How the Saudis gained power through fierce lobbying and charm offensives

Beyond their spending in Washington, the Saudis have enjoyed a priceless advantage: a warm relationship with the president, who has done business with its wealthy citizens, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who developed a close bond with the crown prince as he crafted the administration’s Middle East policy. The ties build on a long-standing relationship between past administrations and the Saudi royal family.

The kingdom also cultivated opinion leaders through aggressive charm offensives. Powerful government figures — including deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was fired for Khashoggi’s killing — have visited Washington to court reporters and think tank analysts.

The Saudi ambassador has hosted intimate dinners in Washington and even occasional galas, such as a lavish event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium honoring this year’s visit of the crown prince. The kingdom’s lobbying team was dispatched to ensure that leading members of congressional foreign relations panels attended, public filings show.

Earlier this year, Saudi officials even offered Super Bowl tickets and chartered flights to the event to media stars such as Jake Tapper of CNN and Bret Baier of Fox News, according to Tapper and a Fox News spokeswoman. (Both said they turned the offers down.)

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