(Billy House, Bloomberg News) Still smarting from their losing hand in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle, Democratic senators scrambled to lay another trap for President Donald Trump prior to the midterm elections over an international dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Following horrific accusations by Turkish officials that Jamal Khashoggi—a Saudi expatriot and Washington Post columnist who had been critical of the kingdom’s royal family—may have been dismembered and murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, a group of 11 senators drafted a letter demanding a “full accounting” from Trump and his family business of their financial ties to Saudi Arabia.
“It is imperative that this sanctions determination, and U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia generally, are not influenced by any conflicts of interest that may exist because of your or your family’s deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote.
Trump has urged restraint on making premature and uncorroborated accusations against Saudi Arabia—an ally and longtime strategic partner in the Middle East despite its often spotty record concerning human rights and democracy.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that he had no personal financial ties to the country.
Turkey, strategically allied with Russia and Iran since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan forcefully and oppressively rose to power in 2014, has its own human rights issues to address and has lobbed harsh rhetoric toward the U.S. recently, particularly following an increase on steel and aluminum tariffs in August.
However, Turkish officials said they had recordings to prove that it was Saudi agents close links to the highest levels of the Saudi government who killed Khashoggi as his fiancée waited outside in the car.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a Judiciary Committee member and signatory of the letter, has publicly expressed his intention to investigate Trump on a number of issues should his party take control of Congress in November. Blumenthal already has led a lawsuit against Trump questioning his ties to foreign governments with the aim of forcing him to release his tax returns.
Blumenthal and the other senators said in the letter that they want information about any discussions about potential business deals involving Saudi Arabia and the Trump Organization and any gifts to the president from Saudi nationals. They asked the White House and the Trump Organization to respond by Nov. 17.
The senators said public reports show that “the Trump Organization for decades has maintained business relationships” with Saudi Arabia and members of its royal family, including the $325 million acquisition of New York City’s Plaza Hotel from Trump in 1995 by a group led by a Saudi prince.
The senators pointed to Trump’s statement at a 2015 rally: “Saudi Arabia. I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million. $50 million.” They also said the Saudi government has spent substantial sums at three Trump-branded hotels since he was elected president.
Joining Blumenthal on the letter are senators Tom Udall of New Mexico; Patrick Leahy of Vermont; Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Tammy Duckworth of Illinois; Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Blumenthal is also part of a bipartisan group of 22 senators who invoked the Magnitsky Act of 2016, which gives the Trump administration 120 days to make a decision on potential sanctions related to the circumstances of Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder. They want him to terminate any business relationships if the government of Saudi Arabia is found to have had a role.
Other areas of scrutiny that Democrats say they want to pursue with committee subpoena power include obtaining Trump’s tax returns and family bank records; calling additional witnesses in the Russia election-meddling probe; and examining spending and travel practices of agency heads.
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