As President Obama prepares to veto legislation giving the families of 9/11 victims the right to sue Saudi Arabia, a prominent and devoted Clinton loyalist, Joe Conason, reveals in his new book how Bill Clinton worked to rehab the Saudi image in return for tens of millions of dollars.
In early 2004, Bill Clinton quietly agreed to help the Saudi Arabian ruling family in their revolting attempts to rehab the Kingdom's besmirched image. Once considered a strong American ally, Saudi Arabia was widely condemned after shocking revelations about the role of Saudi nationals in implementing and financing 9/11. The kingdom needed a new look, a new brand.
And the former president was all too willing to offer his prestige to take on that dubious, but ultimately lucrative assignment.
The Saudis had an enormous problem: Americans didn't like them. Gallup polls since 9/11 consistently showed that almost 60 percent of Americans have a negative view of Saudi Arabia.
And it's no surprise. Recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were Saudi citizens.
And that the FBI found convincing evidence that Saudi citizens living in the U.S. — including the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. — provided money to support a number of the hijackers while they were in the United States.
But none of that bothered Bill Clinton. Not at all. Business is business and he saw the large piggy bank that was waiting at the end of the expansive Arabian Desert.
According to Joe Conason's new book, "Man of the World," Bill Clinton accepted the invitation of the then Crown Prince, now King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who offered his jet to bring Clinton and an entourage of dozens of his cronies to Saudi Arabia. Amr al-Dabbagh, a Saudi businessman joined in the invitation, which included featuring Clinton at the Jeddh Economic Forum, where Clinton's appearance could easily be interpreted as an imprimatur of the Kingdom, whether he wanted it to be or not.
The king and his friend were no strangers to Clinton. Saudi Arabia had donated between $10 and 25 million to the Clinton Foundation. (The Clinton Foundation only reports donations in ranges.) And Dabbagh had paid Clinton $900,000 for three speeches just a few months earlier, and ponied up more later. It was a match made in heaven.
According to Conason, "While Clinton no doubt felt grateful for their largesse, the broader aim of the trip also appealed to him."
And what was this appealing broader aim? To try and reverse the reputational damage that Saudi citizens had caused by attacking the Twin Towers and helping to fund the terrorists who killed 3,000 innocent Americans.
That was the "noble cause."
As Conason puts it: "Hoping to mitigate the public relations damage done by the involvement of their citizens in the 9/11 attacks, top Saudi leaders wanted more Americans to visit their country and meet their people."
Yet the true purpose of seems obvious: The Saudis wanted Bill Clinton to legitimize them, to flack for them, to show the international community that he was a friend who did not hold their terrorist links against them. And that's what he did. Again and again.
Keep in mind that Conason's comments are not the rantings of an anti-Clinton diehard. No, Conason is a long-time Clinton supporter who has defended him for decades. Yet he reveals what Clinton did.
And although Conason insists that Clinton was not paid for the speech he gave during the trip, he had already been paid $1 million a few months before by Dabaggh and would ultimately receive between $35 million and $70 million from the Saudis and their key businessmen.
And the amenities were wonderful. The king's luxurious jet had a huge central living room with lots of couches so that Clinton's guests could be comfortable. Included in those who joined him were the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, Chevy Chase, John Cusack, Strobe Talbott, mega Clinton donors Elizabeth and Smith Bagley, Alan Patricof, and Google execs Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt rounded out the manifest. And, of course, Clinton patron Ron Burkle was also aboard.
No doubt the trip convinced them that Saudi Arabia was a great place. (Unless you're a woman or a Jew.)
After a week of fun, the king's jet took the entourage to Switzerland for the Davos Forum. Another perk for Clinton.
And, as mentioned above, it was a wise decision to go there. Possibly, a $70 million decision.
Years afterward, we learned even more damaging information about the Saudis. The 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, asked to speak to a federal judge and claimed that "prominent members of the Saudi royal family were major financial backers of al-Qaeda in the 1990s." He claimed that Osama bin Laden instructed him to keep a digital database of donors and he identified top Saudi government officials and rulers were on the list.
You are the company you keep. And for Bill Clinton, he chose the company, and money, of potential terrorist-backers.