While the facts are still emerging, the allegations are straightforward if you believe published reports: Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into a Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey where he was murdered and his body dismembered; CIA analysts have concluded the Saudi government is to blame, and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing. Again, those are the allegations as reported.
Yet President Trump appears not inclined to do anything about it. Once again, he is shunning the assessment of his administration’s experts in favor of his instincts. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Trump said in a statement, “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
His apparent willingness to look the other way in the face of cold blooded murder has rattled parts of official D.C. Lawmakers in both parties who were demanding a harsh response to the Saudis are now slack-jawed at the idea there may be no response at all.
How does Trump defend it? He says the military, economic, and political value of the alliance with the Saudis is just too valuable. He’s “not going to destroy the economy of our country” by spoiling a big arms deal with them. And “They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
But there are things Trump is not saying too. His son-in-law-made-advisor, Jared Kushner, built a high-profile relationship with Prince Salman and that is widely seen as a linchpin of Trump’s influence in the kingdom. Calling the prince a killer could sour the deal and cast aspersions on Team Trump’s choice of friends.
Furthermore, Trump has bragged that the aforementioned arms deal could create a half-million American jobs (despite his State Department saying earlier it’s more like “tens of thousands”) and he clearly doesn’t want to let that deal – or that claim – slip away.
So Trump dismisses calls for action and shoves aside his intelligence briefing to say “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.” And with no heat on the Saudis from his White House – well, he might be right about that.