An unorthodox campaign

This seems skeevy enough for anyone’s taste.

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington — then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers.

Hey, great, using military veterans to lobby for a law on behalf of Saudi fucking Arabia. While shunting money to Donald Trump.

The lobbyists spent more than $270,000 on Trump’s hotel.

Those bookings have fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging Trump violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments.

During this period, records show, the average nightly rate at the hotel was $768. The lobbyists who ran the trips say they chose Trump’s hotel strictly because it offered a discount from that rate and had rooms available, not to curry favor with Trump.

“Absolutely not. It had nothing to do with that. Not one bit,” said Michael Gibson, a Maryland-based political operative who helped organize the trips.

Is that credible? No.

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Henry Garcia, a Navy veteran from San Antonio who went on three trips. He said the organizers never said anything about Saudi Arabia when they invited him.

He believed the trips were organized by other veterans, but that puzzled him, because this group spent money like no veterans group he had ever worked with. There were private hotel rooms, open bars, free dinners. Then, Garcia said, one of the organizers who had been drinking minibar champagne mentioned a Saudi prince.

“I said, ‘Oh, we were just used to give Trump money,’ ” Garcia said.

That and lobby against a law on behalf of the Saudis. Win-win.

These transactions have become ammunition for plaintiffs in two lawsuits alleging that Trump violated the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause by taking payments from foreign governments. On Tuesday, the attorneys general in Maryland and the District subpoenaed 13 Trump business entities and 18 competing businesses, largely in search of records of foreign spending at the hotel.

What’s the law the Saudis were so opposed to?

In late September [2016], Congress had overridden a veto from President Barack Obama and passed a law the Saudis vehemently opposed: the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, called JASTA. The new law, backed by the families of Sept. 11 victims, opened the door to costly litigation alleging that the Saudi government bore some blame. Of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks, 15 were Saudi citizens.

Oh, that law.

In response, the Saudis tried something new. To battle one of America’s most revered groups — the Sept. 11 families — they recruited allies from another.

They went looking for veterans.

But they did it via a US lobbying firm and without telling the veterans what it was all about.

The lobbyist company (Quora) tells an absurd story in which for the first couple of jaunts they put the veterans up at a Westin in Crystal City, but then next time the Westin was all booked, everything was all booked, so “out of the blue” they decided to try the Trump hotel. Trump Hotel had vacancies; fabulous, do you give veterans discounts? Why yes we do, said Trump Hotel, so the deal was done and they stuck with Trump Hotel thereafter. I don’t believe a word of that. If Trump Hotel really averages $768 a night a discount that would get them close to the Westin would be one hell of a discount. Trump doesn’t give his money away, he puts it in his own pocket.

Veterans who attended these trips said a few things surprised them.

One was how good their group seemed to be at spending money.

“We’ve done hundreds of veterans events, and we’ve stayed in Holiday Inns and eaten Ritz Crackers and lemonade. And we’re staying in this hotel that costs $500 a night,” said Dan Cord, a Marine veteran. “I’d never seen anything like this. They were like, ‘That’s what’s so cool! Drink on us.’ ”

Because hey it all goes to Trump so what could be better?!

Also the lobbying was inept. It was the wrong time of year, they weren’t prepped, they were sent to talk to people like Grassley who had already made up their minds.

Another problem: In some cases, congressional staffers confronted them because they knew who was funding these trips.

Even if the veterans did not.

“We’d walk in there, and they’d go, ‘Are you the veterans that are getting bribed?’ ” Suesakul said.

Awkward.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to disbelieve reports that say the Saudis cut Jamal Khashoggi into pieces while he was still alive.

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