John Bolton’s Absurd Excuse For Ignoring The Evidence Of Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder
National Security Adviser John Bolton offered an utterly absurd explanation for why he had not listened to the tape of Jamal Khashoggi's murder.
National Security Adviser John Bolton doesn’t think it’s necessary for him to listen to the intelligence tapes of the apparent torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi because he doesn’t speak Arabic:
WASHINGTON — John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, defended on Tuesday the fact that neither Mr. Trump nor top national security officials had listened to audio of the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that they did not speak Arabic and would not be able to understand what was on the tape.
During a nearly hourlong briefing focused on foreign policy, Mr. Bolton took the lectern at the White House and declined to answer repeated questions about why he had not listened to the recording provided by Turkish officials of the killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“Why do you think I should?” Mr. Bolton asked reporters, suggesting he could read a transcript instead. “People who speak Arabic have listened to the tape, and they’ve given us the substance of what’s in it.”
Mr. Bolton’s comments came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were preparing to brief the Senate on Wednesday about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khashoggi’s death, which has prompted outrage among members of Congress.
Mr. Trump has absolved the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the killing, putting the president at odds with those lawmakers and the C.I.A., which concluded that Prince Mohammed had ordered the killing.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Mr. Trump said last week in an extraordinary statement in defense of the Saudis. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
Mr. Bolton indicated that the president’s views have remained unchanged since then. “The president has spoken to our position on this issue,” Mr. Bolton said. “That is our position.”
The recording is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing. People familiar with recordings of the killing say that Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with the prince, can be heard in one recording making a phone call to someone believed to be one of the prince’s aides.
While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”
Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, took two experts in Arabic with her to Turkey when she listened to the audio, according to American officials. Neither Ms. Haspel nor other intelligence officials will join Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mattis at the briefing Wednesday, according to American officials.
Intelligence briefings to Congress are typically kept separate from policy briefings, and some officials did not think it would be appropriate to have a senior intelligence leader join the two cabinet secretaries.
Congressional officials said Ms. Haspel would have also faced questions about her visit to Turkey that she would have been barred from sharing with a large group of lawmakers.
“I’m glad that Pompeo and Mattis are coming, that’s going to be helpful,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But I just think it’d be better if the C.I.A. director was here, who basically did the assessment.”‘
Bolton’s explanation for why he has not listened to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder is, of course, utterly absurd. As the manner in which Haspel handled the situation when she was given the opportunity to listen to the tape, the obvious solution to the language barrier would be to listen to the tape along with one or more translators who are fluent in Arabic who can provide instantaneous translation of what is being said as well as some degree of analysis of the nature of the contents of the recordings based on their understanding of what was said. Indeed, even if Bolton was fluent in Arabic, it would still be a wise and proper practice for him to listen to the tape in the presence of appropriately skilled translators in order to ensure that they are getting a proper sense of what is being said on the tape, some of which may not be entirely clear just by listening to the tape itself.
Bolton’s refusal to even listen to the evidence available to him as National Security Adviser is an absurd and irresponsible abdication of his responsibilities as National Security Adviser, of course, but they are utterly consistent with the manner in which the Trump Administration has handled this matter from the beginning. Virtually from the first day that we learned about Khashoggi’s disappearance after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, this Administration has effectively done whatever it can to help the Saudi government cover up the role of the Crown Prince and others in what now clearly seems to have been a premeditated and planned murder. In this regard, it is worth noting that it was President Trump who first put forward the theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance was due to an operation by what President Trump described as ‘rogue killers’ who acted without the knowledge of Saudi leadership. This, of course, is the explanation that the Saudis have now put forward as their official explanation for what happened notwithstanding the fact it is, in the end, utterly implausible.
Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, it was reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had apparently reached the conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for Khashoggi’s death. Despite this, the President essentially repudiated the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies and sided with the Saudis and their claim that M.B.S., as he is known internationally, had nothing to do with what happened. In other words, the Trump Administration is letting the Saudi government get away with cold-blooded murder. While there have been some bland statements of concern about what happened to Khashoggi, it has been obvious from the start that the President and the White House are not interested in putting pressure on Riyadh to come clean about Khashoggi’s fate. Given this, Bolton’s refusal to listen to the evidence regarding Khashoggi’s murder, which includes intercepts that apparently clearly implicate M.B.S. in the conspiracy to murder Jamal Khashoggi.
The cynicism and moral depravity of what this President and his Administration have done here cannot be exaggerated. Yes, Jamal Khashoggi was just one man and the American relationship with Saudi Arabia is a complicated one, but that hardly excuses the fact that this President and his advisers are excusing murder notwithstanding the fact that the blood on the hands of the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia is as clear as day. Some will argue that the difference here is that Saudi Arabia is an “ally,” but incidents like this make clear that Saudi Arabia is no ally. Taken in this light, Bolton’s refusal to even listen to the evidence is utterly inexcusable.