By David Dayen
THROUGHOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL campaign, Donald Trump blasted his rival for taking money from Saudi Arabia, which, he regularly charged, has a horrific human rights record and was behind the attack on September 11.
“You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people that push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money,” he complained.
Trump, of course, has never been married to anything he has said in the past. But even by Trumpian standards, a recent series of deals he struck with Saudi Arabia stand out.
The two that made the news — a $110 billion arms deal and a $100 million gift to an Ivanka Trump-inspired endowment — are remarkable in their own right.
But the third, which was rolled out much more quietly, is no less stunning: The Saudi kingdom joined forces with a top outside adviser to Trump to build a $40 billion war chest to privatize U.S. infrastructure.
The vehicle would employ the same kind of public-private partnerships, known as P3s, the Trump administration has endorsed for its trillion dollar infrastructure plan. The deal hands over control of projects to rebuild American roads and bridges to the private sector and a foreign country.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund announced its $20 billion investment with Blackstone, the private equity giant whose CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, chairsthe Strategic and Policy Forum, a key group of private-sector advisers to President Trump. In recent months Schwarzman has become a key adviser to the president, speaking to him “several times a week,” according to Politico. Schwarzman, who has an estate near Mar-a-Lago and has known Trump for years, is a Republican megadonor, giving over $4 million to Super PACs that support conservative candidates in the last election cycle.
The Saudi investment was announced when Trump was in Saudi Arabia and was touted by the White House as part of Trump’s commitment to render deals for outside investment in America. Blackstone described the deal as “the culmination of a year’s discussions” and insisted the White House was not involved.
But the managing director of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Yasir Al Rumayyan, explicitly said that the deal “reflects our positive views around the ambitious infrastructure initiatives being undertaken in the United States as announced by President Trump.”
The timing was also notable, coming just after Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner negotiated a $110 billion arms sale to the Saudis. Kushner and Blackstone have a long history; Blackstone is one of the largest lenders to Kushner’s business, with over $400 million in financing since 2013.