Today Donald Trump brought his bloated bling back to Bedminster under the around the clock protection of the taxpayer funded U.S. Secret Service.
The occasion was Trump’s hosting the controversial east coast LIV Golf tournament funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. MBS was fingered by U.S. intelligence for the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, an opinion columnist with the Washington Post. He is also responsible for initiating and prosecuting a brutal war in Yemen which has festered into what UNICEF described as “one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises” that’s robbed its 13 million children of their futures.
Trump’s hosting the golf tournament sparked a protest at the Somerset County course from a contingent of 9/11 families who have been locked in prolonged litigation against the Saudi Arabian government alleging the kingdom provided material support to the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader, was the the son of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest oligarchs.
Trump downplayed the 9/11 families concerns who have blasted the former president and golf superstars who reportedly are pocketing six-figure fees for participating in the Saudi financed event.
“I have known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia and they have been friends of mine for a long time,” Trump told an NBC-TV crew this week. “Nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11 unfortunately and they should have as to those maniacs who did that horrible thing to our city, to our country, to the world. So nobody has really been there so I can tell you there are a lot of great people who are out here today and we are going to have a lot of fun. We are going to celebrate.”
Before the tournament, Brett Eagleson, a founder of the group 9/11 Justice, whose father died on 9/11 helping people evacuate, told POLITICO his group would be on site to protests stars like “Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson — for ‘choosing to take Saudi payouts and look the other way on the country’s human rights abuses and role in the worst terrorist attacks on American soil.’”
NJ Advance’s Steve Politi offered a vivid account of how the July 29 LIV Golf event opened with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring while three paratroopers landed “on a fairway nearby carrying a giant American flag.” The veteran sportswriter described how golf legend Phil Mickelson stepped up to hit his first tee-shot on the par-3 hole-“a heckler cracked the silence with a biting commentary about who is paying his massive salary. “‘DO IT FOR THE SAUDI ROYAL FAMILY!’” the man yelled.”
A WOUND THAT WON’T HEAL
New Jersey lost 750 residents on the day of the attack and collapse, the second most of any state except New York State. In the years since, more people have died from their exposure to the air that the U.S. EPA, then under the leadership of Gov. Christie Whitman, erroneously said was “safe to breathe”, then died on 9/11. Over 10,000 New Jersey residents are enrolled in the 9/11 WTC Health Program that treats first responders and survivors with a myriad of chronic diseases and dozens of life threatening cancers.
Back in 2016, the 9/11 families and their supporters scored a major political victory when they marshaled a bi-partisan Congressional coalition that overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which gives the American victims of international acts of terrorism the ability to sue in the American courts foreign governments that they can prove were complicit.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, the Bush administration “downplayed the Saudi connection and suppressed evidence that might link powerful Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families,” according to former New York Times journalists Eric Lictblau and James Risen writing for The Intercept.
“Many U.S. officials have insisted over the last two decades that the American government is not really hiding any conclusive evidence of Saudi involvement, and it is quite possible that successive presidents, along with the intelligence community, have closed ranks simply to avoid revealing classified information,” Lictblau and Risen write. “And it’s plausible that officials want to avoid exposing details that might be politically embarrassing for both Washington and the Saudis yet don’t prove that the Saudi royal family, the Saudi government, or other powerful Saudi individuals played any role in providing funding or assistance for the September 11 attacks. But the refusal to be open and transparent about such a fundamental issue has fed suspicions.”
The Intercept article continues. “Two decades later, however, glimpses of material that have become public provide mounting evidence that senior Saudi officials, including one diplomat in the Saudi Embassy in Washington, may in fact have indirectly provided assistance for two of the Al Qaeda hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who were the first of the hijackers to arrive in the United States in 2000 and lived for about a year and a half in San Diego beforehand.”
Following the release by the Biden administration of previously classified FBI files NPR reported “the partially redacted report shows a closer relationship than had been previously known between two Saudis in particular — including one with diplomatic status — and some of the hijackers. Families of the 9/11 victims have long sought after the report, which painted a starkly different portrait than the one described by the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004.”
The 9/11 Commission was at best agnostic about the Saudi connection. Investigators for the panel, which was co-chaired by former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean Sr., estimated the 9/11 attack cost the al Qaeda conspirators just $400,000 to $500,000 to execute but that the global network ran on $30 million a year that it largely got from a network of charities.
“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of Al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization,” according to the 9/11 Commission report. “Still, al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very little oversight.”
Further on the report notes that “to date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little practical significance.”
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have struggled trying to balance the geo-political interests of the United States, our insatiable thirst for cheap oil, and trying to maintain our image as supporters of human rights which often puts us at odds with the Saudi government as in the case of the murdering of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
As a candidate, President Biden said he was “going to, in fact, make them [Saudi Arabia] pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah they are.” As president he pledged that human rights would “be the center of our foreign policy.” Then earlier this month, facing a global run-up in oil, and a need to buck up his anti-Russian pro-Ukraine campaign, he was fist bumping MBS on a trip to the kingdom.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Meanwhile, Trump’s post-presidency dealmaking with the Saudis gives off the ripe stench from only serving the Trump junta.
Trump’s beleaguered resort empire lost considerable prestige after a decision by the PGA of America to move it’s 2022 championship from his New Jersey golf course just days after Trump inspired Jan. 6 insurrection at the nation’s Capitol that resulted in several deaths including that of New Jersey native U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
As the Washington Post reported at the time, Jim Richardson, president of the PGA issued a video in which he said it had become
“clear that conducting the PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand and would put at risk the PGA’s ability to deliver our many programs and sustain the longevity of our mission.”
With several hundred billion dollars in their Public Investment Fund, the Saudi oligarchs have made major investments in America’s blue chip stocks like Uber, according to Bloomberg News. They even spread their fossil cash around buying the British soccer club New Castle United and dropped hundreds of millions into their new global golf enterprise.
Back in the spring, MBS overruled the sovereign wealth fund’s professional asset management professionals to grant Jared Kushner’s start-up private equity firm $2 billion. As the New York Times reported in April, the expert panel dinged Kushner’s proposal because of the “inexperience” of his firm and a review of its operations which found it “unsatisfactory in all aspects.”
The fund’s officials also balked at Kushner’s “excessive” asset management fees being charged by what they believed was a subpar firm. They also flagged what they saw as the “public relations risks” of the fund doing business with Kushner who had served as a top advisor to his father-in-law President Trump.
In his White House post Mr. Kushner was the point man inside the government doing damage control for MBS for the assassination of Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia and was probably one of the most effective critics in exile of the Saudi ruling family. According to the New York Times, MBS and Kushner continued to exchange back channel phone calls and texts.
“The exchanges continued even after the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents, according to two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis,” the Times reported.
“As the killing set off a firestorm around the world and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by Prince Mohammed, Mr. Kushner became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House, people familiar with its internal deliberations say.”
Nothing to see here. It’s just one royal family helping another.