Top Trump Aide Paul Manafort Lobbied for Saudis Against Embassy Move To Jerusalem

Donald Trump’s new top aide Paul Manafort once lobbied against moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, putting him at odds with a key pro-Israel position and his boss.


William B. Plowman/NBC, via Getty

One of Donald Trump’s top aides once lobbied Congress to kill an effort to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Paul Manafort, the aide dubbed Trump’s “new right-hand man” and his point-person on delegate strategy at the coming Republican convention, worked the corridors of power in Washington for the Saudi government in the 1980s.

The promise of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem has been a mainstay of political appeals to the pro-Israel community for many years. But in 1984 Manafort lobbied on behalf of the Saudis against House and Senate legislation that would have pressed the U.S. government to make this move, according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act disclosure, which requires that lobbyists working for foreign governments publicize their work.

For work in the six months preceding December 1984, Trump’s new delegate wrangler was paid $200,000—which, taking into account inflation, would be worth more than $450,000 today.

Efforts to change the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel have an enduring symbolic resonance with many pro-Israel voters. The Israeli government has declared Jerusalem as its capital, but its status has been disputed as part of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

Legislation known as the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed by both the House and Senate in 1995, and became law after President Bill Clinton declined to either sign or veto it. But every president since then has declined to enforce the law, arguing that it was not Congress’ place to legislate foreign policy.

Trump has been uncertain on whether the American embassy should be located in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. In December Trump provoked boos from an audience of Republican Jews after he declined to recognize Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel.

But while addressing an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference last month, Trump reversed course and pledged to change the location of the U.S. embassy. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he said.

Manafort’s work for the Saudis could put his boss in hot water on this issue yet again. Trump opponent Sen. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, has co-sponsored legislation to press the president yet again to move the U.S. embassy in Israel.

Manafort’s ties with the Saudi government also conflict with his new boss’s suggestions earlier this year that the Saudis were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi—take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents,” Trump said in February, in an apparent reference to the 28 redacted pages in from 2003 Senate report on the 9/11 attacks. A 60 Minutes report this week suggested the possibility of a Saudi support network for the terrorist hijackers while there were in the United States, bringing the issue yet again into public view.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manafort’s work for the Saudis didn’t stop with his lobbying on the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel: His work was evidently sufficient for him to maintain the client. Throughout 1985, he was paid to advise the Saudi government on U.S. arms sales to the Saudis, energy policy, and America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia more broadly. For this Manafort was paid more than $300,000, or more than $660,000 in current terms.

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And in the first half of 1986, Manafort lobbied the Reagan White House, the State Department and Congressional staff on a proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia, netting him a quarter-million dollars—which today is worth more than half a million.