In the run-up to this weekend’s tournament, Trump has promoted the event in interviews and public statements, encouraging golfers to join LIV Golf and disparaging the PGA Tour.
But while activists, media outlets and others have expressed concerns that LIV Golf provides international legitimacy to the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of human rights violations for years, Trump has brushed aside such criticisms.
During an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, he spoke approvingly about how the golf tour, which is financed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has already improved the kingdom’s reputation.
“I think LIV has been a great thing for Saudi Arabia, for the image of Saudi Arabia,” Trump told the Journal.
A spokesman for Trump did not respond to questions from CNN.
Human rights groups and media organizations have questioned both LIV Golf’s organizers and players over the tour’s connection to Saudi Arabia. Several of those questions have centered around the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
A US intelligence report released last year determined that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill the Saudi journalist, confirming reports soon after the murder that the CIA had made the same conclusion. During his presidency, however, Trump publicly downplayed allegations that bin Salman was involved as his administration strengthened US ties with the Saudis.
“Frankly, what they’re doing for golf is so great. What they’re doing for the players is so great,” the former President said.
Asked what he would say to the families of 9/11 victims who are protesting the LIV Golf event, Trump appeared to question whether there was knowledge of the Saudi involvement in the terrorist attacks.
“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,” he said. “So nobody’s really been there. But I can tell you that there are a lot of really great people that are out here today.”
Following Trump’s remarks, Strada told CNN that the former President “knows full well it was the Kingdom. He did everything in his power to protect the kingdom while in office by reneging on a promise he made to 9/11 families he would declassify FBI reports re: Saudis involvement in 9/11.”
Trump himself seems to be relishing the damage to the PGA Tour, with which he’s had a rocky relationship. While his clubs have hosted events for the PGA and other professional golf events in the past, the PGA Tour has not held an event at a Trump property since a March 2016 tournament at Doral. And after stripping Bedminster of the 2022 PGA Championship, the organization has been squarely in Trump’s sights.
This is not the first time Trump has spoken out about professional sports since entering politics. During his presidency, he frequently criticized the National Football League for allowing players to protest during the national anthem. And last year, Trump joined other Republicans in calling on Americans to boycott Major League Baseball after the league moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta following a new Georgia election law.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
CNN’s Jake Tapper contributed to this report.