Saudi lobbying in US tripled during Trump’s first year in office, reports

Saudi Arabia spent almost $27 million on U.S. lobbying in 2017, nearly triple the amount during former President Obama’s last year in office, according to figures compiled by a Washington-based think tank,

Lobbying expenditures jumped from the $10 million spent in 2016, the left-leaning Center for International Policy (CIP) found in an analysis of government data this month, according to The Hill in a report.

The figures were reported by Time earlier on Thursday.

The director and founder of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative told news outlet that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia’s relationship weakened under the previous administration.

“The Saudis had a pretty strained relationship with Obama,” Freeman said, noting that the Saudis weren’t happy with the 2015 Iran deal that President Trump withdrew from earlier this year.

“But with Trump, I think they saw the opportunity for a pretty important reset in U.S.-Saudi relations,” he added. “And, really, for Trump they had someone who was already pretty biased to their point of view.”

Freeman also pointed to Trump’s business interests as the source of Saudi Arabia’s friendliness over the past two years.

“He had these personal business connections that I think the Saudis were pretty prepared to capitalize on,” Freeman said in his interview with Time..

The president has denied having any financial interests in the kingdom.

Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons who helps oversee the Trump Organization, also dismissed those suggestions.

“There’s zero investments in Russia. There’s zero investments in Saudi. We have absolutely nothing to do with those countries,” Eric Trump said on Fox News.

President Trump said at a 2015 campaign rally, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me … They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Democratic senators sent a letter to the president Wednesday regarding business in Saudi Arabia.

“Your recent statements, and public reports of increased spending by the Saudi government at Trump properties, raise significant concerns about financial conflicts of interest,” they wrote.

The president’s past business deals with members of the kingdom have come under increased scrutiny after the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Saudi critic.

Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish authorities allege he was tortured, murdered and dismembered by Saudi operatives in the consulate.

Saudi Arabia has denied the accusations and the crown prince told Trump earlier this week that he has no knowledge of the alleged incident.

Trump has said “severe punishment” awaits whoever is found responsible for Khashoggi’s apparent killing.