Despite a proliferation of conspiracy theories, there is no evidence the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was motivated by corruption.

When it was announced that Donald Trump would remove the US from the Paris climate accords, voices in the alternative media were shouting “scandal” and “corruption”, charging that Donald Trump’s registration of corporations in Saudi Arabia were a clear sign of a nefarious relationship between America’s closest Arab ally and the new president. Others speculated that money spent by Saudi Arabian lobbyists in a Trump hotel was actually a bribe. Another camp believed that a recent donation by a Saudi entity to a UN charity associated with Ivanka Trump was made to influence the president to continue importing oil. And finally, one conspiracy theory said that members of Congress had been paid off to kill the accord.

With the exception of the allegations against members of Congress, most of the conspiracy theories are associated with Saudi Arabia, essentially alleging that Saudi Arabia paid the Trump family to kill the Paris Accords in order to avoid an interruption to their oil exports to the US. Before even delving into the numbers, it is important to mention that the Paris Accords did not specifically call for a reduction in petroleum imports from Saudi Arabia. Neither did it call for a reduction in petroleum imports overall. It called for a reduction in the production of greenhouse gasses, which could be achieved in any number of ways that would not necessarily impact petroleum imports. Therefore, it was not a given that the US participation in the Paris Accords would have reduced US imports of Saudi oil.

In 2016, the US imported only 37.9% of its oil. Canada, the largest source, provides 43.1% of imports while number two, Saudi Arabia, provided about 14.3%.[1] China is the number one purchaser of Saudi Arabian oil, with US second.[2] Both the US and China are signatories to the Paris Accords. Why would Saudi Arabia pay off the US president but not the Chinese? And even if the US decreased its Saudi imports by 5%, this may have reduced Saudi’s total oil exports by less than 2%, a number they could have made up by increasing exports to any of the many other countries they export to, including China.

As Canada is the US largest oil supplier, exporting more than two and half times as much oil to the US, why wouldn’t Canada have paid off the Trumps? Or, if Donald Trump wanted to favor Saudi Arabia while still reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the US could decrease its current oil use by 50% without decreasing its imports at all, by simply decreasing the amount of domestic oil used. Or, it could decrease its oil use by 50% and still quadruple its imports of Saudi Oil by reducing domestic and Canadian oil.

If this were a TV crime drama, the police officer would say that Saudi Arabia simply did not have a motive. However, in the interest of fairness, the rest of the conspiracy theories, including the Saudi ones, will be examined in greater detail.

The Lobbyists

Both alternative and mainstream media reported that Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, received $270,000 in rooms, catering, and parking fees from a Saudi Arabian lobbying group. Alternative media are calling this a clear act of corruption linked to the US withdrawal from the Paris Accords or Saudi weapons deal. For example, a post by Wang Peng on social media site Reddit read “Trump hotel received $270,000 USD from Saudis tied to campaign. Corruption at its finest. Now that arms deal makes more sense.”[3] Before taking a detailed look at the facts, a quick logical analysis would suggest that $270,000 in hotel charges is an incredibly small sum of money compared to the billions of dollars the Trump organization generates. Additionally, Donald Trump is meant to be uninvolved in his companies and most likely does not know who is or is not staying at his hotels. Furthermore, there has been no allegation that these fees were inflated or greater than customary charges at the luxury hotel where a standard room costs $500. Finally, the $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal represented the US selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, adding to both US GDP and trade balance. Why would the Saudis need to pay a bribe in order to then pay the US $110 billion to purchase a US export?

On closer examination of the details, the hotel incident becomes even less nefarious. Apparently, the Saudis themselves neither stayed in the hotel nor paid money to the Trump organization. Those who stayed in the hotel were hired lobbyists and consultants working for US public relations firm MSL Group Americas, petitioning the US government to repeal an Obama era act called Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which permitted US citizens to sue foreign governments for their participation in terrorist acts.[4] Therefore, the intention of the lobbying had nothing to do with either oil or the Paris Accords. Many of the “lobbyists” who stayed in the hotel were US military veterans. The hotel bills were paid by the lobbying organization, who then submitted the receipts to the Saudis for reimbursement. Furthermore, MSL Group Americas complied with US law by disclosing the entire transaction in a US Justice Department filing.[5]

As the president has promised not to benefit from these types of transactions, The Trump Organization has stated that they would donate the profits from these transactions to charity.[6]

Owning a luxury hotel in Washington, DC, seems like a problematic position for the president of the United States to be in. Leaders, lobbyists and representatives of the world’s governments, even the unsavory ones, frequently attend meetings and summits in Washington, DC. Obviously, these people stay in expensive hotels, like the one owned by Trump. While no clear case of wrong doing has been proved, prudence would suggest that if the president were to liquidate his ownership in the hotel there could be no further allegations of impropriety. One of the problems, however, with Trump selling his hotel is that someone would have to buy it. A transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from a buyer to the Trump organization will surely raise even more accusations of corruption. This was the case in March when a Trump apartment in New York City was purchased by a woman who it was later discovered had connections to the Chinese intelligence services.[7]

Some conspiracy theories are connected to the fact that Donald Trump registered eight corporations in Saudi Arabia, including THC Jeddah Hotel and DT Jeddah Technical Services.[8] These theories allege that these corporations were formed with the express purpose of somehow funneling money or laundering bribes paid by the Saudis to encourage Donald Trump to continue the US long-term engagement with Saudi Arabia. On closer inspection, it turns out the corporations were established as part of a hotel development project, and that they were setup in August of 2015, well in advance of Donald Trump’s election.[9] In fact, in August of 2015, Business Insider had the odds 18 to 1 against a Trump victory.[10] It seems unlikely that a long game is being played whereby a dark horse presidential candidate, with no chance of winning, registers corporations in Saudi Arabia, so that if he wins the election, Saudi Arabia pays him off, to withdraw the US from the Paris Accords. Further, there have been no concrete allegations of these corporations actually having been used to funnel money. The stories about the corporations surfaced around the same time as the Saudi arms deal and the Ivanka Trump charity stories. But somehow, while often mentioned together, no specific explanation was given of how the corporations actually fit into the alleged web of corruption.

Next on the list of Saudi-Trump conspiracies is the misconception that the Saudis gave Ivanka Trump a $100-million donation for her charity, and that this represents a conflict of interest or an outright act of corruption. The timing of the donation could not have been more unfortunate, as it came right around the same time that the Saudi’s purchased guns from the US and just before President Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Accords. The fact is that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to donate a combined $100 billion to a World Bank charity which Ivanka conceived of, but will not have any affiliation with.[11] The charity is dedicated to the empowerment of women and the idea was originally proposed by Ivanka Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[12] Somehow Angela Merkel’s name was lost from most of the conspiracy media, as was the fact that none of the money will go to Ivanka herself, nor will she be working with the charity or ever have any means of personally benefiting from the money. Consequently, this is probably not the reason why the US withdrew from the Paris Accords.

Apart from specific charges of corruption, the alternative media has accused Donald Trump of showing favoritism toward Saudi Arabia. The president has been quoted numerous times as having said that he wants to protect Saudi Arabia.[13] As Saudi Arabia is an extremely important US strategic and business ally, it would be logical for the US president to say that he wanted to protect them.

The US has had a long standing friendship with Saudi Arabia beginning in 1933. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Murphy in Egypt in 1945, solidifying the relationship. Since then, the two countries have survived a number of stumbling blocks, including the 1973 oil embargo and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia cooperated in a US lead coalition to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. More than half a million U.S. troops were deployed in the region, including those based in Saudi Arabia.[14]

The Kingdom has been the US’s closest ally in the Arab world. In addition to military ties, the US and Saudi Arabia share significant business connections. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the kingdom’s most famous billionaire investor, owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter.[15] On the domestic front, the Saudis are considering a $40 billion dollar investment in US infrastructure, which would go a long way toward fulfilling Trump’s promise to invest $1 trillion in US infrastructure.[16]

In May 2017, President Trump made a deal to sell $110 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.[17] Even this deal has been cited by the alternative media which has accused Trump of selling weapons to US friends, saying that the weapons purchase was made to ensure that the US would keep buying oil from Saudi Arabia. As for the first charge, it would seem advisable for the US to sell weapons only to friends, as opposed to enemies. Next, the accusation that a US sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia influenced the US decision to favor Saudi Arabia or to continue buying oil from them is probably true. This is, however, not an example of corruption but an example of what economists call international trade. Reciprocity, such as weapons for oil, is a perfectly logical basis for trade.

The final conspiracy theory this paper will examine does not involve Saudi Arabia. This one charges that that the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords was the result of corruption at the congressional level. Before even exploring this possibility, it is important to mention that “President Obama did not submit the treaty to Senate approval, as required by the Constitution, and instead acceded to it as a matter of executive power”.[18] This means that US Congress was never given the opportunity to approve or disapprove the US entering the accords in the first place. This means that there is no way to establish that congressional representatives coming forward now to oppose the act represents a mysterious change of policy. The very fact that the president had to use presidential powers, rather than submitting the act to Congress, suggests that enough congressmen were against the act all along that it would not have passed.

In reviewing the facts below, it is important to keep the research question in mind, namely: Did congressional representatives move to withdraw the US from the Paris accord because of payoffs they received from fossil fuel lobbies?

In support of the allegation that big oil paid off congressmen to kill the accords, IFL Science published a list of 22 congressmen who had both received campaign donations from big oil and signed a letter calling for the US withdrawal from the accords.[19] On the list was James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, the US state most dependent on the oil and gas industry.[20] The names also included Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who represent the state of Texas, which is almost synonymous with oil, and which many may not realize is also a large producer of coal. Irrespective of wrong doing, it would not be suspicious for a Texas representative to vote in favor of oil. Also on the list were John Barrasso and Michael Enzi, both of Wyoming, which is both the third-most oil dependent state and the US’s leading producer of coal. Rounding off the list were John Boozman, of Arkansas, the fourth largest oil-producing state, and Mitch McConnell, from the coal-producing state of Kentucky. One would expect a representative to protect the interests of his or her constituents and that seems to be the case here.

All of the names on the list were already in office when the Paris Accords were signed in December of 2015. Even the 5 most recent, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Thom Tillis, Mike Rounds, and David Perdue took office in November, a month before the signing of the accords. The rest had been in office since long before, most dating back to the 1990s and early 2000s. One, Thad Cochran has held office since 1978. This suggests that they were part of the original roadblocks which forced President Obama to use an executive order, rather than seeking congressional approval. Therefore, the fact that they would move now to kill the act most likely does not represent a sudden change in policy.


The US withdrawal from the Paris climate accords has deep reaching implications for the future of the entire world. Numerous people in the US and abroad are upset about the US withdrawal, and many have reacted emotionally with accusations of corruption and conspiracy. This paper has examined a number of conspiracy theories related to Saudi Arabia or congressional corruption and found that no clear evidence of corruption exists (in these particular allegations). If the citizenry firmly believes that the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was motivated by corruption, then more investigation and stronger evidence will be needed.


[1] Robert Rapier, Where America Gets Its Oil: The Top 10 Foreign Suppliers Of Crude, Forbes, April 11, 2016,

[2] Elena Holodny, Saudi Arabia is once again China’s top oil exporter — but the reason is bad news, Busienss Insider, February 29, 2016,

[3] Wang Peng, Trump hotel received 270,000 USD from Saudis tied to campaign. Corruption at it’s finest. Now that arms deal makes more sense.

[4] Olivia Beavers, Saudis spent $270K at Trump hotel amid lobbying efforts, June 05, 2017,

[5] Fredreka Schouten, President Trump’s hotel received $270,000 from Saudi Arabia

USA TODAY, June 5, 2017,

[6] Fredreka Schouten, President Trump’s hotel received $270,000 from Saudi Arabia

USA TODAY,  June 5, 2017,

[7] Andy Kroll and Russ Chumamar, Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group, The president’s company won’t explain this $15.8 million deal, Mother Jones, March 15, 2017,

[8] Rebecca Savransky, Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia during campaign, The Hill, November 21, 2016,

[9] Rebecca Savransky, Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia during campaign, The Hill, November 21, 2016,

[10] Hunter Walker and Skye Gould, This chart shows how drastically Donald Trump’s odds of winning the election are improving, Business Insider, August 4, 2015,

[11] Jim Zarroli, Saudis And The UAE Will Donate $100 Million To A Fund Inspired By Ivanka Trump, NPR, May 21, 2017,

[12] Jim Zarroli, Saudis And The UAE Will Donate $100 Million To A Fund Inspired By Ivanka Trump, NPR, May 21, 2017,

[13] Rebecca Savransky, Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia during campaign, The Hill, November 21, 2016,

Council on Foreign Relations, The U.S.-Saudi relationship,, May 12, 2017,

[14] Council on Foreign Relations, The U.S.-Saudi relationship,, May 12, 2017,

[15] Council on Foreign Relations, The U.S.-Saudi relationship,, May 12, 2017,

[16] Alex Ward, What America’s new arms deal with Saudi Arabia says about the Trump administration, Vox, May 20, 2017,

[17] Alex Ward, What America’s new arms deal with Saudi Arabia says about the Trump administration, Vox, May 20, 2017,

[18] The Market Mogul, G7 Summit: Does Trump Stand Alone? Mounting Tensions, the Market Mogul, June 5, 2017

[19] Robin Andrews, Republicans That Urged Trump To Exit Paris Are Funded By Fossil Fuel Companies, IFL Science, June 2, 2017,

[20] Which States are Most Dependent Upon Oil and Gas Activity? Region Track,