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Trump Inc. isn't having trouble finding business partners

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

This week, former President Donald Trump kicked off an upstart golf tournament at his club in Bedminster, N.J. LIV Golf is Saudi Arabia's well-financed attempt to challenge the PGA, professional golf's longtime dominant tour. After teeing off, Trump defended his relationship with the tournament's backers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I've known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia, and they've been friends of mine for a long time. They've invested in many American companies. They own big percentages of many, many American companies. And frankly, what they're doing for golf is so great.

RASCOE: It's also great for Trump's bottom line. Joining us to discuss how Trump's business is doing during a time of increasing scrutiny by Congress and the Department of Justice is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha. It's so great to be on with you.

RASCOE: First of all, tell us about this tournament. Like, how did Trump come to host it?

BERNSTEIN: So let's roll back to the days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. There was a moment when Donald Trump was being widely condemned. Republicans in Congress were criticizing him. Cabinet members were quitting. And in some ways, particularly cutting for Trump, private sector business partners started walking away. And one was the Professional Golf Association, the PGA, which had planned to hold a tournament at Bedminster in 2022. But instead, it issued a statement that it, quote, "would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand." And the way people read this at the time was that Trump's business is really in trouble. But then Trump hitched his own star to the LIV circuit, which is a rival to the PGA. LIV is funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which is overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.

RASCOE: I remember, from covering Trump in the White House, he has had this relationship with MBS, and it was already very controversial. And I see that he has decided to continue it despite the controversy, right?

BERNSTEIN: So for Trump, this controversy is already priced into his business decision. So even though while he was president, his own intelligence services traced the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi directly to bin Salman, Trump didn't accept their findings. Now Trump is already facing another set of criticism, this time from some families of 9/11 victims who are alleging that some of the blame for the terrorist attacks lies with the Saudis.

Even with all of that, Trump is getting two things out of this. He's getting cash, and he's getting revenge on the PGA. In a nutshell, this is how Trump keeps his business going. His business has been indicted for fraud. He's being scrutinized for trying to upend democracy. But there's always someone, like the Saudis, who will shrug that off.

RASCOE: Other than golf, how is his business doing?

BERNSTEIN: Well, take the hotel that he operated in Washington. Almost every hotel analyst in the business said Trump had paid too much for it, that he never had a viable business model for it, that he had taken on too much and he had taken on too much debt. But he was able to find a buyer for the Trump International Hotel for more than he paid. And he was also able to find a bank to refinance his mortgage at Trump Tower in New York, despite what banks tend to shy away from. They call it political exposure.

RASCOE: Trump has been photographed with several items displaying the presidential seal this weekend. Is that an issue?

BERNSTEIN: Well, it's against federal law to use the seal in a way that gives a, quote, "false impression of sponsorship by the U.S. government." But it's another example of how Trump uses the presidency to boost his brand. He is also still getting a hefty income from the Republican Party and from candidates who regularly hold events at his properties. He still gets his legal bills funded by the RNC and even has a bar and grill at Trump Tower in New York called 45, which also has a logo reminiscent of the presidential seal.

RASCOE: What about his social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group?

BERNSTEIN: So this is the entity that owns Truth Social, and there is a business logic to it. So Trump had a huge following on Twitter before he was suspended following the Capitol attack. But in this case, it looks like the backers broke the rules. And now they face several investigations, including by federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission. However - and this is key - even if regulators block that avenue of financing, there could be other backers who come forward and have their own reasons for getting behind Trump's media company, who are impervious to what you might call the team normal business world rules. And I think that this brings us back to the January 6 committee hearings and the information that they're throwing off. In politics, Trump has been able to keep finding people who will align with him despite everything. And that's true in business, too. And so long as that's true, he keeps going.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you so much.

BERNSTEIN: Great talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.