Donald Trump praises Saudi Arabia, largely avoids 9/11 criticism at LIV Golf pro-am

Former President Donald Trump is playing host to the LIV Golf Invitational Series this week at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey.

Trump, despite all of the criticism that has come with the controversial new league in general and specifically this week, had plenty of kind words to say about Saudi Arabia, which is bankrolling the venture.

"I've known these people for a long time," Trump said, via ESPN. "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. What they're doing for the players is so great. The salaries are going to go way up."

This week’s tournament — which marks the third for LIV Golf — has drawn significant blowback from families of 9/11 victims. Trump National Golf Club Bedminster sits about 50 miles from New York City. Saudi Arabia has been connected to the attacks in 2001. Families have called on Trump and others to cancel the event, and have been protesting it outside the course. They sent Trump a letter condemning him for hosting the tournament, too.

Trump was asked about the 9/11 connection Thursday, but he declined to give much of a direct answer.

“Well, nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have, as to the maniacs that did that horrible thing to our city, to our country, to the world, so nobody’s really been there,” Trump told ESPN. “But I can tell you there are a lot of really great people that are out here today and we’re going to have a lot of fun and we’re going to celebrate.”

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals, and the FBI released documents last year that alleged Saudi Arabian officials provided logistical support for at least two of the attackers, per CNN. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement.

Trump once blamed Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks.

“Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis – it was Saudi. Take a look at Saudi Arabia,” Trump said in 2016 on "Fox & Friends," via Golfweek. “Open the documents. We ought to get [former President George W. Bush] or somebody to have the documents opened because frankly, if you open the documents, I think you are going to see it was Saudi Arabia.”

Still, Trump was one of several notable names — along with Charles Barkley and Caitlyn Jenner — to participate in the pro-am event Thursday.

Trump is a big supporter of the LIV Golf series and has been advocating for it on social media. That likely isn’t going to change anytime soon.

"The PGA was not loved by a lot of the players, as you know, for a long time," Trump told ESPN on Thursday. "Now they have an alternative. And nobody would've ever known whatever there was going to be a gold rush like this."

Former U.S. President Donald Trump with Bryson DeChambeau at the LIV Golf tournament
Former President Donald Trump participated in the pro-am on Thursday ahead of the LIV Golf tournament at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)