Just as Qatar wanted to reverse US policy its sovereign wealth fund made a mysterious lease agreement with an entity that funnels the money to President Donald Trump, despite his promise, just before he was sworn in as President, that he would not benefit in any way from non-US payments to his companies. And after the deal was made, the Qatar policy was reversed,
Why would anyone, much less an entity that serves as an arm of the Qatari government, bother outfitting an empty office space in an expensive San Francisco skyscraper? Consider who owns the building. The lobby features signs for Vornado Realty Trust, the publicly traded firm, with innumerable shareholders, that has a 70% stake in the tower. The other 30% belongs to a single man: Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. His interest here is worth an estimated $442 million after debt—making it the most valuable holding in his entire portfolio. It’s worth more than twice as much as Trump Tower, more than seven times as much as Trump’s property in Vegas, 16 times as much as his Doral golf resort in Miami.
The amount Qatar pays in rent remains a mystery. Odds are, it adds up to a sum most billionaires not named Trump would hardly notice. According to a Vornado document, the office is just 5,557 square feet. If the Qataris are paying the average rate in the building, that would amount to $450,000 a year, and Trump’s 30% would total $135,000.
The money does not flow directly. Instead, it appears to go from the U.S. subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, to HWA 555 Owners LLC. According to filings Trump sent to federal ethics officials, the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust owns 30% of HWA 555 Owners LLC. And that trust, according to documents the Trump Organization submitted to authorities in Washington, D.C., was set up “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump.” Trump, in other words, personally holds 30% of the space the Qataris are leasing. Strip away the layers and it boils down to just the sort of arrangement the founding fathers feared. A foreign government, it seems, has been paying the president of the United States for more than a year.
The timing of the rental is important: Early on in Trump’s term, his administration took Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ side in an ongoing dispute with Qatar, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. But in 2018, Trump changed his position and announced that Qatar did not in fact support terrorism. It’s well-known that this reversal coincided with an expensive Qatari lobbying campaign that consisted, basically, of paying Trump’s friends. Alexander’s findings suggest it also consisted of paying the president directly.