Here’s a wild story from Clayton Swisher about how Qatar’s decision not to have invested with Trump when he asked a few years ago may now be coming back to haunt them bigly.
Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner all repeatedly sought financing for various investments in recent years from leading figures in Qatar, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meetings.
Those previously unreported overtures have taken on new relevance as a diplomatic crisis aggravated by President Trump has left the small Gulf nation blockaded and isolated by its rivals, with tensions in the Middle East reaching historic highs.
President Trump on Friday characterized Qatar as “historically” a “funder of terrorism at a high level,” an accusation that came just an hour after his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appealed for “no further escalation” in the Gulf Cooperation Council squabble, urging dialogue to quickly resolve the crisis, which pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Bahrain. Tillerson noted the Qatari emir “made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country,” comments echoed by the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Dana Smith, who tweeted “Qatar is a strong partner in combating terrorist financing.”
That partnership is not merely rhetorical. Qatar is home to Al-Udeid air base, the regional Central Command headquarters from which American bombers depart on daily missions against ISIS and al Qaeda. Reacting to the GCC dispute, the Defense Department praised Qatar’s commitment to fighting ISIS as its secretary, James Mattis, expressed his confidence that the turmoil would not interrupt Qatar’s contribution to those efforts.
Given the weave of interests and close cooperation between the U.S. and Qatar, many are seeking ways to interpret Trump’s abrupt turn against Qatar in the dispute. Some think the answer lies not in the realm of policy but in the history of Trump’s business deals with the various actors in the dispute.
The Trump Organization (now under the stewardship of son Donald Jr.) is reportedly in talks with Emirati tycoons to receive several billion dollars of investment in addition to owning two golf courses in Dubai. The New York Times reports that Trump has previously had as many as eight business entities registered in Jeddah alone. In 2015, Trump spoke about his admiration for the Saudis and attributed it to his business dealings with them:
Saudi Arabia — and I get along great 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.
Therein lies the source of much consternation among Qataris. Several people interviewed for this piece expressed concern that Trump’s bias against their country might stem from a series of failed business overtures that he (along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner) made seven years ago, which are only now being reported. They did not go as swimmingly as the deals made with the Saudis and Emiratis.
In 2010, as markets were still reeling from the 2008 global economic crisis, Qatar was flush with cash and countless business executives and foreign governments came calling. Some came to get liquidity; others searching for silver linings amidst the global chaos. Trump was in the latter category, then as CEO of the Trump Organization but also as host and star of the hit domestic American reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”
Traveling with his daughter Ivanka, Trump visited Doha in 2010 for separate meetings with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) executive board member Dr. Hussain Al-Abdullah and as well as Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (commonly abbreviated as “HBJ”), who was then serving as foreign minister and prime minister. Neither responded to requests for comment on this article.
At the time, the pair constituted the brain trust of Qatar’s financial and investment sector. QIA is the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund (presently estimated at having $338 billion in assets under management). Then as now, Sheikh HBJ had renown for being kingmaker of not just political deals but financial ones too. Using his business and political savvy, he has sealed deals ranging from Britain’s Harrods to Germany’s Deutsch Bank to America’s Miramax Hollywood studios.
A source close to the 2010 talks with Trump say he made the Doha stopover (along with stops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) to raise money for a distressed real estate fund he was assembling. Trump opened the discussion with QIA by bragging about the success of Trump International and the many deals he had personally put together. Trump had hardly got through his own biography when Dr. Al-Abdullah, QIA’s senior executive, interrupted to say words to the effect of: We know who you are and what you have done. Tell us what you can do for us right now
That single, curt interruption apparently left Trump stunned.