On Tuesday President Donald Trump released an official statement containing no fewer than eight exclamation marks and an italicized never that effectively absolved the Saudi government of any consequences or responsibility for the murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident, Jamal Khashoggi, whom agents of the Saudi Arabian government, on the direct orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), killed and dismembered on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The statement, in which Trump sided with the Saudi government over the assessment of his own intelligence agencies—deja vu anyone?—effectively ruled out any punishment for the murder, no matter what the ultimate conclusion is. So even though Trump has known for a long time that the CIA blames Crown Prince MBS for the murder of an American journalist, he, the President of the United States, still sides with the MURDERERS.
Why? According to Trump, because Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars on U.S. weapons systems in order to massacre innocent people in Yemen.
In other words, Trump told the world that you can get away with murdering U.S. residents if you have enough money.
And so the statement opened with, “America First!”
“The world is a very dangerous place!” the president explained, then adopting, after a lengthy tangential broadside against Iran, the Saudi government line about Khashoggi:
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that-this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event-maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
The CIA would beg to differ. The agency, citing evidence passed to them by Turkish intelligence, in addition to other information they independently collected—apparently including communication between the Saudi royal court and Khashoggi suggesting that he go to the Istanbul consulate—has reportedly concluded that Khashoggi was indeed murdered at the personal request of the Saudi crown prince. Trump, who says he refused to listen to the tape of the murder on the grounds that it’s “a suffering tape,” called the CIA’s assessment “premature.”
Trump also adopted Saudi Arabia’s own talking points in his effort to discredit his own intelligence agencies. For instance, he accused Khashoggi—without citing evidence—of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, he floated a conspiracy theory to justify this man’s murder.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump’s statement continued. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia, by the way.
Further, Khashoggi’s murder was such a heartbreaking, proscribed, heinous act that it drew rare and immediate bipartisan condemnation from elected U.S. officials. Of course, there was one predictable exception—Trump. The fact that he refused to listen to the tape of the killing, means that he’s either once more been rendered a eunuch by the somehow unanticipated enormity of the job he wanted, or he’s lying. And given his pornographic obsession over things like the chopping off of heads, it’s probably both.
Trump also said of the murder, “It is what it is.”
This might cause a reasonable person to wonder why the president now chooses—citing reason beyond the Saudi government’s denial with exactly zero evidence—to doubt the conclusions of his own intelligence services. One possible rationale: He and his administration are accessories to, and at the very least complicit in the murder of an American journalist.
It’s unconscionable and unAmerican to defend Saudi Arabia in this for any reason
To be clear, this is sick: another betrayal of basic American values in the face of a gross human rights violation, which further rots our moral authority in the world, which in turn further pushes our allies away. No one wants to help or protect a country that values such things, and in the name of protecting financial ties with a brutal dictatorship, will betray its own people and its own law enforcement, congressional representatives of all stripes, and intelligence services, for crimes all the way up to and including the murder of one of its own journalists.
But here’s what’s even sicker:
Earlier this week the Middle East Eye, citing “a senior Saudi source,” reported that when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Riyadh on October 16 to discuss the murder with MBS, Pompeo personally gave the prince a “roadmap” to help protect himself and his father—the Saudi king—from the international investigation. This includes information about how to evade or shield themselves from Trump’s own U.S. intelligence investigation.
This is insane—how could you still in good conscience serve this man? If the Eye’s report is accurate, it would seem that the Trump administration is complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and, given Trump’s statement today, actively so.
This development, if true, would be next-level. Should the Middle East Eye’s reporting bear out—the paper has already broken news about Khashoggi that proved accurate—this directly implicates the Trump administration up to and including the president himself in aiding and abetting the murder of a U.S. journalist by a foreign government. It could by some stretches even mean the U.S. is an accessory to that murder, given the reports that Trump’s own intelligence agencies have provided him, compounded with the Trump family’s many many ties, financial and otherwise, to the Saudi Kingdom.
Here’s why every American should believe this, and care.
In the interest of both being reasonable and signaling my reasonability to you so you’ll ride wit me later, we have to shoot down one conspiracy theory that I find implausible: Jared Kushner passed Khashoggi’s name to MBS.
Kushner has struck up a close friendship with the young Crown Prince in hopes of a) securing his own financial relationships in the Middle East, and b) changing the politics of the region, including the balance of power against Iran and chasing an illusory peace deal between Israel and Palestine. He also turned a blind eye when the Saudi government blockaded Qatar, a violation of sovereignty and which was feared to be interpreted as an act of war.
For these and other reasons, people have speculated that Kushner actually gave MBS Khashoggi’s name last October when he passed the Crown Prince a classified list of dissidents the CIA had identified who were living in Saudi Arabia. This is unlikely and wholly irrelevant. Khashoggi lived in the United States at the time, not Saudi Arabia. Also, MBS — who was considered a long shot to inherit the throne — used Kushner’s list to help target dissidents in his country for a quiet coup in which he had his rivals, including members of his own family, arrested and tortured in the Ritz Carlton Riyadh. He then more or less assumed control of the country. Lastly, the Kingdom had already punished Khashoggi for journalism critical of the royal court, and though it’s sickeningly clear that MBS still had a grudge to settle, he knew Khashoggi and didn’t need his name on a list.
(By the way, the Saudi government banned Khashoggi from practicing journalism in response to an article he wrote just after Election Day in 2016 — an article highly critical of Trump.)
This of course raises the question: Should we believe the Middle East Eye’s report?
In short, not fully and not yet. But we also can’t disbelieve it yet. In fact, we have many reasons to take this account seriously, and to use it as a lens to clarify why Trump responded the way he has to something that to the rest of the world is patent. (One way to tell would be if the Saudis try to pin the blame on someone not involved with the crime—Pompeo’s plan apparently includes this explicit advice.) So yes: There’s actually more reason to believe this report, outrageous as it is, than not. A quick list.
The State Department actually responded
Though the Middle East Eye cited only one “senior Saudi source” for the allegation, and though, again, that allegation—active complicity in the murder of a U.S. journalist—is entirely outrageous, the State Department actually thought the report merited a response. According to the Eye, the State Department offered a “denial,” but pay attention to how that denial was phrased:
”[it was] a complete misrepresentation of the secretary’s diplomatic mission to Saudi Arabia…. We’ve spoken publicly about our goals to impress upon Saudi leadership the seriousness to which the United States government attaches to a prompt and complete accounting of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
A little different from, say, “This ridiculous accusation—which implicates the U.S. in the cover-up of the murder of a U.S. journalist—is flatly false on all counts.”
Trump has massive personal conflicts of interest
During the 2016 campaign, Saudi Arabia granted the Trump Organization several copyrights, including a few intended for the development of a Trump resort in a popular Saudi port city and vacation destination. The Trump’s also have a current interest in the region, in the form of a resort in the United Arab Emirates, which opened within weeks of Trump’s inauguration. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are allies who, among other things, fight alongside each other in the Saudi’s barbaric war on Yemen—a war fueled in part by American weapons systems and literal American fueling.
Further, when the Crown Prince visited the United States this March, his coterie stayed in Trump International Hotel NYC. (MBS didn’t stay there himself—not out of concern for telegraphing a bribe, but because Trump’s rooms weren’t big enough for him.) According to a quarterly statement from the hotel itself, the Saudi contingent single-handedly helped the hotel turn around a two-year trend of losses. From Khashoggi’s paper, The Washington Post:
After two years of decline, revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018.
What caused the uptick at President Trump’s flagship hotel in New York? One major factor: “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” wrote general manager Prince A. Sanders in a May 15 letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post.
Neither the hotel nor the governments of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have confirmed or denied whether the Saudi’s paid with government money.
Is it about the money?
Trump cited Saudi defense spending as the primary reason he won’t exact any punishment whatsoever for the murder. (We did sanction the individual agents who carried it out.)
First of all, Saudi Arabia uses the weapons we sell them to massacre innocent Yemenis. U.S. bombs have been used to slaughter hundreds of people at weddings and schools in Yemen. Obama, pressured to end America’s complicity in these war crimes, cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia in December 2016. Trump renewed those sales in May 2017, claiming he struck a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom. This number is inaccurate, because a) many of those weapons were part of the shipments Obama suspended, and b) many of the deals were speculative and still haven’t been contractually firmed up.
So can it really be about money that Trump knows hasn’t and possibly won’t be spent?
Perhaps. The Saudis, by arranging an incomplete speculative agreement, created a bargaining chip they now hold over Trump, possibly the worst dealmaker in the world. To Trump, this money is more valuable than the murder of a journalist, more valuable than American values, and more valuable than integrity and global leadership.
Probably more important to Trump, though, is that he sees the deal backwards. That is, he doesn’t understand everything to be gained by meting out justice for a murder—he sees this as not a gain but a loss. In other words, you can buy an assassination.
There’s also the lobbying money. When congress questioned the Saudi’s human rights record this year—after the Ritz Carlton coup, and of course the war crimes in Yemen—the kingdom had already spent $27 million on D.C. lobbying firms.
In 2017 alone.
That’s three times the amount spent in 2016, Obama’s last year in office. About half a million was in the form of campaign donations to senators and House members.
However, there’s more to this than money. There’s also the Trump campaign’s backroom deals with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. There’s Trump’s son-in-law’s personal relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince. And, of course, there’s the Trump administration’s initial response to Khashoggi’s murder.
Trump has already given Saudi Arabia more than a month free of repercussions. He has in the process defined himself against the rest of the West, which immediately sanctioned the Saudis. He has also compromised our relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally that has allowed us to use an airbase to carry out our missions in Syria.
Worst of all the President of the United States has sided with murderers—with money over morals. He has shielded them for weeks, which by itself means that he is complicit in the conspiracy to murder a U.S. resident. And if he did indeed give MBS a roadmap to evade investigators, the President of the United States is an accessory to murder.
What will come of it? Trump will say it’s all uncertain, and congress will do nothing. In that event, though, Turkey or U.S. intelligence might leak the evidence. Then the American people can be the judge—which, if we’ve already forgotten by now, is how it’s all supposed to work in the first place.