offered a discount off its room rates and had space available. Other hotels were booked when a trip was organized at short notice.
While the veterans were recruited to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JUSTA), which would allow victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia, veterans told the Post that they had little or no idea that Saudi money was funding the trips.
The timing was also peculiar, because many trips took place when Congress was largely absent, lacked detailed briefings for the veterans to use in lobbying, and reportedly involved visiting repeatedly many legislators who had no interest in changing the law.
JUSTA extended the rights of individuals to sue foreign states over terrorism. Prior to this law, only countries designated as a state sponsor of terrorism could be sued. JUSTA allowed lawsuits against any nation that could be proven in court to have aided terrorism, whether it had that designation or not.
Congress passed the law in 2016, but President Barack Obama vetoed it on Sept. 23, 2016. However, Congress overrode the veto five days later with overwhelming bipartisan support, including a 97-1 vote in the Senate, the only overridden veto of Obama’s presidency.