Trump: Saudi Arabia paid us $1 billion for troops. Pentagon: Not quite.
During an interview on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show Friday night, President Donald Trump made a stunning announcement: Saudi Arabia was paying the US $1 billion to send US troops to defend it from Iran.
“We’re sending more [troops] to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is paying us for it,” Trump said. “I said, ‘Listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you have to pay us.’ They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”
TRUMP brags about turning the US military into a mercenary force: “We’re sending more [troops] to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is paying us for it … they’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.” pic.twitter.com/8mINgc02h2
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 11, 2020
On MSNBC, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) raised the possibility that Trump deposited the Saudi money in a personal bank account and said the president is “selling our soldiers as mercenaries to foreign governments.”
“It’s outrageous,” Lee added. “He does not deserve to be the commander in chief of the United States of America.”
As is often the case when it comes to Trump, the details of this purported transaction with Saudi Arabia are murky. Ingraham didn’t ask any follow-up questions about it, and Trump didn’t offer any additional details.
Though the Pentagon did announce last October that it would send troops to Saudi Arabia to defend the country against Iran, there had been no reporting about Saudi Arabia financially compensating the US.
Trump’s comments immediately raised questions: Into which bank account did Saudi Arabia deposit the $1 billion? What exactly are US troops doing over there? And did this transaction even happen, or was the president just making stuff up?
Days later, we’ve learned a bit more about what Trump was talking about. And it seems the president, as he often does, was exaggerating.
In a statement to Vox, Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said, “The Department of Defense has engaged Saudi Arabia on contributing to US activities that support regional security and dissuade hostility and aggression.”
But the statement did not specify whether any sort of financial transaction took place — on the contrary, it said that “discussions are ongoing to formalize these contributions.”
Here’s Rebarich’s statement in full:
Consistent with the president’s guidance to increase partner burden-sharing, the Department of Defense has engaged Saudi Arabia on contributing to US activities that support regional security and dissuade hostility and aggression. The Saudi government has agreed to contribute to the costs of these activities, and discussions are ongoing to formalize these contributions. Contributions of this nature do not lead to the deployment of additional US forces, and they do not drive DoD to take on new missions or responsibilities.
“Discussions are ongoing” is quite different from Trump’s unequivocal claim that Saudi Arabia had “already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”
Trump’s comments came during an interview in which he bragged about war crimes, told blatant lies about the FBI, and said he feels no obligation to publicly detail the intelligence underpinning his decision to approve a military strike against an Iranian official that brought the country to the brink of war.
Any of those remarks from the mouth of the president would’ve likely generated a major scandal in a previous era. But three years in, Trump has normalized gaslighting and authoritarian rhetoric to such an extent that this interview with Ingraham barely registered as a blip on the news radar.
Sean Collins contributed reporting to this article.