Donald Trump says he’s recently received potentially lucrative offers for some of his most iconic properties, and he’s confident he could sell them for “astronomical” amounts of money—possibly even to the Saudi officials behind LIV golf.
In an April deposition, Trump said that some of the offers have been formal and others have been less so. But he insisted that since he reluctantly left the White House in 2021, people, who he declined to name, have let him know they would purchase properties from him for what he believes would be “a tremendous amount of money.” For example, Trump—who was being grilled by attorneys from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office—bragged that he could easily sell his Turnberry golf course in Scotland to LIV, the upstart golf tour backed by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund. Trump demurred when James’ attorneys pressed him on whether he had received a formal offer for Turnberry. But Trump also claimed that he had been approached about selling his Mar-a-Lago club for more than $1 billion and an adjoining property for more than double what he had paid for it just a few years earlier.
The fact that the GOP front-runner has apparently received these financial offers raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest if he returns to office—especially if he refuses to disclose who is approaching him with potential transactions. In a speech over the weekend, Trump suggested that while serving as president, he had turned down opportunities to make “so much” money conducting private business deals, including in Saudi Arabia. “I really can’t do that,” he explained. “I’m president.”
Trump complains he could’ve made so much money through deals with Saudi Arabia while in office pic.twitter.com/VFcC0s1iER
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 9, 2023
Despite that assurance, last year it was revealed Trump had indeed agreed after leaving office to go into business with a Saudi Arabian firm to build a new golf course in Oman. And Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, did do a multi-billion dollar deal, accepting billions in Saudi money for an investment fund he created after Trump left office. Kushner is now reportedly pressuring Trump to bless a potential Israeli-Saudi peace deal being negotiated by the Biden administration.
Kathleen Clark, an ethics expert and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, says that there is no legal obligation for either candidates or sitting presidents to disclose mere offers to buy real estate. But, she said, if Trump does manage to complete the sale of any of his properties, it’s vital to know who the other parties are. And, she says, if people are offering a former, and possibly future, president lucrative deals that could be hard to justify for business reasons, it raises concerning ethical questions.
“It suggests that there are people or institutions that want to provide him with a substantial monetary benefit that isn’t justified in a business sense—beyond the ordinary market value,” Clark says. “And then the natural question is, are they doing that because they want to curry favor in case he becomes president? Are they doing it because of his political power?”
Trump sat for the deposition as part of James’ civil fraud lawsuit against him—a case that is set to go to trial later this fall. The AG accuses Trump of having manipulated the values of various properties he owns to help him get better deals on bank loans and insurance policies and to lower his tax liability. A transcript of the deposition was released last week in court filings, along with thousands of other pages of evidence that expose in astounding detail the inner workings of Trump’s businesses.
In his deposition, Trump came across as rambling and combative, but also seemingly intent on undermining James’ allegations that he had purposefully misrepresented the value of various properties. In essence, Trump was arguing that values accountants and assessors record on paper are often completely divorced from the realities of the market and what people will actually pay. At one point, Trump launched into a series of long-winded pronouncements about how he believes his Scottish golf courses—both of which appear to be unprofitable money pits, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and never turning a profit—are like fine works of art. In particular, Trump referred to his legendary Turnberry course, which he purchased and rehabbed, as “the Mona Lisa, the Renoirs of properties.”
On paper, he said, a property might only make $2 or $3 million, which, he argued, might imply that it should only be worth $30 million or $40 million. But like a famous masterpiece, which hangs on the wall and doesn’t generate direct revenue, it has a much higher actual value, he insisted. In fact, he bragged, he could easily sell Turnberry for far more than the $60 million he purchased it for in 2014.
“But I believe I could sell that to LIV Golf for a fortune, Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “I believe I could sell that to a lot of people for numbers that would be astronomical because it is like—very much like owning a great painting.”
Pressed by one of James’ attorneys on whether he, in fact, had received such an offer, Trump suddenly was more vague.
“I never asked for an offer. But people—people have said to me, if you ever want to sell Turnberry, let us know,” he claimed. “I would be able to sell Turnberry quickly for a tremendous amount of money, far beyond what you would say it’s worth by the money it makes.”
The AG’s office continued pressing the former president to disclose who had told him he could so quickly receive such vast sums for Turnberry. But Trump’s responses grew even vaguer.
“Just people have told me,” Trump responded to a follow-up question. “Yeah, people would tell me.”
The reference to LIV Golf is intriguing because Trump already has a much-criticized relationship with the organization. Started in 2022 by the Saudi Public Investment Fund—the sovereign wealth fund that serves as an investment tool for the desert kingdom’s vast surplus of cash and is under the control of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman—LIV went to war with the PGA Tour, offering golf’s biggest stars exorbitant contracts.
While the PGA eventually made peace with LIV, agreeing earlier this year to merge the two organizations, many in golf’s traditionally staid world shunned the tour. The disdain sprung from both LIV’s willingness to break traditional golf norms—like allowing golfers to wear shorts instead of pants—and its associations with MBS, who the American intelligence community believes ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump, however, had no qualms about partnering with LIV, welcoming the tour to two of his golf courses for events last year, and again this year. LIV Golf did not respond to a request for comment on whether the company had ever made an offer to buy Turnberry.
During the deposition, Trump made similar claims about his Mar-a-Lago club, which he said he believed was worth between $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion. “I’ve had people say, if you ever sell Mar-a-Lago, please call me,” he testified. But, he added, “that’s not for sale.” It’s not clear when these approaches were made, but Trump repeatedly told the AG’s office that he believes the club is currently worth that much.
Asked for details on who had approached him, Trump suddenly became less willing to share.
“Well, I rather not say because I don’t want to embarrass them and I may be putting some of these people on the stand,” he said.
Then, despite his stated belief he couldn’t share their names because they might be called as witnesses in his case, Trump claimed that he couldn’t remember their names.
“People have come up to me. Wealthy people have come say, if you ever want to sell Turnberry, if you want to sell Mar-a-Lago, if you want to sell other of my clubs, which are amazing, if you ever want to sell, let us know,” he told James’ attorneys.
Perplexingly, he then added that he didn’t actually know who those people were.
“I don’t even know who the people are,” he said. “I know they’re very rich people.”
Trump also mentioned a third offer for one of his properties—a large home on South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach. The house is directly next to Mar-a-Lago and for years was owned by Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, before Trump purchased it from her in 2018. Trump bought the property for $18.5 million—notably borrowing $11 million from a small South Florida bank, an ethically fraught financial transaction for a sitting president that Trump only acknowledged later in a financial disclosure.
Trump has previously listed the property both for rent and for sale, but it is apparently not currently on the market. During his deposition in April, Trump told James’ attorneys that “last year” he received a formal offer for the property for “approximately $50 million”—more than two-and-a-half times what he paid for it roughly four years earlier.
Trump said he was not willing to tell James’ office who the potential buyer was because he didn’t want “to have this man deposed.” James’ attorney, Kevin Wallace, pressed for more details, and Trump’s attorneys stepped in to offer several reasons not to name this person, including that there possibly was a confidentiality clause involved. One of Trump’s attorneys said he believed that the offer had come from an LLC. When Wallace turned to Trump and asked if he was aware of who the person behind the LLC was, Trump was much more confident than in his recollections of potential buyers for his other properties.
The identity of this mystery investor remains out of public view, but it’s possible that James’ office now knows who it is. Trump’s attorneys noted during the deposition that because the judge in the case had previously assigned an outside financial monitor to review all of Trump’s business dealings, the AG’s office should be able obtain the relevant information from the court.
Neither James’ office nor the Trump Organization responded to questions from Mother Jones about who was truly behind the LLC.